PROTECTING OUR MENTAL HEALTH DURING THE PANDEMIC
Since the beginning of the shelter-in-place, our lives have changed drastically. We work, eat, sleep, date, socialize, and parent in different ways. While we still don’t know when this surreal period will end, most of us have entered a period of mental fatigue. Although we lost some control in our lives, we can still cultivate positivity and resilience.
Here are a few strategies to help you deal with the mental health effects of the pandemic:
1. Building resilience to stress. The first step is to recognize that the negative emotions you are experiencing during this period are inevitable. In fact, they are healthy. So, don’t be afraid to acknowledge that you are feeling bad.
2. Processing the strong emotions. Since the options are endless, you need to experiment to determine what is best for you. Activities include meditating, journaling, running, talking to a friend, painting, gardening,… Try one or more daily and see how you respond to it.
3. Cultivating mindfulness. Even small acts of mindfulness can help you tune into the present moment, notice bodily sensations of calmness or tension, and get more comfortable with uncertainty. Taking five to ten minutes to settle your mind and grounding yourself can have benefits.
4. Combatting fatigue. Being dutifully confined to your home may make you feel more tired. Stress and anxiety drive poor sleep. Since we are living through an uncertain time, we don’t know what tomorrow can bring. That can prevent you from getting fully rested. Studies show that adults between 18 and 64 years old are supposed to sleep between 7 to 9 hours. Here are a few tips to help you sleep better:
Since we are in quarantine for the long haul, it is vital to take good care of ourselves on a psychological level. If we develop a healthy relationship with ourselves, then we will be able to better manage our anxiety and stress over the pandemic and its duration.
HANDLING STRESS/DISTRESS OVER A PANDEMIC
Living week after week in a confined space without knowing when it will stop creates psychological impacts on all of us. Fear is the predominant response as we fear for survival as well as we fear of infecting others. Emotional distress and stress are extremely common as we face the unknown. However, fear can be beneficial as it helps us adapt to social distancing more readily.
Here are a few strategies to help us deal with distress/stress:
1. Maintain a routine. Our routine changed suddenly, and we had to adapt quickly to a new way of living. As human beings, we do better if we stick to a routine. So, it is essential to keep structures in place. Have a family discussion about how to develop and implement a new routine so that everyone, you, your partner, and your children, have an adapted schedule to follow.
2. Engage in self-care activities. Sleeping, meditating, doing yoga, eating healthy, exercising, practicing mindfulness, connecting with nature if possible, are all essential activities that will help you decrease your level of stress and anxiety.
3. Shelter-in-place is an opportunity to reconnect with your immediate and extended family. For instance, the whole family can decide to do one activity all together once a day: walking in the neighborhood, playing a board game, create a story in which everyone invents a section, making a puzzle,…
4. Avoid too much information. Watching too much media coverage may increase your level of anxiety. Get information in moderation so that it feels “just right”. Too much pandemic news can be overwhelming to people of any age. So, protect yourself and your children by limiting the news you are receiving.
5. Contact friends and family. In these challenging times, staying in touch with our loved ones will prevent social isolation. Talking, but also playing some board games, or even doing some dance or sport moves together are strong ways to remain connected with one another.
The stresses over the pandemic and social distancing are substantial and may be long-lasting. The persistent, pervasive thoughts and emotions going through your mind and running around in your body are common. Everyone is experiencing some degree of worry and upset, and it’s not taboo to talk about those thoughts and feelings.
THE BENEFITS OF HEALTHY CONFLICTS
As a parent, you may wonder about the impacts of having conflicts in front of your kids. As human beings, it is perfectly normal that we sometimes disagree. So, it is indeed positive for children to witness their parents’ disagreements if they are done in a respectful way. The healthy model shows how parents can handle conflicts without yelling, work things through to a solution and make up affectionately.
Here are a few strategies to help you manage conflicts between parents in a constructive way:
1. When one parent gets triggered by his/her partner, it is then time to hit the pause button. This means “Stop, Drop, and Breathe”. It gives you a chance to notice you are moving into fight, flight, or freeze and that your partner starts looking like the enemy. Then, remember you can handle the situation in a calmer way once your irritation, frustration, or disappointment has stopped or decreased.
2. Handling the strong emotions. If one of you is still under a strong emotion, you need to work it through before discussing the issue at stake. If you feel angry, chances are there are underlying emotions such as sadness. Then, ask yourself questions. Are you feeling sad for being taken for granted? Hurt that you are not feeling listened to? Focus on yourself and notice these emotions as sensations in your body. Once you acknowledge your emotions, they will start to melt away.
3. Start to discuss the issue once both partners are emotionally available.
If you model these types of interactions in front of your kids, they will learn healthy ways to handle conflicts respectfully. This way of managing disagreements will bring you closer to your partner and makes your relationship stronger. It models the conflict resolution that teaches your kids essential lessons.
PARENTING IN THE DIGITAL AGE
The internet world is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it can be highly resourceful when your child needs to do research for a school project. On the other hand, your child can be exposed to inappropriate content or be the victim of cyberbullying. So, as a parent, your role is to teach your child how to navigate the web safely. You will want to supervise your child’s internet usage, teach her web smarts, from net etiquette to web literacy to simple safety. Even if your child may know more than you do about technology, as an adult, you know more about life, and as a parent, you need to set rules and enforce them.
Here are a few strategies to help your child navigate the internet safely:
1. Educate yourself. Since children are digital natives, most of them know more than we do. So, our first job is to educate ourselves, so we can help them stay safe and learn digital etiquette. You can find online resources that will help you be up to date with the evolution of technology.
2. Educate your child. The same way you educate your child about social rules, make sure you have constant talking, questioning, and educating about the digital world. For instance, make sure your child knows that everything posted online is permanent, to never share passwords, even with friends, to never say anything online she would not say in person, to assume that nothing is private online, and to ask for the help of an adult with anything that feels worrisome.
3. Make family screen rules. Since the use of screens is addictive, it is essential to establish some rules. For instance, your child needs to ask permission before going online, use timers and monitoring softwares, make, post, and review contracts established together.
4. Porn-proof your child. It is a sensitive subject. However, it is a question of when and not if when your child will get exposed to porn content. Statistically speaking, most children stumble upon porn by the age of eight. So, do not hesitate to start a conversation about this topic before this age. A good book can help you introduce this difficult issue. "Good pictures bad pictures" by Kristen Jenson is a recommended book for this topic.
5. Be a role model. If you barely look up from your phone when you are with your child, do not expect your child to do differently. Model the relation with technology that you want your child to have as children copy naturally people in their environment.
It’s never too early to start teaching children healthy media habits. Educating your children by engaging them in regular discussions about the topic are ways to empower them to make safe internet choices.
HANDLING YOUR ANGER AT YOUR CHILD
At some point, we all get angry at our children who perfectly know how to push our buttons. The challenge is to call on our maturity so that we can control the expression of our anger and thus minimize the impact on our children. Parents’ anger is nothing short of terrifying to our children as they are dependent on us for food, shelter, safety, protection. So, the challenge is to model healthy ways of handling anger so that our children can learn from us.
Here are a few strategies to help you manage anger responsibly:
1. Set limits before getting angry. Oftentimes, parents get angry because they have not set a limit, and something is nagging them. As soon as you start feeling angry, it is time to intervene in a positive way. You will probably need to interrupt what you are doing, restate your expectations, and redirect them, to keep the situation, and your anger, from escalating.
2. Calm down yourself before acting. In order to deal with a difficult situation, it is essential that you calm down first. Stop, drop your agenda, and breathe. Deep breath helps decrease the tension in the nervous system. Shake the tension out of your hands. Take several deep breaths. Dancing and singing can help to physically discharge the anger as well.
3. Wait before disciplining. Acting while angry is not recommended at all. Instead say something like “I can’t believe you hit your brother after we’ve talked about how hitting hurts. I need to think about this, and we will talk about it this afternoon. Until then, I expect you to be on your best behavior.” Take a 10-15-minute timeout to calm yourself. If it is not enough, do not hesitate to postpone the discussion off until you feel ready to have a calm and constructive conversation with your children.
4. Avoid threats. Threats made while you are angry are always unreasonable. If you don’t follow through, then they will undermine your authority and make it less likely that your children will follow the rules next time. Instead, think of an appropriate response to your children’s misbehavior and let them know once you made a sound decision.
5. Avoid physical force. Many studies have shown that the use of physical force has a negative impact on children’s development that lasts throughout life. Spanking may make you feel better temporarily because it discharges your anger, but it does not solve anything and ultimately sabotages everything positive you do as a parent. So, it is best to control yourself, including leaving the room. If you cannot control yourself and end up using the physical force, apologize to your children telling them you were wrong to act this way.
By modeling a healthy model dealing with your own anger, your children will learn how to handle their own anger in appropriate ways. It is a win-win situation.
As a parent and a therapist, I want to offer some tips on how to raise happy and healthy kids. Please feel free to comment on my posts.