Global pandemics are tough on everybody, but add to that the claustrophobic chaos of being in lockdown with young children, trying to juggle home schooling with working from home, plus the financial strain of salary cuts, and health concerns or worse for family both at home and abroad - and it’s no wonder if you are feeling a little close to the edge…
“Covid-19 and the associated restrictions have led to significant pressures on parents and families, with many trying to juggle working from home, learning from home and the various typical day-to-day family issues,” says Dr. Paul Gelston, Clinical Psychologist at Dubai Community Health Centre. While mothers in particular are prone to sacrificing their own mental and physical health for the sake of their children, parents who are less stressed and anxious are likely to benefit the whole family, says Dr Paul. Here are some coping mechanisms for parents to manage anxiety, worry and stress during this challenging time…
- Re-Set Your Perspective
Mothers might be used to trying to “do it all”, but the current circumstances are out of the remit of anything anyone has had to cope with before – especially if you are trying to both work at home and manage your children’s education. “It is virtually impossible to balance and manage all of these areas successfully – so don’t beat yourself up if you are struggling to do this,” says Dr Paul Gelston. “There is a reason you send your children to school every day to learn while you go to work, so don’t stress if this seems to be something that is beyond your limits. Remember that there is no guidebook for times like these, so cut yourself some slack and remind yourself that you’re doing your best in difficult circumstances.”
2) Re-Set Your Expectations
It’s OK if your usual parenting standards have slipped, says Dr Paul Gelston. “It is very likely that your home environment has changed dramatically because of Covid-19 restrictions. Rules that were once adhered to have probably been thrown out the window and it is possible that many boundaries have been tested to their extreme! This is perfectly acceptable and in all honesty, accepting this rather than trying to abide by previous rules and boundaries is likely to create a better home environment for everyone. Flexibility in difficult times is essential.” So give up comparing your current life with what you used to achieve before, and don’t fret if things like screen time rules are out of the window – try optimizing your child’s screen time use instead.
3) Establish A Routine
However, while it’s OK for standards to slip, basic needs like sleeping and eating are some areas where it can be enormously helpful to set flexible boundaries. “It cannot be stated enough how helpful a routine can be for families during the current restrictions,” says Dr Gelston. “Getting up and retiring to bed at the same time, meals at consistent times and scheduling work, relaxation and fun activities is essential for the health of everyone at home. Try to establish a routine wherever possible and use schedules with children so that they know what to expect from their days during the restrictions.”
4) Recognise that negative emotions are valid (and normal)
Do you find yourself tearful or panicky one moment, and perfectly fine the next? If so then you’re not alone: many of us are experiencing a complex emotional state that has a lot in common with the five stages of grief, says clinical health psychologist at Cleveland Clinic’s Mellen Center, Amy Sullivan, PsyD, ABPP. These stages are recognised as denial, anger, bargaining, despair, and acceptance - although people do not step neatly from one stage to the next in this exact order: “Grief can come in waves and change on a very regular basis. Our feelings can change on a daily, or even an hourly, basis,” she explains.
Dr Sullivan adds it is normal to go from feeling despair one day to anger the next. “The first thing we need to do is to recognize that it is normal to have these waves of emotions that are happening on a regular basis,” Dr Sullivan says.
Next, she says, acknowledge the loss, whether it is knowing or losing someone with COVID-19, losing jobs, missing friends or family. “Those are all very sad, difficult things for people to manage,” Dr Sullivan says. “Feel what you are feeling — whether it is being overwhelmed, anxious, powerless or anything else, it can help to identify and name these emotions. It can be quite powerful to sit with those feelings for a few moments — to really recognize those emotions and normalize them,” she says.
5) Schedule a ‘Worry Window’
Although Dr Sullivan recommends leaning in to negative emotions, she also advises setting a time limit on this - suggesting you give yourself five minutes to feel that emotion, and then move on to something that you know is a positive coping skill for you. This is similar to a Cognitive Behavioural Technique known as a ‘Worry Window’, whereby you give yourself 15-30 minutes per day to worry, write down what’s making your anxious, and allow yourself to feel it – but outside of that time you try not to worry until your next designated worry slot.
“It is important for us to accept where our feelings are at the moment and process through them, and then move into a more positive position of acceptance,” says Dr Sullivan.
Try to idenify your own best coping mechanisms. Examples might include deep breathing, mindfulness exercises, journaling, talking with another person, or going for a walk in the garden or even just onto your balcony.
“If it comes to a point where someone cannot handle these feelings on their own, they need to seek mental health help,” Dr Sullivan says. Many trained mental and behavioural health professionals are currently seeing patients through virtual visits, so if you are having trouble coping, this could be a solution.
Read more: What’s like to parent a child with special needs during lockdown
6) Fight the urge to disengage
Social isolation doesn’t mean you have to be alone (as those of us with children will know!) but, while it’s easy to get wrapped up in the minutiae of your family’s own personal Groundhog Day at the moment, making the effort to connect with others is a powerful tool for coping during hard times, says Dr Sullivan. Whether that comes in the form of video chatting or sending a good old-fashioned letter, staying in touch with family, friends, neighbours and coworkers can help people to keep a positive attitude, she says.
Dr Gelston agrees: “One of the most important ways to improve your mental health during the Covid-19 pandemic is to maintain your social contact with others. With restrictions in place in relation to social distancing, many people are turning to video calls to connect with others. Prioritise this for yourself and schedule it in your diary regularly. Call other parents to let off some steam or speak to friends and other family members – you will notice improvements in your mood, anxiety and stress levels. It is perfectly acceptable to make conversations ‘Corona-chat free’ if this is what you prefer. Just let family members and friends know if you would prefer to steer clear of specific topics during video calls.”
7) Consider What You CAN Control
When there is so much uncertainty about the future, it is easy to get carried away and play out worst-case scenarios in your head, but “anticipating negative events can bring a sense of anxiety or fear,” says Dr Sullivan.
Dr Gelston agrees and says we should instead focus on the things we can have certainty over: “We can’t control how long the restrictions will be in place for or the news on the TV, but we can control who we are in contact with, how often we expose ourselves to news, what information we decide to focus on, as well as our attitude and behaviours. Remember these things that we are in control of can vastly improve our perception of control, as well as or emotional and mental health.”
Dr Sullivan adds that we can also control how much social media we consume in a day, and what we eat. She recommends being mindful about these choices, and focusing on staying in the present.
8) Pay Attention to Your Self-Talk – and Switch it Around
Your perspective on the situation makes all the difference, says Dr Gelston. “It’s helpful to be aware of your current thought processes and self-statements regarding Covid-19. Obviously it is a very difficult and stressful time for many, but being aware of your perspective on occasion can help your mood and anxiety levels. Think about the viewpoint ‘I’m stuck at home’ when compared to ‘At least I’m safe in my home’. There are likely to be many examples of this when you reflect on your thinking styles or statements you have made, but asking yourself, ‘Is there another way to look at this?’ can vastly improve your mood and perspective. Reminding yourself that the current restrictions and associated difficulties are temporarily only, and that things will get better, is important.”
9) Make Time for Yourself
Self- care has never been more important than now, but the lockdown situation means it’s harder than ever to do it: “Think about the time you had to yourself that has been lost due to the current restrictions and guidelines – the commute to work, the second half of the morning school run, exercise classes and solo time in the supermarket,” points out Dr Gelston. “Everybody needs time for themselves regularly and parents especially need to prioritise time out when things are hectic, so make sure you schedule the time for yourself to read that book, call that friend, listen to that podcast or just to unwind in your own way, without the family distractions.”
10) Embrace New Opportunities
An abundance of free services, courses and activities have been provided online in response to Covid-19 – fitness and exercise classes, music lessons, singing and dancing groups, live concerts, language and academic courses, and many, many more. “Edx.org is an excellent resource for finding courses that might interest you,” says Dr Gelston. “Using the increased time at home effectively or for something you always wanted to learn can be a great way to improve your sense of achievement, reduce stress and pass the time at home.”
11) Get Extra Help if Needed
Taking care of your mental health is essential for ensuring that your children and family navigate the difficult times successfully. “If you feel like you are struggling and need extra support, speak to a loved one and contact a professional,” says Dr Gelston. “Many clinics in the UAE are offering teleservices to clients, and Dubai Community Health Centre are offering free consultations throughout the Covid-19 restrictions.”