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"There’s no wrong way to be living in a pandemic.”
-- Anna Grant-Bolton, Junior, ETHS

Each Monday at 3 p.m. for the past three weeks, a group of Evanston middle school and high school students gather on Zoom to connect with each other and with the Evanston community to talk about life during Covid-19. They're members of Evanston Cradle to Career's Advocates4Action program, which trains community members to be leaders and helps amplify their voices.

Each meeting has a theme and special guest. Yesterday's meeting theme was mental health, since May is mental health awareness month, and because mental health is on all our minds during this pandemic.

So students were joined by Evanston therapist Damita Cravens, as well as A4A coordinator Kimberly Holmes-Ross and leadership trainer Pastor Monte' L. G. Dillard, Sr. Other students and community members joined in via Facebook to participate in the discussion.

"We realized that students needed a platform where they could share experiences and receive support," says Kimberly, who, during "normal" times meets with students in real live to work on projects and practice leadership skills.

Yesterday's meeting opened with participants offering a word about how they are feeling.

"Concerned," said Evanston Township High School (ETHS) senior Nia Dillard.

"Anxious," said Meena Sharma, a junior.

Tiana Jackson, a King Arts 8th grader said she felt annoyed, and Haven 6th grader Devon Cravens felt isolated.

"Exhausted," said ETHS junior Anna Grant-Bolton.

Damita Cravens acknowledged that being at home so much can lead us all to feeling down, and even depressed, and emphasized the need for self-care.

"Anxiety is at its highest even for those of us who don’t have anxiety," she said. "Not knowing what’s going on."

She asked the group what they're doing to take care of themselves.

Anna, who said her mind is always moving and that she gets stressed really easily, has started doing yoga.

"I don’t usually do it," she said, "but it’s helped." And she said she's started journaling too.

Other students take time to work out, go running, bike ride, clean their room, and just chill and watch TV at night.

"I take a walk in the morning to see who's outside," said Tiana. "And I dance in the house and listen to music."

Together, the group talked about how to balance getting necessary schoolwork done without feeling guilty about being less productive.

"We need to balance the pressure to feel productive with taking care of ourselves," said Pastor Dillard, who acknowledged that adults are feeling the strain too. "Social media is telling us to come out of this with five new businesses, but I just want to take a nap. Pulling back is a form of productivity," he said.

Damita Cravens recommended that students lower their expectations to reduce pressure on themselves.

"Do what you need to do for your education, but don’t pile things on," she said. "Don’t set yourself up with a giant list of things to do. I'm not excusing you from being productive, but to find balance."

Meena was relieved to hear this advice.

"I’m so glad you asked, because I thought it was only me," she said. "I do place a pressure on me to get things done. If I have all this time, why aren’t I tackling everything on my list?" She said she's learning to allow herself time to just decompress. "I'm embracing that a bit more," she said.

Damita Cravens told the students to watch for warning signs--distancing yourself, finding yourself not able to relax.

"Sometimes we don’t realize we’re getting depressed," she said. Step back. Take a breather. Slow it down. Talk to friends," she suggested.

And don't hesitate to talk to a therapist, she said. The Family Institute at Northwestern University is offering tele-therapy services to students and families.

Anna Grant-Bolton summed it up well and wisely.

"I heard someone say that there’s no wrong way to be living in a pandemic," she said. "We shouldn't feel pressure because it’s such a strange, and may cases traumatic, time for people. Taking care of yourself is a top priority."

For mental health and other Covid-19 resources, click here.

To find out more about therapy through the Family Institute click here or call 847-733-4300.

Don't miss next week's Zoom meeting, featuring the superintendents of Evanston/Skokie School District 65 and ETHS at 3 p.m. next Monday. Join in on EC2C’s Facebook page.

To watch yesterday's meeting, click here. Password: 2q$WzX$+

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