Life is wiggly: Themes to help young people navigate COVID-19

A picture of Dominique

Guest blogger Dr Dominique Thompson is an award-winning GP, young people’s mental health expert, TEDx speaker, author and educator, with over 20 years of clinical experience caring for students. Here she shares her tips for young people coping with the unpredictability surrounding and created by COVID19 or just to help you through the twists and turns of life.

Life is always unpredictable, but it’s fair to say that it has probably never been more so in our lifetimes. I often tell the students that I give talks to that ‘life is not a straight path- it is wiggly’! We can be going along just fine, and then, sometimes when we least expect it, life can take a massive zig-zag and lead us in a completely different direction.

To not just survive but thrive in life, we need to be able to cope when life goes round an unexpected bend.

I spent most of my career as a GP talking with students (about 78,000 of them at the last count), and much of that time was spent trying to help them, wherever I could, to deal with tricky or emotional situations. 

Next week, Dr Thompson is joining us for a FREE webinar exploring how to look after your mental health Register Now


So for this blog, I wanted to pull out three consistent themes which I believe may help young people to focus on and maintain their wellbeing, even in the most unpredictable of times. These are not COVID19 specific themes, though they should be helpful now, they are useful for anyone who wants to build their life skills, be resourceful, and feel able to cope when life gets difficult or takes an unexpected turn.

1. Build your safety net

One of the best ways to care for ourselves is to be connected to other people who care about us. Family, friends, teachers, tutors, health care workers, and work colleagues, are all people we can weave into our safety net of support. If we need to build or strengthen our network with more people, we might choose to volunteer, or start a new job, or meet them online through shared interests.

It can take time to ‘find our tribe’ in life, but slowly and steadily we can build up support from those who share our ideas and values, our view of the world, or even our strange/ niche hobby.

2. Find a purpose

Having a purpose in life is vital for wellbeing, but it is also really important to remember that it takes time (sometimes decades) to find our ‘life’s’ purpose, whereas we can much more easily create a daily purpose.

This is particularly important when life is as challenging as it is at the moment. We need to be able to get up each day and have a reason to put our feet on the floor, get out of bed and get going. Having small projects, helping others, being creative or getting things ticked off a list can all give you a sense of daily purpose.

You might like to create a mood board online of your ideal room décor, you might decide to get physical with wood, hammer and nails, you might clean bits of your home that have never seen daylight, or you might help a neighbour who is struggling, thus giving yourself a nice happy boost too.

All these things and many others can restore some motivation, and keep you going till we come out of the other side of this strange global event.

Having done this for COVID19, you will then be better prepared for the next time life is difficult.

3. Don’t be afraid to mess up

We all like to do well or even be the best at stuff, but it is those who fail regularly and mess up who learn the most. So the advice here is about not being afraid to try new things, make mistakes, and explore new activities or ideas.

It is also about not being too anxious when doing everyday stuff, whilst worrying that you will be judged or criticised.

Lots of us worry about what others will think of us (that’s normal) or that we might get things wrong (very normal), but the key here is to not to let it stop you doing the things that you want to. Mistakes are a normal part of learning,  so it can be helpful to accept that you might get it wrong, but give it a go anyway.

Whether it is trying a new fashion look, hairstyle (aren’t we all right now?), sport, recipe, creative writing style, then just go for it (but try not to end up in A&E at the moment). Watch YouTube videos for advice, video chat with friends whilst you do it, or share your efforts online when you’re ready to, but make yourself one promise- that you will learn from your mistakes, not let them stop you taking good risks in life. 

So I hope that with these 3 themes to live by, you will feel confident to try new things, motivated to keep going one day at a time, whilst staying connected to your support network, as we all live through this bizarre era and come out the other side in a few months’ time. Life will always be wiggly, but hopefully, you will now feel more ready to zig-zag!

  • Recently I have recorded some brief videos (called #DomIn60Seconds) to offer advice and support, on a whole variety of topics which may feel relevant to young people, and I have also written a series of short guides for students on mental health, and succeeding at university. I hope you will find them useful!

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