What a crazy couple months it has been. Just a couple weeks ago, it seemed like Covid-19 was so far away. Sure, it sounded scary, but probably overblown, right? Fast forward to the past couple days and it seems our whole world has changed. Schools are closed, grocery stores are emptied out, and events are canceled. Kids are home from school, oftentimes with questions and fears. “Mommy why are all these people wearing masks?” “Daddy, why are the shelves empty?” You want to be able to answer, but worry you will just make your child scared. These sudden changes we are all experiencing are likely to lead to increased stress for you and your family.
Especially during these times, it is so important to take care of our mental health.
It is very overwhelming being surrounded by so much uncertainty. It is only natural to feel anxious. Anxiety is our mind’s attempt to be aware of a threat in order to feel more in control. With so much uncertainty, it can be hard to focus on what is actually within our control and accept what is not.
As if it wasn’t difficult enough to manage this anxiety, you have your family to take care of. You may have kids who are suddenly home from school. They likely have their own fears and anxiety about what all of this means. Even though schools are closed, with limitations on where to go and what to do, this break likely feels a lot different than a ‘vacation.’ They may feel confused or frustrated with all of these changes. It can be difficult to know what to say or how to help ease their feelings.
Chances are you and your family are hunkering down and staying at home more than usual. Given the seriousness of what’s happening around us, this may lead to stress, anxiety and frustration. Luckily, there is a lot we can do to help manage these feelings. Here are some tips to help you manage your stress and help your children adjust to the changes they are experiencing.
Here are 7 tips to help manage the stress related to Covid-19:
Tip One: Talk to your children about what is happening with Covid-19 at a level they can understand.
Children of all ages are likely feeling confusion with all of the changes around them. Children already prone to anxiety may especially be vulnerable to becoming overwhelmed. Some information can be helpful to ease a child’s anxiety, but too much information at a level they cannot process, may have the opposite effect. Depending on your child’s age and developmental level, try to validate their anxious feelings, and respond to their questions/worries at an appropriate level. For example, validating your child’s feelings, “I know it feels scary right now,” and providing reassuring information such as, “We are safe, and the doctors are wanting us to be extra careful right now,” can help ease a child’s anxiety, especially if you work to validate how they are feeling before trying to reassure them.
Another way to help a child (and ourselves!) with anxiety is remind them what they can do to help such as washing and sanitizing their hands. You can also give them a ‘job’ to help such as wiping down the doorknobs or table once a day. Be careful not to let these activities consume your child’s day, but giving them a sense of small things they can control can help ease a child’s anxiety.
Conversely, many teenagers tend to have the response of things being overblown and there being no need to change their daily life. “Why can’t I go to the mall?” “You’re just paranoid, I’m not going to change my life because of this stupid thing.” These types of responses can be indicative of teenagers’ tendency to be more attuned to immediate gratification vs. appreciating the bigger picture.
It is important to be able to set concrete boundaries for your teenager based on your (not their) comfort level. Some families are ok with allowing their children to ‘hang out’ at a friend’s house who they trust has also been limiting contact with others. Other families, especially those with more at-risk family members, may be more inclined to insist their teenager stay at home and completely limit physical contact with others. Whatever your family’s inclination, it is important to communicate boundaries to your teenager, allow for choices (e.g. you can skate around the block, hang out in the backyard, FaceTime, etc.), and follow through with your expectations. Try not to get into an intellectual argument/discussion about why you are right. Instead, validate that your teenager is feeling frustrated, and that things are unfair, but unfortunately, the rules are different for the time-being.
Tip Two: Set up some routine.
There is no way you can (or should try) to fill your family’s day to the same level that would happen during a school or work day. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you give your children a bit more screen-time than usual.
However, setting up a flexible form of structure can be healthy for both you and your children. This doesn’t mean it has to be the same every day, but having a general ‘flow’ to the day can help manage everybody’s expectations, curtail predictable sources of frustration, and help everyone feel engaged during the day. Blocks of time can include “work time (either stay up to task on school, or use it to catch up on missing assignments),” “independent time,” “family activity,” etc.
Discussing a general plan for the day and interspersing these types of activities with breaks such as screen-time, can help everyone be on the same page and provide a healthy amount of structure to the day. It can also be helpful to include outside time during the day. This can be as simple as going on a walk, and can encourage improved mood and energy throughout the day.
Tip Three: Talk about communication.
If the next few weeks will consist of more time indoors together, we can predict some increased irritability and frustration, most likely for all of us! Having a talk with your family about communicating positively with each other despite this can help everyone monitor their communication. Reminding your kids of ways to appropriately express their frustration, what they can do when they are upset, and when to ask an adult to intervene, can help these strategies feel more easily within your child’s reach.
Tip Four: Monitor your news consumption.
Of course, it is very important to stay informed of what is going on and guidelines from medical professionals as to how to keep yourself and your family safe.
However, there is a line between staying informed and feeding into your anxiety.
This can be especially hard these days as it seems the only news available is about Covid-19. For example, I love reading about and watching sports, but these days the only thing to talk about is how the virus is affecting the sports world rather than the games themselves. Similarly, there’s a constant news cycle about which celebrities have been affected, how the financial world has been affected, how it’s affecting entertainment, etc. etc. Clicking every article, reading every personal story, trying to find a way to ‘predict’ what will happen next, is likely to cause you more anxiety than it is to give you a sense of comfort.
Tip Five: Make sure to incorporate self-care
With all the anxiety and changes we’ve been talking about, you certainly have a lot on your plate.
Make sure to prioritize your own self-care as an essential part managing stress during this time. Try to incorporate the things that fulfill you personally as part of your day.
That may mean turning your room into a temporary yoga studio, making sure you go on a walk, setting some time to just take a bath, or whatever else you can think of to take care of yourself. WIth all the chaos around us, it can be tempting to go into ‘survival mode,’ and convince ourselves that the only things that matter are the practical concerns of getting groceries, avoiding germs, etc. However, this can be a recipe for increased stress, irritability, anxiety, and symptoms of depression.
When we focus solely on the practical concerns of the day and neglect our own emotional needs, we can quickly begin to feel stretched thin, overly stressed, and ultimately ‘stuck.’ Prioritizing self-care is not ‘selfish,’ but instead, necessary in order to continue managing the day-to-day stressors of this time. By doing so, we make sure that we are recharging ourselves and ensuring we are at our most capable and most fulfilled, which is much needed to face the stress and uncertainty that surrounds us.
Tip Six: Encourage projects.
Projects can be good both individually and as a family. This can be an opportunity to tap into your creative side, and to encourage your children’s creativity. Whether it’s art projects, Lego creations, cooking projects, or learning a craft, having a project can help keep our minds stimulated in a fun way. It can be easy to slip in the monotony of staying stuck at home, and rely on passive activities such as television, iPad, and video games to distract us from feelings of anxiety or boredom. However, exploring ways to stay engaged and commit to challenges that are both motivating and engaging, can keep our minds stimulated, improve self-esteem, and help provide a sense of excitement in our lives.
Tip Seven: Take advantage of family time
As a parent, you now have a captive audience! I’m kidding (kind of…), but being home more really does provide more of a chance to connect as a family. Our usual excuses of busy schedules, too much homework, and “there’s not enough time in the day,” have mostly been taken care of for us. Whether it’s that family game night you’ve been wanting to set up, actually sitting down as a family to eat dinner, or just hanging out in the same room more often, this can be a great opportunity to connect as a family. Hopefully, as life begins to return to normal, these ‘connecting’ activities can remain an important part of your family routine.
Lastly, remember that we are all in this together.
We are all being affected, and we will get through this. Nobody knows the timeline, exactly what will happen or when. But one thing is certain, this wave will pass eventually, and hopefully we will all be stronger and more united through it all.
At Simi Psychological Group, we are here to help guide you in managing feelings of anxiety, sadness, and doubt. Given the current health concerns, we are now offering telehealth Online therapy sessions. We know that this time of uncertainty can be overwhelming and feel truly isolating.. We value being here for you and your family during this period. Learning to manage feelings of stress and anxiety can provide you an increased sense of confidence navigating your family through this difficult time.
Reach out for a free consultation (805) 842-1994.
I’m a licensed psychologist who encourages children, teens, and families to take the steps and make the changes they need to see real, lasting change in their lives.
I specialize in working with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Anxiety, Defiant behaviors, and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) and in helping children and adolescents build confidence and strength to live their lives to their true potential. I believe that each child is unique and has the inner strength to fight through their obstacles with the support of their loved ones. So they never have to experience feeling “less than” or being labeled as “different” or “difficult.” Learn more