I’m going to start with a strategy that’s become a buzz word in our culture today… mindfulness. People have different experiences with this word, but what we’re going to be talking about here is simply nonjudgmental attendance to the present moment, whatever it may bring. You may have noticed that worry tends to focus on future events. The anecdote, one could assert, is mindfulness. Recognize when you’re worrying and remain aware of the detrimental toll that worry takes on your life. Then, focus on something in the present moment. One of my favorites and a great activity for beginners in mindfulness practice is to notice 5 things you see, 4 things you hear, 3 things you feel, 2 things you smell, and 1 thing you taste… Mindfulness is not avoidance of your anxiety, but instead recognizing the sensations, thoughts, and behaviors that accompany anxiety, and choosing to do something in the present moment that does not involve maladaptive coping methods like worrying, obsessively checking the news, etc. Another way to jumpstart your mindfulness practice is to recruit some guidance, whether through an app like “Calm” or “Headspace”, buying a mindfulness journal or mindfulness deck of cards with mindfulness prompts, or visiting the GoZen channel on YouTube, which features a plethora of child-friendly cartoons that educate children and parents on topics like worry and mindfulness practices. Keep in mind that anything else on this list that follows can be considered a mindfulness practice when done with your full participation in the present moment without judgment. Simply notice. Become aware. Label sensations, feelings, thoughts, and what’s going on around you.
- Making Lemonade out of Lemons
Pretty much everyone I’ve spoken to lately has mentioned some version of, “Yes it’s been hard, but I’ve actually really enjoyed the slower pace… more time with my kids… less pressure… etc.” For me, I have 2 small children, and I have been given the gift of more time with them. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve had our less-than-pleasant moments and it’s been hard, but there’s also a wonder that comes from watching your children develop and engaging with them regularly in the ordinary moments of life. Spring is also upon us, and I’ve thoroughly (and mindfully) enjoyed spending time outside on walks, bike rides, and pretend adventures. In my neighborhood, we’ve even developed a little gnome village along a walking trail. It started with one family leaving a miniature gnome scenery near a tree on the path, and then more and more people have been adding their own gnomes to the trail. We even ordered a set on Amazon and contributed, to the gnome village ourselves! Now my oldest child loves visiting our gnomes on the trail with any chance that we get. I know there have also been “bear hunts” where families have positioned teddy bears in their windows for families to find on their walks or drives through the neighborhood. Savor moments like these and participate in them fully by throwing yourself into the moment with intention. What are some unexpected blessings that you’ve received in this time? What meaning can you find amidst the suffering that you’ve encountered? Create a gratitude practice—name the things that you’re grateful for, create a list that you add to each day, or even play a game with family members where you each go around in a circle and name one thing you’re grateful for, without repeating something that’s already been said.
- Relaxation Practice
My personal favorite is 4-7-8 breathing. Focusing on your breath is inherently mindful. It grounds us in the present, and allows us to access a certain stillness. There is a great video on that GoZen channel on YouTube that I mentioned earlier detailing how to use 4-7-8 breathing… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uxbdx-SeOOoThis is a scientifically-based strategy that actually activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which counteracts that fight-or-flight response and associated sensations that occur when we’re feeling stressed or anxious. I recommend doing this practice regardless of how you’re feeling and on a daily basis. This will help to reset your baseline level of anxiety so that you have farther to go before you reach your “boiling point” and your fight or flight response is activated. Do this for 5-10 minutes every day in order for your body and brain to be optimally responsive to the practice and achieve a state of calm. When we’re physiologically calmer, we’re also more prone to realistic, rational thinking. When we’re anxious, we tend to believe that improbable events will occur—get physically calmer to get your thinking more in line with reality.
Intense exercise also protects our bodies against the effects of stress and, like 4-7-8 breathing, activates our parasympathetic nervous system which aids us in achieving s state of calm. Peloton is promoting a 3 month free trial on their online workout programs, and many gyms are now providing free workout videos for their members. The local yoga studio that I attend, Sumits, is offering live streaming of their classes via Facebook. Cosmic Kids Yoga channel on YouTube has been a fantastic resource for many families! (see following link) https://www.youtube.com/user/CosmicKidsYoga
So find what works for you/ your child and get at it!
- Get Outside
My goal has been to get outside for at least 30 minutes every day. In being constrained to the house, going outside can feel extremely liberating. It has honestly been my saving grace lately, and research shows that being in nature helps to release “happy” chemicals in our brains that allow us to combat depression and anxiety. Take advantage of the beauty and newness of Spring. This is also an opportune time to practice a mindful hike, engaging fully in your senses. Play “I Spy” or come up with a list of items to find on your walk with your children. Notice sounds and smells and point out flora and fauna.
- Physical Distance, but not Social
I get why it has been deemed “social distancing”, as we really need to stay away from people in order to avoid getting sick. However, what’s really needed is physical distancing from others. We are relational beings, and we need each other to thrive. The good news is that thanks to technology we can stay socially connected like never before. I’m encouraging my clients to schedule FaceTime calls with their friends, as it’s much more likely to actually happen when we schedule it. Texting is one level of connecting, but it doesn’t compete with seeing someone’s face, so make sure to hit that FaceTime button instead of just texting someone. Or schedule a Zoom, Google Meet, Skype, etc. meeting with a group of people. Have them show their friend their toys, play a game of 20 questions, or give a tour of their room. One little girl told me that she had a “fashion show” with her friend over FaceTime! For younger children, you’ll need to plan this for them like you would set up a play date.
Another fun way to engage your child in connecting with others (and a boredom buster) is to have them write letters to their friends. This will be a fun surprise for their friend, as well! We recently received a “happy” in the mail from someone and it made me feel so cared for and less alone.
Lastly, drive by and wave to your friends at their houses! Stand on the other side of the glass door and talk. You’d be surprised at how much a quick in-person chat or greeting can make an impact on your mood and sense of connectedness. Feelings of social support is a natural morale-booster and a crucial component in maintaining one’s emotional well-being.
- Check the Facts
With so many news reports and a constant barrage of social media posts about COVID-19, one can easily become sucked into the vortex of doom and gloom. This happened recently to me, and my husband did a fantastic job of validating my emotions and my experience, while pointing me to the actual statistics. Not everyone is dying from this. More older people than not are surviving it. Yes, be safe. Do what you need to do to protect yourself and your family. But recognize when your thoughts are becoming disproportionate to reality or there’s no evidence for the assumptions that you’re making.
- Set Boundaries
Don’t talk to your kids about adult worries. Things such as financial strains, costs, job security, your own worries about COVID-19, these are important, and they should be discussed with an adult confidant outside or your relationship with your child. Your child needs security in a time like this—you are leading by example. If you’re calm, it’s much more likely that your child will be also.
Set boundaries on social media and news reports. Sometimes I find my anxiety building with the more content that I view. It can be so freeing to simply unplug and attend fully to the present moment. Avoid viewing the news with your child present. Even adults have a difficult time teasing out the sensationalizing that occurs in the news reports from present reality. Your child will most likely need for you to set these limits for them, as they do not have the capacity and self-control to manage it on their own.
Additionally, create a structure or basic routine around your home. With so much uncertainty, we need some routine and predictable structure. It doesn’t have to be super detailed or overly rigid, but having a basic level of routine will make for a much more productive day. My recommendation is always to do the things that need to be done before allowing your child to get on electronics of any kind. It’s grandma’s rule: “eat your peas before dessert”, and it will result in less pushback and better productivity from your child.
Everyone knows that doing something nice for someone else makes you feel good, too. This will also help you and your child to focus your minds on something other than your worry. Identify ways that you can contribute to others during this time of great need. Many churches have posted a list of needs and ways that you can support those needs at this time. Here’s an extensive list that I found on Second Presbyterian Church’s webpage: https://www.2pc.org/covid-19-ministry-partner-needs/
Think of ways to lift the spirits of your family members, dropping off “happies”, writing encouraging messages, etc. Contributing also allows people to feel a part of the larger community at a time where we feel so isolated in the confines of our own homes. Even if you’re donating money to a cause, involve your child in the process. Show them the website, explain what you’re doing and why. Maybe they have their own ideas about ways that you can brighten someone else’s day! Making this a more regular practice would do us all some good.
- Building Mastery
It’s easy to sink into a constant barrage of Netflix shows right now (I’m not knocking it—I enjoy it too!), but I would challenge you to enter into a task that allows you to feel a sense of accomplishment. Model this for your kids. Have them help you out where appropriate. For instance, my husband and I cleaned and organized the garage the other night—yes not exactly a candlelit dinner, I know—but we turned on some music and made it fun! We even found some old boxes of letters that we wrote to each other before we were married and laughed at old pictures. Now when we walk in our garage or think about it, we are able to enjoy the satisfaction of a needed task that has been completed and feel a sense of accomplishment. What is something that helps you to feel accomplished? What about your child?
- Pleasant Events
Create a list with your child of things they can do inside the house and things they can do outside the house. Consult Google or Pinterest for some help in this area. Keep a running list on the refrigerator and any time someone thinks of something else, add it to the list. Whenever a child complains of boredom or is getting into mischief, redirect them to do one of the items on the list that they might enjoy. Try to think of things that your child can do on their own without your involvement, and some fun family activities that everyone can participate in.
- Prayer and Worship
Now is an especially important time to be plugged into to a community of worship. If you have been consistently attending a church or other religious activity, stick with it consistently, as most places of worship are live streaming their services and offering virtual community groups, children’s story hour, etc.
Oftentimes in the hustle and bustle of living life, prayer can get pushed aside to the bottom of our priority list, or we cut it short in an effort to get our other tasks completed. Spending time in prayer and meditation allows you to re-root yourself in the big picture—what really matters. It’s a time to seek solace for your soul and gain a renewed perspective on the current climate. I can tell a big difference in my attitude and how that impacts my inclination toward anxiety when I am not intentionally setting aside time to do these things. Your kids need this too—model for them how to pray, show them how to keep a prayer journal and express their fears and other emotions, needs, and desires in writing. Teach them to jot down important passages or inspirational quotes that provide encouragement to them. It’s important to remind ourselves of what is true when our anxiety leads us to feed into so many lies. Ask them who or what they want to pray for, involve them in your live stream worship services, read stories to them at home and answer their questions about what you’ve read.
- Ride the Wave
While fear and anxiety lead to unsettling sensations, the good news is, if we don’t respond to it with destructive coping strategies, these feelings will eventually subside. Remind yourself and your child of that in the moments when they feel paralyzed by fear. This will help them to better tolerate their discomfort and build up their confidence in managing feared situations. Point out moments where they’ve felt okay, and celebrate moments of “normalcy”. Life will go on. The world is not ending. This is temporary. You can survive it. Focus on the blessings that you’ve encountered throughout this process and take advantage of the additional family time and slower pace. Consider the plagues that have taken place in our history, the wars and terror that seem to never end… yet they have all subsided, and humankind survived. This too shall pass. Let’s not forget that. Hope prevails.
Happy coping. Let’s be there for each other as a constant source of encouragement to lift one another up as we gear up to weather this storm.