In the face of an unprecedented global crisis that requires children to be home from school, whether they are in preschool or college, and results in a 24-hour news cycle with overwhelming and sometimes terrifying messages, it’s no wonder many parents are feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or sad. So, how can we cope as we adjust to new routines, financial challenges, and the risk of infection from the novel coronavirus?
Nurse practitioner and parenting coach Dr. Erin Erickson, co-host of the weekly podcast Mom Enough®, offers tips to help you stay positive and actively address the range of emotions that most parents are feeling during this pandemic.
PARENTING DURING THE PANDEMIC
Parents around the world, and right in your neighborhood, suddenly find themselves working from home while trying to home school their younger children or assist their high school and college students as they adjust to distance learning. Parents are also helping their children as they struggle with what the pandemic means for them socially and emotionally. For some, the pandemic has meant the loss of a job, which adds another layer of significant stress and practical challenges as they try to make ends meet or navigate unemployment. For others, it has meant working in a setting that puts them at greater risk of infection, such as clinics or hospitals, or in essential service positions, such as grocery stores. Navigating this is a challenge, and it is normal for parents to experience a range of emotions during these times.
HOW PARENTS CAN COPE WITH THE PANDEMIC
❉ Take time to breathe and reflect
When faced with managing new circumstances while also trying to be the best parents you can be, it is normal to get caught up in what is happening without taking a break to breathe and reflect. When you stop and breathe, you elicit the relaxation response, which gives your body a chance to recover from the stress of the pandemic and the effects it is having on you and your families. This recovery can have beneficial effects on your mood and your physical health and wellbeing. Simply noticing your breath for even a few seconds can give you a moment to push the pause on the stress. You can then start shifting your breath, breathing in to a slow count of four, pausing, and then breathing out to the count of five. You might even do a scan of your body, noticing any tension in your body and visualizing breathing in relaxation and breathing out that tension or stress. You can play around with this, breathing in happiness and breathing out sadness or breathing in energy and breathing out fatigue. Reflect on what you are feeling in your body, your mind, and in your surroundings. You know what you need right now, so take that in and let go of what is not serving you.
❉ Stay connected with with your support network
Being isolated with your family can be both wonderful and challenging. As you navigate the new routines and changes to daily life, stay connected with friends and family. Stick to your regularly scheduled plans, but do them virtually. For example, if you have a cooking club, plan to cook “together” with pantry-ready ingredients and connect on Skype or Zoom while you do this. Book clubs are easy to do over Zoom. And, if you have more time to read, you might even suggest meeting twice this month and next. Consider going on a “walk” with out-of-town friends, while you catch up over the phone. Come up with a craft project and set-up regular check-ins with friends to share your progress. Even a simple phone call or text can help everyone feel less alone.
❉ Ask for what you need
Think about what you need that might make things less difficult. For example, if you are feeling too anxious to go to the grocery store, ask a friend if they are willing to pick some things up for you and leave them on your doorstep. If you are struggling with home schooling, connect with other parents and set up a rotating schedule where different parents in the class take turns supporting the kids with a subject using Google Hangouts or Facetime. If you are good at math, you might offer to take that topic while another parent handles story time. If you are feeling alone, tell a friend and ask them to check in on you. Know that by asking for what you need, you are giving others permission to do the same.
❉ Seek outside help, if needed
If you are really struggling, reach out for professional help. Most counselors are offering virtual visits and there are even online counseling services available. These are exceptional times and it is perfectly normal to feel more sad or worried during this time. If you notice that your anxiety or depressed mood is getting in the way of your ability to do what you need to do to stay healthy or be the parent you want to be, then seek support from a professional who can help you feel better. We all need extra support sometimes, and there is no shame in getting it.
❉ Find the joy in each day
When we are so focused on the trajectory of the pandemic, it can overshadow the positive things in each day. Be mindful of the happy moments, so you can fully partake in the good things that are happening as a result of being asked to avoid physical contact with people outside of our homes. Perhaps you are spending more time together as a family or having longer conversations with your teens. Celebrate these moments! You will feel happier for being present during the positive aspects of these difficult times.
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES ON COVID-19
❉ HELPING PARENTS COPE WITH THE PANDEMIC TIP SHEET. For a PDF copy of this article, click here.
❉ CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION (CDC). For up-to-date public health information, visit the CDC’s website dedicated to the coronavirus (COVID-19).
❉ NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH (NIH). For the latest research on COVID-19, visit the NIH’s coronavirus webpage.