Anxiety and COVID-19

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 –
    b. The World Health Organization –
    c. The Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress –
  • 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
    Ligonier Ministries – currently offers free group learning and all teaching series are free to stream
    Crossway – offering extensive free resources including ESV Digital Bible Resources
  • Categories

    Children and Technology

    How much screen time is too much for my child?
    What are the signs that a child might be “addicted” to screen time and/or media and games?
    How do I strike the right balance between beneficial screen time and harmful screen time?
    Some good bullet points, or rules of thumb include:
    1. Unplugging yourself, as children emulate their parents.
    2. Designate “sacred time” to connect with your child.
    3. Be intentional about exploring alternatives to technology as a family.
    4. Schedule a healthy balance between technology use and other activities.
    5. Create a productive role for your child to help build their confidence and sense of mastery.
    6. Make time for your child to play outside.
    7. Be conscious of working towards developmental milestones through touch, connecting, using fine and gross motor skills, being well rounded.
    8. Become informed of the consequences of technology overuse, including attention/concentration difficulties, aggression, attachment problems, and social difficulties.

    The following infographic is a helpful resource when thinking through the basics of how to manage screen time/media use with our children.

    The Wired Child


    Asperger’s Resources for Teens and Tweens

    Identifying Asperger’s/High Functioning Autism in your child is a crucial first step. The next step is educating yourself and him/her about the strengths, challenges and frequently encountered difficulties that many of their peers with the disorder have faced and are facing. There are several resources that have recently come out, which offer insight into the experience of being a teen with Asperger’s Disorder.
    Asperger’s Rules! How to Make Sense of School and Friends
    The Aspie Teen’s Survival Guide: Candid Advice for Teens, Tweens, and Parents, from a Young Man with Asperger’s Syndrome
    Freaks, Geeks & Asperger Syndrome: A User Guide to Adolescence


    ADHD is not a simple behavior disorder

    ADHD was once widely understood and still is by some today, largely as a behavior disorder, where a child is “bouncing off the walls”, unable to sit still and pay attention in class, constantly interrupting others. However, as Dr. Thomas Brown points out, the more we learn about ADHD through research and science, “specialists are recognizing that it is a complex syndrome of impairments in the development of the brain’s cognitive management system, or executive functions.” The executive functions include the ability to:

    • Organize and get started on
    • Attend to details and avoid
    excessive distractibility.
    • Regulate alertness and
    processing speed.
    • Sustain and, when necessary,
    shift focus.
    • Use short-term working
    memory and access recall.
    • Sustain motivation to work.
    • Manage emotions

    In order to illustrate the complexity of the executive functions, Dr. Brown uses the metaphor of a symphony orchestra composed of talented musicians: “Regardless of their expertise, the musicians need a competent conductor who will select the piece to play, make sure they start at the same time and stay on tempo, fade in the strings and then bring in the brass, and manage them as they interpret the music. Without an effective conductor, the symphony will not produce good music. In individuals with ADD, the parts of the brain that correspond to the individual musicians often work quite well. The problem is with the conductor, with those executive functions that, in a healthy individual, work together to accomplish a task. ADD impairs neural circuits that function as the conductor of the symphony.”

    Dr. Brown’s model of executive functioning (ADD/ADHD) is comprised of six core executive functions:
    Activation – organizing, prioritizing, and activating for work.
    Attention – focusing, sustaining, and shifting attention to tasks.
    Effort – regulating alertness and sustaining effort and processing speed.
    Emotion – managing frustration and modulating emotions.
    Memory – using working memory and accessing recall.
    Action – monitoring and self-regulating the pace of action.

    Dr. Brown continues: “In daily life, these clusters of cognitive functions operate, often without our conscious involvement, in integrated and dynamic ways to accomplish a wide variety of tasks. They do not continually work at peak efficiency for any of us; everyone has difficulty with some of them from time to time. However, those diagnosed with ADD…are substantially more impaired in their ability to use these executive functions than are most other people of the same age and developmental level.”


    10 Myths About ADHD

    Dr. Thomas Brown, one of the leading researchers and clinicians in the field of AD/HD, identifies 10 myths about ADHD that are insightful and worthy of (focused) attention:

    1. A person who has ADHD always has difficulty with executive functions such as focusing on a task and keeping things in mind, regardless of what they are doing.

    2. If a person with ADHD really wants to focus and work effectively on a task they can make themselves do it. Using executive functions is just a matter of willpower.

    3. Persons with high IQ are not likely to have executive function impairments of ADHD because they are smart enough to overcome such difficulties.

    4. Executive function impairments of ADHD usually are outgrown when the person reaches their late teens or early twenties.

    5. Modern research methods have established that executive function impairments are localized mainly in the prefrontal cortex.

    6. Emotions and motivation are not involved in executive functions associated with ADHD.

    7. The new model of ADHD as developmentally impaired executive function is completely different from the older model of ADHD.

    8. ADHD-related executive function impairments are due primarily to a “chemical imbalance” in the brain.

    9. For some individuals with ADHD, prescribed medications can cure their ADHD impairments so they do not need to keep taking the medication.

    10. ADHD impairments sometimes last into early adulthood, but then they usually diminish before middle age.

    Below is a link to Dr. Brown’s article on the topic, which includes detailed explanations as to why each of these myths are wrong.
    10 myths about ADHD and why they are wrong


    Who are the Millennials?

    The Millenial generation are the youngest generation currently identified and although the age-range for Millennials is disputed, they are generally born after 1980 and include those in their teens, twenty-somethings, and those in their early thirties.

    Are called “Millennials” because they are the first generation to come of age in the new

    Are also called “generation Y”, as they followed “generation X”.

    The Millennial “personality” is confident, self-expressive, liberal, upbeat, and open
    to change.

    Are more ethnically and racially diverse, less religious than previous generations, less
    likely to have served in the military, and are on track to become the most educated
    generation in American history.

    Their entry into careers and the job market has been drastically affected by the
    Great Recession, but tend to be more upbeat than their elders about their economic
    futures, as well as the overall state of the nation.

    They are history’s first “always connected” generation, steeped in technology, social
    media, and multi-tasking.

    More than 8 in 10 say they sleep with a cell phone glowing by the bed and nearly 2
    out of 3 admit to texting while driving.

    They embrace multiple modes of self expression. 75% have created a profile on a
    social networking site.

    When asked what makes their generation most unique, Millennials identify: Technology
    Use (24%), Music and Pop Culture (11%), Liberal/Tolerant (7%), Smarter (6%), and
    Clothes (5%).

    Only about 6 in 10 were raised by both parents.

    When weighing their own life priorities, they (like older adults) place marriage
    and parenthood far above career and financial success.

    Aren’t rushing to the alter: only 21% are married now, half the share of their
    parents’ generation at the same stage of life.

    They generally get along with their parents and respect their elders.

    All numbers and research taken from the Pew Research Center. For more detailed numbers and information see: Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next.


    The Marshmallow Test and the importance of Self-Control: could you resist the temptation?

    The classic Marshmallow Test (conducted at Stanford University in the 1960’s) sheds some light on how the ability to delay gratification and exert self-control is linked to the cognitive skill of concentrating on the good feelings that will come from achieving a goal despite frustrations, setbacks, and obstacles. In this experiment, children ages 4-6 years-old were placed in a small room with a marshmellow or other tempting food and told that they could eat the treat now or if they could wait for 15 minutes until the researcher returned, they could have two. About 1 out of 3 children were able to withstand the sweet temptation. Follow up studies conducted on these pre-schoolers found that those who were able to wait the 15 minutes were less likely to have problems with behavior, drug addiction or obesity, scored an average of 210 points higher on the SAT, and had better life outcomes across the board.

    Another study that examined childhood self-control and it’s outcomes followed a cohort of 1,000 children from birth to age 32. Findings from the study show that levels of self-control predict physical health, substance dependence, personal finances, and criminal offending outcomes. Effects of self-control were also shown to be independent of the effects of intelligence, social class, and mistakes made in adolescence. In another cohort of 500 sibling pairs, the sibling with lower self-control had poorer outcomes, despite shared family background. The authors rightly conclude that interventions addressing self-control might reduce multiple societal costs, save taxpayers money, and promote prosperity.


    How will a psychological evaluation help me and my child?

    5 foundational ways a psychological evaluation will help you and your child:

    Provides CLARITY – it’s easy to make assumptions as to why our child is struggling in school, or why he is struggling to make or keep friends. Our assumptions and ideas may be right, but then again, they may not. A psychological evaluation helps sift through the hunches and foggy ideas about what “may” be going on, and provides clear, accurate, and detailed explanations of what is causing the child to struggle in a particular area.

    Sets EXPECTATIONS – clearly understanding an individual and their struggles with clarity enables parents, teachers, coaches and friends to set realistic and appropriate expectations for the child. Assuming that someone is capable of something when they are not is a recipe for discouragement and low self-esteem. Often, an accurate diagnosis can help with providing clear guidelines for what can and should be expected from a child.

    Helps develop a TREATMENT PLAN – it’s hard to treat a problem when your really not sure what’s wrong. It’s amazing how frequently people may begin to try and treat a problem before accurately understanding the problem. Treatment plans and interventions are most effective when developed around a thorough understanding of a client’s diagnosis, which is obtained from a good psychological evaluation. Treatment plans are often well crafted, but can miss the mark if there is misunderstanding surrounding the cause or nature of the problem.

    Improves PARENTING – when a parent has clarity regarding what makes their child tick and is clear on what expectations are appropriate, they are in a much better place to know how to parent their child effectively. This enables them to set reasonable limits, provide adequate praise, and establish the correct amount of structure into their child’s life.

    Prevents years of FRUSTRATION – having clarity, the right expectations, a solid treatment plan and the right support can have a dramatic effect on the development of any child, particularly, in the areas of: academic performance, social skills/relationships, confidence, self-esteem, level of motivation, and happiness. Struggling with an undetected problem for years can be a drain on anyone’s level of functioning and can create problems in all areas of life. Therefore, it is worth the time and effort to properly address the problem before the consequences become more difficult to manage.


    Presidential Personality

    What factors are central to presidential effectiveness? Read on to find out…


    What sets you apart as a therapist?

    I frequently receive feedback from parents that I am able to make their child/adolescent feel comfortable and that their child enjoys working with me. It is particularly gratifying to work with children/adolescents and their families and to hear that I am making such an impact in their lives, whether its helping their child to overcome fears and anxieties, helping parents to communicate with and parent their children more effectively, or providing clarity regarding diagnostic issues such as ADHD, Asperger’s, and Learning DIsabilities. I offer a unique combination of insight and practical, straightforward communication.