While the world reels under the impact of a global health pandemic, many parents are struggling to cope not only with the impact of school and nursery closures and working-from-home arrangements, but with their own mental health crises.
Whether parents were suffering from anxiety or depression before, or if it has newly crept into their lives with the unprecedented situation in which we find ourselves, the public health measures that are necessary to keep us safe also make many of the activities that are usually recommended to help treat anxiety or depression much harder, if not impossible. With all schools and gyms closed and self-isolation recommended, it’s more difficult to get outside, exercise, socialise or even have any time to yourself away from the kids. We asked Tanya Dharamshi, Clinical Director and Counselling Psychologist at Priory Wellbeing Centre, Dubai (www.priorygroup.ae) for her advice on staying positive during these challenging days:
“Current advice in relation to the coronavirus pandemic recommends limiting social contact and going into self-isolation if displaying symptoms. This will be a significant cause of concern for many people, but for those who suffer from acute anxiety, it could exacerbate their condition so it becomes more debilitating.
“It is important to normalize the feelings you are having and the impact self-isolation has. While we need to limit our interactions, in our mind our focus has shifted from living to surviving and the social withdrawal can lead to loneliness and as well as a feeling of hopelessness.
“While anxiety can be a helpful and protective emotion, and is a response to threat or danger, it can also become counterproductive and damaging if it is excessive or prolonged. It can cause severe emotional and physical distress and go on to impact a sufferer’s daily functioning. During this uncertain time, it’s even more important to look after our mental health and wellbeing and for those with anxiety to be proactive in managing their symptoms. There are a number of ways in which we can all stay as physically and emotionally robust as possible.”
With schools, local amenities and leisure outlets all currently closed, below is some helpful advice for parents to bear in mind over the coming weeks and months:
- Keep things in perspective. Adhere to the recommended guidelines relating to precautionary measures to keep yourself and your family protected and remember, many of us affected will experience only mild symptoms and will make a full recovery.
- For those parents – or children - struggling with high levels of stress and anxiety, learn and practise active relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and mindfulness, which can help re-centre you during times of extreme stress. Shift your focus with exercise, and hobbies whether it’s taking a walk, reading, listening to music or talking to your loved ones. Take the time to do the things that you’ve wanted to do for yourself and your family and embrace the opportunity to reflect on the positive impact of a slower paced life. Anything that allows your mind time to ‘switch-off’ for a set period of time, will help you to re-focus and remain calm. Be consciously present with your family and engage in joyful activities with them.
- Go outside. A walk outside can do wonders with getting some vitamin D as well as fresh air and change of scenery. Set a goal for your walk, this can be a length of walk, time of walk or even how many birds you see during your walk. A healthy body really does help encourage a healthy mind. So, it’s key to ensure you and your family follow a healthy diet, keep hydrated, get enough sleep and stay active even if indoors.
- Children like routine, so while schools are closed, try to develop and stick to a set structure for each day, whether it involves the family going for a walk every day after breakfast, playing games after lunch, helping to prepare dinner etc. Keep them occupied as much as possible. This is a good time to teach life skills that we sometimes do not have the time for such as washing dishes or stacking the dishwasher, preparing the table for meals, preparing meals and budgeting their pocket money. This is also a good time to connect with how you are feeling individually and sharing it as a family. Keep a journal of your thoughts regarding how you are feeling and balance it with identifying the positive that happened that day – this will help to normalize your feelings but also shift the focus away from the disruption of self-isolation. Reducing children’s online and social media consumption is helpful as it can play on any fears and concerns they may have regarding the virus.
- Have individual time. Mums (and dads) should try to set aside ‘me-time’ no matter how limited. Being at home with children all day, every day, can be exhausting both mentally and physically. Ensure you have some time alone each day to ‘re-set’ and ‘re-boot’. Whether it’s just going for a walk around the block once your partner returns home from work, having a bath, or calling a friend for a catch-up. This time is essential for preserving your mental health and wellbeing and children will also benefit far more from a relaxed and happy parent, rather than one who is stressed-out, impatient, short-tempered and exhausted. Children should also have time set aside for creative, individual activity.
- Get dressed for the day and have intention. By scheduling activity, one can avoid the ‘drifting’ sense of the days and ensure a mindset of purpose and meaning. It can also help foster a sense of accomplishment during this time which moves our mind away from the anxiety and helplessness of self-isolation.
- Often mothers are the lynchpin for the entire family and children in particular will be looking to them for guidance and reassurance. Have open discussions with your children about the virus, explain how the recommended, precautionary measures are sensible, practical and a way to keep us all safe and healthy. Emphasise how for the majority of us, the virus will just be a mild disease and which we will all recover from.
- While it is important to keep updated with reliable information from the government and official health organisations about preventing and managing the infection outbreak, you could limit your exposure to non-stop 24/7 news and social media - particularly with children around - which can exacerbate stress and worry because of the constant barrage of information and statistics.
- For those who are feeling particularly fearful and overwhelmed, ask a friend or relative to provide you with regular, filtered down updates. It is more important to keep up-to-date once or twice a day with news related to helpful Government advice, or the direct impact on local amenities, flights etc.
- Turn you and your family’s attention towards those most in need – particularly those with limitations, aged 60 years and above, and those with underlying health conditions, who are most at risk. Providing help and support to others where you can will help shift focus away your own worries and concerns and in turn help reduce anxiety levels. Even just a phone call to reach out and connect brings a feeling of community care
- Take a step back and remind yourself and your family that this is a collective experience and one which we need to work together to help manage. There are ways and means we can try to help limit its impact.