Airplane pilots describe flying as a mostly boring activity interspersed with moments of panic. When you are in the air and dependent on the flying machine, you want it to stay boring! Unless you are an acrobatic pilot. Daily life can reflect this situation, especially now during the COVID 19 restricted life we are living. Pilots have a flight plan that they follow as best as they can, and this allows them to get to their next destination as safely and predictably as possible. Using this as a metaphor for life, what is your flight plan? Where are you headed? Hopefully you have a flight plan for your life that you can still follow during the COVID times.
In my work with families, my observation is that many family’s daily routines (flight plans) have been blown out of the sky by COVID. The biggest area of concern, of course, is the kids’ routines. In the absence of organized activities such as school, camps, sports training, work, or other usual summer activities many older children and adolescents are adopting the vampire schedule; up all night and sleeping all day. Several adolescents have told me that they are staying up until 4:00 or 6:00 in the morning playing video games with friends or engaging in other social media such as TikTok and YouTube. This makes their night-time somewhat enjoyable, but most still report feeling an underlying sense of boredom or feeling stuck in life. Many mental health practitioners across the nation have been reporting an increase in anxiety and depression symptoms in their clients during the COVID shutdown, and it is associated with the loss of routine.
The problem is that lack of routine is associated with mental illness, social disruption, increased anxiety and depression symptoms. Staying up all night and sleeping all day is OK for a day or so but when it becomes the habit it disconnects the person from their life and purpose. Mental illness is chaos in one’s mind, emotions, behavior and relationships. Keeping a daily routine is an antidote to this chaos. The main reason that patients in a behavioral health unit (mental hospital) start to improve and function better is that they are put on a routine: getting up at the same time every day, eating healthy meals, engaging in scheduled activities and socializing.
So, parents, if you are concerned about your adolescents and observe them to be moody, disconnected and discontented I highly recommend you get them on a schedule. If you are seeing yourself more moody and discontented then put yourself on a schedule too! Jordan Peterson, in his book “12 Rules for Life”, says that the first thing he does in working with depressed and anxious clients is to get them on a schedule of waking up at the same time every morning and starting their day with a high fat, high protein breakfast (i.e., bacon and eggs).
From this starting point, include in the daily routine the following: exercise, creativity, work, service and social connection. While it seems like life has screeched to a halt, time goes on! Don’t waste it. Make the most of it. Connect to priorities, values, and purpose every day. Help your kids get out of a self-indulgent rut and do something service oriented. If you are part of a church, call the pastor to find out how your kids could get involved in community service. Have them work alongside you in household chores. Show your teens how they can be of help and useful to those around them. There may be some moaning and whining, but this is how they learn to grow up and be functional adults rather than giant babies who continue to live dependent on others their whole lives. Keep it boring. There will still be enough unplanned drama happening to make life interesting in spite of your daily flight plan.