By Sheryl Frishman, JD, LMSW
Clinical Supervisor & Director of Parent and Community Outreach, ACDS Westchester
We are in unprecedented times. In addition to all of the daily worries and struggles, as parents of young Autistic children , the difficulties added with the coronavirus, being stuck at home, all the uncertainty, our children’s behavior, virtual learning, and basically just trying to keep our household in order can be extremely anxiety provoking. Feeling anxious, sad, alone and even helpless are normal feelings during this difficult time. This is not easy.
Now, for just a moment, I want you to STOP reading and take a deep breath in and then breath out. Please do this several times. I promise we are going to get through this!
Here are some mental health tips during this difficult time:
Acceptance. Acceptance is necessary during this time. Try to accept that we will not have all the answers for the foreseeable future. Also try to accept that you are doing the best that you can at this moment. Finally, try to accept that this is a really hard. Acceptance does not mean that you are ignoring your feelings. Instead, it means holding your feelings and still being able to move forward.
Limit the flow of activating information. Social media and the news inundated us with information prior to the coronavirus. Now, in particular, the flow of activating information is everywhere. For those who have anxiety or are developing anxiety this constant news cycle can be overwhelming. The more we have access to this information the more easily it is to remain in an activated state, and it can exhaust our nervous system. I recommend setting up a scheduled time to check in with news daily because of course it is wise to remain informed. However, try to only check in during your scheduled time. You may want to set up a buffer, i.e., time away from activating sources, before bed and before you attempt to spend quality time with your family.
Mindfulness. It is a huge buzz word because it works! Mindfulness does not only mean meditation. While creating a meditation practice is a worthy goal, mindfulness can also be found in smaller, attainable changes. In this context and during this difficult time mindfulness refers not to emptying the mind, but to being present in the moment. Worrying about the future is not going to help and only cause more anxiety and stress. Paying attention fully to what you are doing in the present moment with purpose and intention is something that can really help at this time. If you find your mind wandering, that is okay – noticing that IS being mindful and then gently return you mind to what you are doing. If you feel yourself becoming activated there is a short mindful exercise that I find very helpful – Square Breathing. Take a minute and center yourself by doing this it will be helpful.
(you can also find videos on YouTube showing this technique):
1. Close your eyes. Breathe in through your nose while counting to four slowly.
2. Hold your breath inside while counting slowly to four. Try not to clamp your mouth or nose shut.
3. Begin to slowly exhale for 4 seconds.
4. Repeat steps 1 to 3 at least 3 times for a total of 4.