When Santa Fe High School junior Amelie Piburn first started online school at the outset of the pandemic in March 2020, she’d wake up early for a 20-minute workout and eat breakfast before logging online. When the school day was done, she’d immediately start her homework and go to sleep by 10:30 p.m.

She stayed off her phone. It felt healthy.

“Throughout the year, however, this routine started to slip,” Piburn said. “I dropped working out, ate breakfast just in time to start class, and my motivation to start homework immediately disappeared.”

While the fallout of her routine impacted her health, she said it hadn’t gone to a completely unhealthy place. But when she saw many of her friends struggle to stay optimistic through the pandemic, she started to feel their lack of routine was a contributing factor.

As teenagers readjust to life in person, the pandemic’s effects on mental health are lingering in a variety of ways. Some experts believe the impact of the pandemic will remain for years to come.

The correlation between physical and mental health seems to be a pretty obvious one. Many may know physical health can impact mental health. When people aren’t able to eat healthily or exercise, mental health concerns like anxiety and depression are prone to increase. On top of that, the promotion of certain body “goals’’ on social media can deepen anxiety and depression in teens, said Santa Fe-based clinical child psychologist Alexandra Romero.

However, the “correlation is converse, as many mental health concerns are experienced through physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches, and an increased/decreased interest in eating or sleeping,” Romero said in a recent email.

Through constantly changing mandates and varying remote-learning situations, which often involved four hours or more being online, Romero noted some teens may have noticed heightened psychological symptoms the last 18 months, too.

“There was a noticeable shift and mental health concerns observed starting in late fall 2020, early winter 2021. The frequency and intensity of mood, anxiety, adjustment, self harm, and eating disorders drastically increased due to isolation, little to no fulfillment from school, and the unavailability of extracurricular activities or additional social outlets,” she said.

Mandela International Magnet School junior Jasmin Gonzalez-Rutt, 17, said that while she did her best to maintain a routine throughout the pandemic, it never lasted for more than a week at a time because of the constantly changing circumstances.

“I tried not to hold myself too tightly to my schedule; if something was bothering me, I liked to journal about it, helping me simply get it off my mind,” she said.

When Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham lifted pandemic restrictions in July, not only were teens allowed to participate in social activities they once enjoyed, but they also had to undergo the overwhelming return to the new normal.

The pandemic likely has changed each individual, which for some has made it hard to reconnect to the people they once had solid relationships with. Additionally, school and extracurricular activities can feel more intense.

Romero said the trauma associated with the pandemic will take years to recover from.

“Our world was completely turned upside down, and everything that adolescents could reasonably predict was no longer predictable,” she said. “Many adolescents report a worry of impending doom, feeling anxious about the potential for more restrictions/shutdowns and more loss associated with missing important experiences.”

Swinging back into the rhythm of normality has so far varied for teens; however, it was mostly positive for Gonzalez-Rutt. She continued playing soccer. She said her consideration of it as a career is helping her stay disciplined alongside her teammates. She also joined the Santa Fe High School football team.

Along with sports, Gonzalez-Rutt said journaling when she can, staying on top of schoolwork and reducing her screen time are helping her readjust.

Piburn reports that as the state opened up more, she has stayed on top of her routine, with the occasional tardiness to class. Attending class and participating in the play 26 Miles have helped significantly with responsibility and routine, she said.

“It is easier for me to feel motivated when I’m actually at school. … During the pandemic, I partook in weekly therapy sessions to regulate anxiety; however, talking with my older brother, boyfriend and parents were and still are great emotional outlets,” she said.

“Talking and spending time with the people I love is crucial when it comes to maintaining my mental health, as well as the time I set aside for relaxation as a means to recuperate myself.”

Fernanda Rodas is a junior at Mandela International Magnet School. She can be contacted at rodas.fer09@gmail.com.

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