Parenting During a Pandemic
As a whole, people are struggling to adjust to the constant changes that living through a pandemic brings. Parents, in particular, are finding themselves having to juggle their own stress, the stress of their children and the stress of the brand-new roles they have taken on. If being a parent wasn’t already challenging enough, they are now putting on the hats of teacher, counselor, personal chef and bad-news bearer. In between these costume changes, we’re wondering how are parents coping in the pandemic?
While there is limited information on the long-term impact that this time might have on us, evidence suggests that mental health is suffering (Gaela, Merchant & Lurie, 2020). One study identified that more than half of people reported the psychological impact of COVID as moderate to severe (Dubey et al, 2020). Beyond this, 57% of mothers and 32% of fathers of children under 18 felt their mental health has declined during the pandemic (Hart & Snyder, 2020). In previous pandemics, research suggests that those who quarantined with their children approximately one third met criteria for a trauma-related disorder diagnosis (Brooks et al, 2020).
While there are many responsibilities that parents are having to shift their focus towards, we want to provide options that may help them manage their health and relieve some of the stress they are experiencing.
What does the impact of living through a pandemic look like?
There are many different things you may have started to notice since the pandemic has begun. COVID has disrupted our day-to-day and added significant stress to our lives, similar to a traumatic experience. One of the simplest ways to identify how your stress shows up is to understand how trauma impacts the mind and the body. Some emotional symptoms of trauma include shock, difficulty concentrating, irritability, mood swings, anxiety, guilt, isolating, sadness, hopelessness, and numbness (Robinson, Smith & Segal, 2020). Whereas, physical symptoms can show up as changes in sleep, muscle aches and pains, changes in diet, fatigue and tension (Robinson, Smith & Segal, 2020). As a result, we seek ways to relieve or numb our stress and discomfort. This often leads to maladaptive coping such as avoiding responsibilities, using substances, emotional eating, overworking, misplacing our anger, and overfunctioning. In the process of our attempted coping, we often end up neglecting taking care of ourselves in the ways that matter most.
So, how do I cope?
Recently, the term “self-care” has become a catch-all for our maladaptive coping. Social media will often lead you to believe self-care is bingeing Netflix all weekend, when in reality it extends far beyond that. With self-care in the pandemic, there are two main ways that may be helpful to improve your mental health.
The first is to ask: “What am I already doing right?” We often neglect the ways we are already successfully taking care of ourselves. Right now, what have you found yourself prioritizing that you haven’t previously? How have you been able to spend time with your family? What have you learned about your resiliency? Being a parent is challenging in the first place and your capacity to adjust and take on new roles demonstrates the amount of strength you’ve always had.
Identifying the strategies you’re already using and maintaining them can help you minimize further overwhelm.
The second question to ask is, “What do I need to manage and prevent stress?” This answer looks a little different for everyone. A simple step might include looking at which parts of your wellness feel neglected at the moment. Maybe it’s your emotional wellness, social wellness, or spiritual wellness. Now, we have to get creative with how we bolster these parts of our lives. Some examples of how to increase your self care in different parts of your life could include:
o Doing an activity a day that is meaningful to you
o Allowing yourself to become upset/stressed
o Practice gentleness with yourself and children when they get upset/act out o Limit social media use and intentionally seek out positive news
o Invest time in a new project
o Have yourself and family get some movement in, if possible, outside
o Recognizing what is in your control and outside of your control
o Going to therapy
How can I balance creating a new routine while processing grief?
In our world today, we are all grieving. You may be grieving the loss of your job, the lives and roles you once lived, the feeling of freedom, and a predictable future. We are living in a state of fear about work, health, our families, and our future that seemed unimaginable not long ago (Weiss, 2020). Grief can show up as denial, anger, bargaining, despair, acceptance, as well as finding meaning. You may gain a sense of empowerment by acknowledging the grief you may be feeling, learning skills to manage it, and how you can find meaning through it. During
o o o
o o o
Weiss (2020) describes the grief process sounding like:
This is overblown and just a media circus
Coronavirus is the same as the flu and hardly anyone dies from that My immune system is fine, so I don’t have to worry
I don’t want to be told to wear a mask
This is all China’s fault
I don’t care what the shelter-in-place rules are, I’m going to do what I want
It’s okay to spend time with others as long as they use hand sanitizer
This will all be over soon and then we can go back to normal
I’ll be fine as long as I stay around people who are healthy
o I can’t work or earn money, soon I’ll be broke and homeless
o I should say goodbye to my hopes and dreams
o I am at high-risk and no one will come to help me if I get sick Acceptance:
o I can’t control the pandemic, but I can do my part by sheltering in place, washing my hands, and staying positive
o My life doesn’t have to stop, I can still work from home, stay connected to friends and family virtually, and spend more quality time with my partner, kids, and our pets
o The pandemic is also causing stress in my children, I’m learning how to better fill their needs
o Now is my chance to engage in things that “I didn’t have time for” before the pandemic
o Maybe, when this is over, we can all appreciate our time with one another more
During the midst of your grief, you may find yourself struggling to navigate what your new day-to-day life looks like. Creating a new routine and structure in your life, particularly in a time of grief, greatly impacts your overall wellness. Here are some ways to create structure in your life:
o Getting up at the same time each day
o Making meals
o Doing the regular activities of daily living
o Making time for friends and family while social distancing including virtual calls
and reaching out for support
o Prioritizing family time and relationships to build quality time with your loved
o Prioritizing yourself so you can better take care of yourself and your family
How can I talk to my children about the coronavirus?
As a parent, you are constantly faced with the challenge of discussing the ever-changing coronavirus with your children. By listening and responding honestly, we can help children better cope with stressful events, reducing the risk of lasting emotional difficulties (Fassler, 2020). These conversations are tough, and you may wonder how to talk about the impact of the virus without creating more worry. Here are some suggestions you may find helpful:
o Welcome their questions. Create a calm, supportive environment for your children to get all their questions, from silly to serious, answered with fact-based information.
o Find accurate and up-to-date information. Being honest and sharing accurate
information reassures your child’s trust for you. Refer to the CDC or WHO.
o Help them understand. Use language your child will understand based on age
and developmental level.
o Let children know there are people helping. These conversations allow an
opportunity to show children there are people here to help when we experience
something bad or scary.
o Stay away from too much news with frightening images. Children who have
experienced serious illness or losses in the past are more vulnerable to intense
reactions from the news and may need extra support.
o Focus on ways you’re staying safe and have fun with it. Share ways you, and
others around you, are taking safety precautions. Empower your child by letting them be a part of the safety process. Let them choose their mask and discover new 20-second songs to sing while washing your hands.
o Keep talking. Continue to have open lines of communication and let them know you will keep them updated as you learn more.
o It’s okay if you can’t answer everything; being available and supportive to your child is what matters most.
How can therapy help me?
If you’re a parent struggling with current pandemic challenges, a therapeutic support group could help reduce your stress and allow you to live a less anxious life. In a time where we
feel more disconnected than ever, a virtual therapeutic group creates a space to feel connected to parents going through a similar experience. By listening to others’ stories and sharing your own experiences, you can gain a sense of support, encouragement, and peace of mind. Here’s what you can expect:
o A safe, non-judgmental, confidential space to listen, share, and connect to others
o Identify common fears and stressors experienced during the pandemic
o Learn how stress, anxiety, and grief are manifesting in your life
o Learn ways to stay connected to your loved ones while social distancing
o Understand ways to stay grounded during these uneasy times by learning about your Window of Tolerance
o Identify how the range of emotions in our bodies and brains impacts our sense of safety and ability to function
o Understand ways to better care for yourself and your family by creating balance in your Wellness Wheel
o Find meaning to the “new norm” and a sense of fulfillment when our world has shifted
o Notice your strengths as you continuously face change, crisis, and stress during this global pandemic
Upcoming Free Online Event for People Parenting in a Pandemic
We are so excited to respond to our communities’ needs by providing FREE Wellness Matters Webinars to help parents get through the difficult period. What was last year a Back to School Excitement has been replaced with parents not knowing if schools are reopening or not comfortable with reopening plans. There are so many choices that feel dire. Get some support!
Wednesday, August 26, 2020 Online / Zoom
Registration Required: https://www.eventbrite.com/manage/events/116297668457/tickets/199039715 https://www.southaustincounselingservices.com/wellnessmatterswebinars
1:30 - 2:00 pm (30 Minute)
2:00 - 2:45 pm Discussion / Questions