Teenagers, Keep Expectations Low & Hopes High During Coronavirus: An Excerpt From "Advice I Ignored: Stories & Wisdom From a Formerly Depressed Teen" by Ruby Walker
If you are a depressed teenager, some days just trying to get out of bed feels like a chore. Now navigating online school, keeping a social distance from your friends, sheltering at home and feeling anxious about your job or your health can be daunting, if not completely debilitating. Here are four simple tips excerpted from my book, Advice I Ignored: Stories and Wisdom From a Formerly Depressed Teen, on how to keep expectations low, set hopes high and make a plan to get stuff done.
1. Be Proud of the Progress You Make
Even the little things are irrevocable. My good friend Anna said to me, “I’ve changed this summer. I don’t want to go back to who I was.” “Dearest friend,” I replied, “I’m glad you don’t. If you tried, you’d surely fail.”
2. Set Realistic Goals
If you can do simple stuff, and you figure out the right order to do all that simple stuff in, and you do it, you can accomplish pretty much whatever you decide to do. I hate unnecessary acronyms as much as you do, believe me. But SMART goals worked well for me! An effective goal is:
- Specific: Describe exactly what you’ll do. “I wanna get better at guitar” isn’t specific. “I want to play 'Wonderwall' at the talent show in June” is. You can’t really attain vague goals, so they just end up making you sad in a blurry way that’s hard to get rid of.
- Measurable: Decide how you’ll see progress. Are you taking pictures of your garden as it grows? Are you counting how many squats you do every week? Do you just want to see your test grades improve, or do you want to be able to explain Thermodynamics to a friend?
- Achievable: Decide that you can.
- Realistic: Work out logistics like money and travel. If you wanted to climb a certain mountain, do you know how long the drive there is? Do you have supplies?
- Timed: Set a time frame and set aside time to work. When do you want to show your artwork? How long does it usually take you to paint something? How much time do you need to set aside for setup?
Here’s an example of a few nice, simple goals I’ve had:
- I’ll run on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays – increasing the time a little each day. Then, next week on Monday, increase the time from 20 to 30 minutes.
- I have a paper due in Composition next Tuesday. I’ll write an outline to get started – I know it needs to be 1,500 words. If I write 300 words a day, I’ll have a few days left over to revise and edit my draft. I’ll start working at 4 p.m. today.
3. Link Little Goals to Big Goals
Try this: get a piece of paper and fold it in thirds. Now, label the thirds “today,” “this month” and “this year.” Write down something you want to do and work backwards. This time next year, I want a 4.0 GPA. Pretty audacious! You can pick anything you like – that was the real goal I chose the first time I did this. If you decide there’s something you want to do, it doesn’t need to be a scary ordeal. Everything becomes more manageable when you break it down.
Think about your goal. “If I want to have a 4.0 GPA next year, what do I need to do in the next four months? The next month? Come up with the smaller components that feed into your big goal.
To get a 4.0, I’ll need to be more organized, choose classes that fit me, and spend more time studying after school. Then you simply come up with ways you can get started on those smaller goals today.
To get organized, I can start a planner and clear off my desk. To study more, I can schedule dedicated time for it in my planner and start highlighting my notes tonight. To choose good classes, I can do some research on degreeMap and Rate My Professor in the library after class. I can also schedule an appointment with my school counselor. This helps in two ways. One, large goals seem less daunting with a plan. They’re achievable. And two, short goals are motivated by larger goals. Their importance is clear.
4. Keep a Planner
I didn’t think I was the organized type! My spaces, including the inside of my head, were constantly a mess – so wasn’t this my natural state? Turns out, I like being organized. I just don’t like organizing. Or really, I didn’t even know how to start. I’m still not a neat freak, but time management is stress management. Getting things done when I want them done takes the pressure off and lets me have fun jumping into the next task.
When I have a plan and I’m doing it right, I’m not utterly relaxed – nobody is – but instead of always scrambling, I feel like life is pitching at a pace I can hit. I used to be pretty bad at remembering all those plans. Checklists. Dates. Projects. I’d scrawl something ambitious down onto a legal pad, and because I wrote it down, that would feel like I actually did something. I’d bask in my smug afterglow. But then I’d forget my precious list in the pocket of someone else’s jeans, and boom – I had less time, paper, motivation than when I started.
Here is how to get started using a planner:
- Procure a notebook. Any notebook. You could get one with a calendar already printed or could draw that on yourself. I got a regular composition book since I like to use things that I wouldn’t feel bad about ruining. Some of my friends prefer to invest in nicer things. Just get something you think you’ll use.
- What should you write inside? Little notes, little goals. Whatever you think you’ll need to remember or do: “Math homework 3.4.” “I ate way too much shrimp for lunch!” “Run and then stretch for 15 minutes.” “Nature boy – Miles Davis.”
Now if you google planners, you’ll see a lot of perfect hand-made layouts in six colors with stickers and line graphs and glitter. If you’re crafty and you’d like to do that kind of thing, go ahead. But it isn’t a requirement. A planner is just a bunch of notes on a calendar – you can stop using it for a few days, spill coffee on it, dedicate five pages to a playlist you made for a crush – whatever! To me, it’s where all my wild dreams and complex plans come home to rest for the night. It’s how I know they’ll be there in the morning. Sometimes I only fill it out with crayons. Sometimes I skip a week or two.
Your life, your rules.
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