Contributed by Ken Sieman, Director, Staff Development
Coronavirus Means More Stress
We are all living through a time unlike any other in our history. The coronavirus pandemic has, in a heartbeat, changed our lives.
For those raising children, the impact has been especially profound. Parents are beset with health worries from the pandemic and financial concerns from job interruptions and losses. This leads to a growing and gnawing fear of not being able to care and provide for our families.
On top of that, there is a sudden set of additional responsibilities for parents: home schooling, around the clock attention and supervision, and being an emotional buffer for our children who are confused by what is happening. We’re tasked with keeping kids away from neighbors and friends (physical distancing), tutoring and repeatedly reminding them to do their schoolwork all while keeping them well fed and healthy. Throughout the day parents must reassure their children that this too will pass even though we don’t know when. It’s overwhelming and exhausting. It can lead to a sense of powerlessness and loss of control that is frightening.
Creating a Sense of Control
So, what do we do? How do we manage it all?
There are some practical actions we can take that will help. They are simple, not always easy, but if followed, can restore and sustain a sense of control over the circumstances we are facing.
- Develop a daily routine. At PEP we know that a daily schedule is essential to help lower the stress and anxiety many of our students often experience. Establishing a home schedule can do the same for our children and us. A daily routine makes life more predictable for all of us, especially now when our lives turned upside down.
- Put rhythm into your day. According to Dr. Bruce Perry, an international expert on child development and trauma and a consultant to PEP, “the only way to move from these super-high anxiety states to calmer and more rational states is rhythm.” Patterned, repetitive rhythmic activity: walking, running, dancing, singing, repetitive meditative breathing activates areas of the brain that help us return to a sense of calm. Rhythm and movement are needs we all have always, and they are especially critical in these highly stressful times.
- Come back to your senses. Sensory experiences, such as body awareness activities like paying attention to our breathing and yoga are calming. Aromatherapy, listening to soothing music like soft jazz or classical music have the benefit of soothing us. This is especially true if we are paying attention to them as we do them. Similarly, cooking, drawing or coloring, working on puzzles and making jewelry with beads can help us restore calm.
- Stay connected. This is certainly more challenging right now, but fortunately, we have technology available to keep us connected with family and friends outside the home. Inside the home, establishing family mealtimes, watching movies together, playing board games and working together on puzzles help us pass the time together in satisfying ways. We are social beings. Our brains are organized for relationships, so it’s more critical now than ever that we stay connected with each other.
Self-Care Crucial, Too
In these trying and uncertain times, as parents we need to do everything we can to stay physically, mentally and emotionally well. We set the tone for our families and it’s important to remember that emotions, like viruses, are contagious. We spread our emotions, whether we are anxious or calm. So be gentle on yourself, practice self-compassion, focus on the positive, lower the demands you place on yourself. And remember, just as the flight attendant on the airplane instructs parents to put their own oxygen mask on before helping their child, your wellness and self-care are more important than ever. This is the time to put the mask on! Stay well!