Mental Health for Parents during Coronavirus
These are trying times. In addition to all of the small worries parents carry around daily, we’ve now added coronavirus (COVID-19) and all the unknowns that come with this unprecedented time. Many parents are going through their days in a state of heightened anxiety. Some parents are beginning to make difficult decisions about how best to ride out the health recommendations — schools closing, social distancing, and constant hand washing — while maintaining a sense of normalcy for themselves and their children
Everyone reading this, stop. Take a big, beautiful, and deep breath. We’re going to keep going. We’re going to find new ways to be normal, to find big, hearty laughs and celebrate joy with our children.
Learning to manage this current state of anxiety and fighting for joy is a fight worth having. In fact, it is more important now than ever. Let’s use the acronym CALM to stay present, loving, and open for the benefit of our mental health and the benefit of cultivating even more love for our littles.
Create a plan. There’s something everyone’s been saying that isn’t of much help, “Oh, it’s just like the flu.” Minimizing or ignoring your worry or anxiety doesn’t actually make it go away. Instead, it buries itself deeper into your mind and makes things worse. Within manageable levels, worry and anxiety are there to help us plan and be prepared for potential threats. The problem occurs when our mind and body enter a constant state of worry and rumination rather than planning.
Create a plan for the day or week that you’re in. Ask yourself, what can I do to prepare myself and my family? These are short-term, attainable goals that help your mind process what is and isn’t possible at this moment. In this way, you harness worry to control the things you can control. Then, when rumination creeps in again, you let go of what you can’t control. Creating a plan might look like stocking your freezer or having contingencies for modified work or childcare situations. It can also look like talking to your partner or a trusted family member to know that you’re on the same page or have support for different contingencies. For example, asking each other, “If we are both working from home, what do we need?”
Acceptance. Accept that we are in a difficult time, and we won’t have all the answers for the foreseeable future. Accept that no one is perfect, and so many of us are trying our best. With that acceptance, you can attune to what you need to be able to cope with the uncertainty and the distress that creates. Acceptance does not mean ignoring feelings. Instead, it means holding feelings and still being able to move forward.
For example, if we accept that events may be disrupted, we can plan to still have contact with close friends or set up more Facetime calls with family. For parents, acceptance might help you be attuned to your feelings of being off schedule and talk to your partner about what you each need in terms of self-care during this time. Accepting something of this magnitude is a Sisyphean task. Yet, it is also a trusted coping and anxiety-management tool. What are some tools to learn to accept tricky circumstances? One idea is to make a new reality meaningful. Finding meaning by learning to explore the opportunities and possibilities that come out of a difficult moment can be deeply purposeful.
Limit the flow of activating information. We were already inundated with information before coronavirus, and now it feels even more urgent. It feels like this is all anyone wants to talk about! While that may be true, for those with anxiety or developing anxiety, this can be overwhelming. With 24-hour news cycles, Twitter, Reddit, and more, we have so many sources of information throughout the day that it becomes easy to stay in an activated fight or flight response at all times. This exhausts our nervous system and keeps us in a state of anxious anticipation. Limit your experience to a few trusted sources. Set aside times to check news and updates. Set up a buffer before bedtime to protect healthy sleep. It’s wise to stay informed. It is also wise to ensure adequate rest, nutrition, and authentic connection with your family, partner, or body.
Mindfulness. This biggest buzzword of the last few years is on this list for a reason: It works. Mindfulness is such a valuable tool right now. It allows you to balance and smooth out that fight or flight activation with softer, gentler moments that create a more open, social, or serene feeling. For many people, mindfulness feels out of reach in their hectic day-to-day lives. While creating a meditation practice is a worthy goal, mindfulness can also be found in smaller, attainable changes. In this context, mindfulness refers not to empty the mind, but to cueing into the moment, you’re in.
Sometimes that can mean taking a moment to attune to self. Can you find a moment in your day to tune into what you’re thinking and feeling for 3 minutes? Watch those thoughts go by without judging them or rushing into problem-solving. Turn your awareness to them and take deep breaths to bring your body into awareness as well. As you practice mindfulness, you may notice a self-care need coming forth during this time. I need a few minutes alone, or I need to connect to a friend today. Use that information to create moments of self-care and self-soothing.
Other times, mindfulness can mean cueing into the moment you are in with others or a task at hand. Parents who are staying in more often with their children during this time and canceling events can compassionately notice their own feelings around being stuck inside and then try to create a few moments throughout the day of mindful, engaged play. This is a time to put away phones and distractions and let your child or children do what they do so naturally, which is to be entirely in the moment they are in. If you struggle with this, you can set yourself up for success by thinking about a type of play you actually enjoy – art activities, baking, or board games — and engaging with your kids in those activities.
One thing that coronavirus has brought to the surface is how truly dependent we are on each other, for better or worse. We may need our neighbor to be an ally at this time, they may need us to help them too. Our partners and friends need us to be authentic, which means showcasing both care and worry earnestly. Our kids need us to keep their lives full of honesty and as normal as possible. We need all of that, too, so we fight to stay grateful, calm and loving to ourselves so we can keep showing up for others in this unprecedented time of connectedness.
Psst…Looking for ways to talk to your children about COVID-19? Check out How to Talk to Kids About the Coronavirus: Tips From an Expert