In the midst of the fear and uncertainty we are experiencing with COVID-19, I wanted to offer some brief, even basic/practical ideas for managing your own anxiety, as well as your children’s. In many ways, how we manage our own anxiety will transfer to how we are able (or not) to appropriately care for others, including our children.
Remain informed through trusted sources – strive to consult trusted news and information sources rather than media that is sensationalized and headline focused. Examples of such trusted sources include:
a. The Center for Disease Control – https://www.cdc.gov/
b. The World Health Organization – https://www.who.int/
c. The Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress – https://www.cstsonline.org/
Limit media exposure – it is necessary to stay informed and it is wise to do so, however, it is incredibly tempting (speaking for myself here) to become too consumed and too drawn in by the next headline. Set a limit on when and how you will check for updates (e.g. news twice a day). Stick to your plan with the goal of being informed and not entertained by the shock and awe of the headlines. Limit your child’s exposure to media coverage, based upon their developmental level. Our job here as parents is to navigate the complex web of information/misinformation and to assure our children that we are staying informed and will get them the information they need.
Share with your children as necessary – in other words, be ready to share with your children, but don’t force it; guard against over-sharing. Sharing worries, fears and concerns with others helps to identify how we are feeling. We know that the very act of naming an emotion decreases the intensity of that emotion. Therefore, invite your children to share their fears and concerns with you if they are worried and concerned. Validate your child’s emotions by letting them know that their fears are real and understandable, and at the same time communicate what can be done preventatively, as well as what is being done by all the experts. Communicate that it is ok for them to discuss their concerns, fear and worries with you at any time. Provide reassurance (e.g. “we will get through this”) while acknowledging that you/we do not have all the answers.
Model Peace and Confidence by remaining calm and sticking with the facts – Projecting a disposition of peace and confidence begins with managing your own fear and anxiety. In conversations with your children, keep conversations calm and focused on the facts. Focus on what is being done and what can be done to contain the virus. Educate your children about good health habits and include them (as is age-appropriate) in the development of family plans and safety behaviors.
Avoid Common Negative-Thinking Traps – watch yourself and your children for signs of catastrophizing and overgeneralization.
Catastrophizing is blowing something way out of proportion by imagining or entertaining a situation is worse than it actually is (e.g. “This virus is going to last forever.”).
Overgeneralization is using extreme words (e.g. always, never, nothing, etc.) that are inaccurate, which only leads to increased anxiety (e.g. “There is nothing we can do about this, we are powerless.”).
The solution is to recognize the negative thought in each scenario and to replace it with a more adaptive, accurate statement (e.g. “Dealing with this situation has been stressful. The virus may take several weeks to run its course, and there is in fact, much that we can do to reduce its impact. Here are some things we can do…”).
Focus on the Basics – strive to maintain a semblance of balance while not overlooking or neglecting the benefits of the following:
Get outside – plan an outdoor get together with a few others. Get out to local greenspaces (if possible) for fresh air (walks, bike rides, etc.) and recreation. Use this time to draw the family closer together.
Get rest – use some of the time away from your many commitments to get the extra rest that you and your family desperately need.
Eat well – watch for extreme caffeine intake, sugar intake and its effects on anxiety and mood.
Laugh, play, have fun – this need not be a time filled with only doom and gloom. Use levity, humor and fun activities to lighten yourself and your family, which will reduce everyone’s anxiety.
Stick to a routine as much as possible – all of us, and kids especially, do well when on a consistent and predictable routine. Currently, all of our family, personal and work routines are in disarray. Furthermore, we all manage and adapt to these disruptions in various ways, with varying levels of stress and anxiety associated with the change. Personally, during the last week, the more my freedoms are limited, the more disappointed and disillusioned I feel. Ultimately, we all deal with change and unpredictability differently. Children may display increased fussiness, anger, meltdowns, withdrawal and sadness over the adjustment and anxiety they are feeling. Be sensitive to these signs/symptoms, give grace and discuss their concerns as necessary. Additionally, striving to maintain regular sleep hygiene (waking times, bed times), meal times, play/recreation times and study/learning times can assist with regularity and predictability. This will be challenging but necessary to create some degree of a rhythm to your day/week.
Think about others and maintain a sense of community – turning your focus to how others in your extended family and neighborhood are affected and need help will turn your worries about self into concern for others. Check in on neighbors, have a meal together and contact loved ones to see how they are doing and how you can help.
Reach out for support as necessary should you require specific support in managing your anxiety or would like guidance with processing how to converse with your children regarding their fears/worries, consult a counselor/mental health professional Many counselors and mental health professionals in the area will continue to be available via telehealth services (video sessions) should you or someone you know require professional help.
Feed your soul – rely on and draw strength from your spiritual beliefs. For those who are Christians: spend time in the word of God, spend time in prayer, begin a new spiritually challenging book, consider meeting with your prayer triad or life group online and/or extended family as possible for encouragement and fellowship. Consider the following resources:
The Gospel Coalition – helpful, COVID-19-related resources from an historical, biblical and medical perspective https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/
Ligonier Ministries – https://www.ligonier.org/ – currently offers free group learning and all teaching series are free to stream
Crossway – https://www.crossway.org/ – offering extensive free resources including ESV Digital Bible Resources