Teen Spotlight: The pandemic shifted our mindsets — but we can shift them back, too

Mental health professionals share perspectives on how to move forward

Lauren Kinney
Special to The Snowmass Sun
Lauren Kinney is a staff writer for the Skier Scribbler and a sophomore at Aspen High School. This is her first year with the paper.
Courtesy photo

So much of the COVID-19 conversation over the past two years has focused on mask mandates, case counts and overall deaths. But throughout that time, people have also struggled with mental health — something they’ll continue to face even as mask mandates end, case counts drop and public health officials start to approach COVID as an endemic virus like the flu rather than a pandemic.

Mental health professionals say they have seen the way the pandemic shifted mindsets and, in turn, their behavior and outlook on life. As people began to find comfort in the isolation of restrictions and stay-at-home orders, the factor of fear grew tremendously.

Christina M. King is a licensed clinical therapist, coach and member of the Leadership and Advisory Board for Aspen Strong, an advocacy and resource nonprofit that she co-founded. King said she has seen an increase in fear in her clients.

“There have been many situations … in which people struggled greatly, and I have identified that fear has been driving much of their behaviors,” King said. That can lead people to “fall prey” to what King describes as a “scarcity mentality” — an obsession with the lack of something or fear of limited supply that makes it hard to focus.

Aspen Strong Program Director Lindsay Lupow said she has also observed the fear related to the pandemic and sees a lasting impact from that mindset.

“​​The fear, the unknown, and the division among people has shifted their emotions,” Lupow said. “People have lost their sense of belonging and have struggled with a loss of connection. This ultimately created a sense of not belonging to their respective communities.”

Teens, who spent their most social years trapped at home with technology as their only sources of outside communication, also had to navigate the challenges of growing up with social media.

So how can they cope?

Telling someone (or telling yourself) to think of the positives in the worst situations can create an emotional block, according to Harvard Medical School psychologist Susan David.

“Encouraging someone to pretend to be happy or brave or optimistic when they’re feeling otherwise is unkind,” David said. “It communicates that their experience is invalid, that their pain is something to hide from the world. And as a coping strategy, it’s ineffective.”

At the same time, a change in mindset can be a helpful way to move forward, according to Lupow.

Even though we are hopefully nearing the end of the pandemic, anxiety is still a common thing, and with all the negative impacts of the pandemic such as social media and isolation, there are still many positives we can seek out today.

“We all need to remember that our brains have plasticity, and we can 100% lessen anxiety and depression by shifting our perspective and what we do better than anything: storytelling,” Lupow said.

“We tell ourselves stories all day long and likely, they are not nice stories. If you tell yourself that you are beautiful, you are smart and you are capable, you will eventually believe it,” she added. “Also, if you change your stories to ‘I have a thought that I am …’ instead of ‘you are stupid,’ it can also help in changing your perspective and create a better, safer place inside of your mind.”

Lauren Kinney is a staff writer for the Skier Scribbler and a sophomore at Aspen High School. This is her first year with the paper.