Parenting in Global Anxiety
It is a wild understatement to say that we are living through a turbulent time. Anxiety and trauma are here with us as unwelcome guests in our social distancing.
We know the steps we can take to keep ourselves as physically healthy as possible, but there are things we can do – or at least accept – to ensure that we all emerge from this with our mental health intact as well.
Jennifer Schmucker, Behavioral Health Director at New Horizon Family Health Services, said uncertainty is at the core of what we are experiencing.
“Ordinarily, if we’re planning for inclement weather, we know there will be an end point,” she said. “Nobody in our era has experience with this.”
Parents can expect the change in routine to be disruptive to kids. They may even be whiny, clingy, angry or confused.
“Even though children don’t have the same frame of reference that we do, they know it’s different,” Schmucker said. “It’s stressful.”
Parents have to do the best they can to take care of themselves, Schmucker said. Some are in entirely new roles, maybe working from home, homeschooling or both. Even if the day-to-day tasks are the same, the outside stressors can have an impact.
To calm anxious thoughts, start with relaxation breathing. Use an app or an online breath bubble if that helps. Progressive muscle relaxation can provide calm.
Children miss playing with their friends and seeing family. Connection can still be maintained online – but not through social media, which can keep bad or scary news at the forefront.
“Try to stay present and connected,” Schmucker said. “FaceTime and talk to friends. Skype grandparents. Incorporate some new routines so you still have some social contact.”
As long as health guidelines and local guidance are heeded, go for walks outside. Or have a five-minute dance party indoors.
“It’s important to break up the day,” Schmucker said. “Take lots of breaks. Acknowledge that this is a really stressful time. It’s traumatic, whether or not you know someone who is sick. We like to be in control of as much as we can. We don’t have that control and that’s stressful.”
If you feel anxious or fearful or overwhelmed, you are not alone.
“Nobody is immune to the stress this puts on people,” Schmucker said. “We are in this together. We are still connected, and we are going to get through this.”
For your mental health:
· Give yourself grace. “Go easy on yourself,” Schmucker said. “Nobody knows how to do this. We’ve never lived through this. Expect that you are going to feel worried or anxious. That’s to be expected.”
· Give your children age-appropriate information. “Validate to them that it’s very strange to be home. Let them ask questions. If you don’t know, it’s OK to say you don’t know.”
· Don’t magnify the problem with alcohol or other substances. “If you find yourself reverting to negative coping skills, call your doctor’s office or call a friend,” Schmucker said.
· Try to head off financial stresses. Contact the utility (or other) company rather than avoiding the issue. Schmucker said communicating and working together in this exceptional time is helpful. “Don’t over-personalize that you are a failure,” Schmucker said. “This situation is unavoidable.”
· Take a break from the news. Stay in the present moment.
· Keep it simple: eat healthy food, drink water, try to get rest, move your body. “Sometimes when all else fails, go back to the basics,” Schmucker said.
If you need help:
· National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 or https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org
· The SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) Disaster Distress Helpline, 1-800-985-5990, provides immediate crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster. It is free, multilingual and confidential. Stress, anxiety, and other depression-like symptoms are common reactions after a disaster. Call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to connect with a trained crisis counselor.
· Learn more about New Horizons Family Health Services at http://www.newhorizonfhs.org.
· Try progressive muscle relaxation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1nZEdqcGVzo