As school closures and quarantines take place across the globe, the overwhelming anxiety is palpable in the newfound realities of a pandemic. Trips to the grocery store are now strategized, as shoppers face empty shelves and shortages of household staples. This will undoubtably continue as anxiety thrives on uncertainty increasing stress and driving us to seek answers and information in an evolving landscape. Keeping ourselves healthy and safe is a tall order and is further compounded by the challenge of maintaining our values and goals as parents. Still, it is vital that we support ourselves as individuals first, because maintaining our mental and physical health is the foundation from which we support our children during these trying times.
First and foremost – plan
More than ever, it is important to follow the warnings and guidelines of trusted resources. This includes the WHO, state and local governments, and public health agencies. For personal advice, turn to your doctor and your child’s pediatrician. Websites, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, are another source of trusted information.
Disconnect to reconnect
After keeping up to date with developments in the pandemic, schedule time to disconnect from the consumption of social media and news outlets. Being bombarded with information fuels panic and inhibits preparedness. Further, media consumption turns you away from face-to-face interactions with your partner/spouse and children leading to missed opportunities for connection and comfort. By imposing limits, we can model how to manage our handling of difficult information, and also limit our child’s exposure to anxiety ridden media and social media content.
Simultaneously, take this hibernation as an opportunity to recharge and strengthen bonds as a family. The forced decluttering of our schedules allows us to foster one-on-one interactions, a sense of togetherness, and protects us from anxiety.
Maintain your foundation
Undoubtably routines, habits, and daily activities are disrupted by cancellations in schools, activities, and events. These disruptions are unavoidable, unnerving, and trigger negative emotions that may stray us away from essential self-care routines needed to support our health and mental health. Self-care takes many forms including daily mediation practice, home-based hobbies (such as cooking/baking, gardening, redecorating, channeling your inner Marie Kondo), exercise, crafting or sewing, writing, art, collecting, reading, etc. By taking care of yourself first you are fueling your ability to care for others and minimizing your vulnerability to illness, irritability, and anxiety – all of which draw you away from mindful parenting. For example, I have committed to starting each day with a yoga practice and ending many days with a meditation practice. These few quiet moments ensure that no matter how much arguing my kids do (with myself or each other), I reduce my vulnerability to stray from my parenting goals.
Reconnect with natural joys
Exercise and nature are pillars for maintaining our health and mental health, making them an essential part of our daily routine. Vitamin D, daily exposure to the elements, and physical activity help maintain our health, ensure better sleep, and protect us from negative moods. This is also a great way to pass time with kids or grab a few moments of needed solitude. This can be as simple as doing daily activities outside such as meals, reading, work, and schoolwork or more adventurous such as exploring your neighborhood or local hiking paths.
Practice gratitude and altruism
Reflecting on the gifts of today is an essential element of happiness and contentment. And while it is easy to ruminate on our loss of freedom and normalcy, focusing on the negative only perpetuates despair. Although it may not be automatic, taking a few minutes each day to mindfully list things you are thankful for will change your perspective and increase your sense of well-being. The practice of gratitude is also great for the whole family, allowing children to focusing on the positive.
The same goes for helping others in a time of need. Can you run errands for your elderly neighbor? Or help organize activities for kids and share them with other parents? Take this opportunity to sort out old toys, books, and clothes and make donations to charity? By helping others, we strengthen our sense of belonging and gain a sense of community.
Know when to seek help
Lastly, as you and your family will undoubtably experience anxiety during the coming days and weeks it is important to know when and where to seek help. Panic will only fuel impulsive behavior, reduce intelligent decision making, and increase our vulnerability. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America has compiled a list of trusted resources and expert tips. Taking care of your mental health is a vital part of ensuring that your kids and teens navigate this time successfully. We know from well-established scientific studies that children’s mental health improves when parents seek mental health care first.
Featured Image Credit: Photo by prostooleh via Freepik