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These are challenging times. Most of you have had to redefine what’s “normal” as we practice social isolation to do our part to avoid the spread of COVID-19 / novel coronavirus. Some of you are home with your partners and kids, challenged to be teachers as your children continue their schooling online. In many of those cases you are trying to work at home too, if possible. If your kids are younger, you may be trying to entertain them and create some semblance of order. Some of you are without kids in the home but as a couple, individual or roommates, also trying to wrap your brain around your new temporary lives.
Some are highly stressed, worried about your health and the health of those you care about. Others are also worried about finances. Where will money come from if your place of work is now closed? And if you are in a country where there is a literal lock down in effect, you are even further contained in what might be a small apartment, where you aren’t even allowed to leave without permission (to shop or essential needs only).
This global pandemic is a collective experience and indeed, we are all in this together, regardless of whether you have seen high impact in your area yet or not.
My family in Marin County, CA is under a “shelter in place” order since this past Monday, March 16th at midnight. However, many were already diligently practicing social distancing days ahead of that. My husband is working from home. Our 12 year old son is doing online school as of this past Monday and word is that we might need to prepare for this to last through the end of the school year. I have moved my therapy practice to full tele-health mode, now offering phone, video and chat options. This past week has been busy in all associated with that, including a lot of therapy sessions with people which were mostly processing their experiences with the impact of COVID-19 on their lives. I’ve spent a lot of time helping people figure out what optimal functioning looks like for them under these circumstances.
I’ve learned a lot in the last week, not only from personal experience but from that of friends and clients regarding some of the ways people are struggling emotionally and psychologically. I also have some suggestions as to how to mitigate some of these challenges in a situation that quite possibly could endure for some time.
The ways people are struggling:
- Extreme media focus leading to feeling untethered and unproductive. Many have said they feel like the rug was pulled out from under them. They are struggling to get important things done and often, they are spending a lot of time consuming the media and every detail of COVID-19. This is such an evolving situation that of course there is a constant stream of new updates, locally and worldwide. Some people are losing their sense of time throughout the day.
- High anxiety and stress baselines. With all of the unknowns involved, it’s totally reasonable to be worried and concerned about what all of this means. Preoccupation is rampant. But it’s important to not allow anxiety to hijack you, really hard on your body (heart, cortisol levels, sleep, etc), mood and possibly relationships.
- Relationship tension between couples. No one is used to being in the same home 24-7. This will be bonding and rewarding for some (possible silver lining) and for others, possibly lead to more conflict without the usual mechanisms to take a break or do other things out and about as you normally do. If you have different living styles that have been an issue before, they may be exacerbated (different ideas of cleanliness and order, etc). This is coming up already for some.
- Trying to keep kids contained, manage online schooling and restless teens. If this is hard for adults, imagine what it’s like for kids. It’s important to educate them (age appropriately) about what is happening and why, without triggering anxiety for them if possible. Check out this article in the New York Times for more on that. How to Talk to Your Kids About the Coronavirus. There has been some discussion in our area about teens gathering in groups when they should be home which has been another issue. They are restless and being asked to be away from their peers all the time, totally counter to their developmental stage. But they must understand the importance of it.
Suggestions to alleviate the above struggles:
- Minimize your media exposure. Allow yourself one or to times a day (preferably not at night before you go to bed) to get your updates. Choose a few reputable sources and avoid going down the online rabbit hole. Shelter your children from too much as well.
- Create a schedule. This will help anchor the day and create a natural flow to it. It will also help boost your sense of accomplishment. Many thrive with schedules and lists in normal times. Those with anxiety often are very attached to schedules as it is a superficial (yet effective) way to maintain a perceived sense of control. In these times, everyone can benefit from even a loose schedule to avoid time blurring together, as days stretch on. Adults and kids can all benefit from schedules! Here is an example.
- Get up / Eat
- Take a Walk
- Work / Academic Time
- Work Time / Academic Time
- Take a Walk / Creative
- Movie or Favorite Show
- Communicate. Now more than ever it’s important to keep all communication lines open and not to harbor resentment to avoid blow ups. Addressing issues and feelings coming up in a challenging situation is more helpful than letting it fester. Do so kindly. You are in this together and it’s critically important that you feel safe and secure in your personal cocoon.
- Self-care. Everyone in your home should create their own personal self-care list, which will also provide healthy coping mechanisms when things feel overwhelmed or need a break. What feels good to you, is distracting and takes your mind off things in a healthy way? Hopefully “exercise” is on everyone’s list and if possible, get outside into fresh air for a walk. If that’s not possible, get creative in your home.
The truth is, this is really hard. And it may get harder. People are scared and on edge. And many are literally in survival mode. For more tips on how to do your best in this situation, I’ve written a few more specific articles on this topic in the last few days.
My heart is with you all as I wish you and yours health and well-being. I will continue to write articles related to COVID-19 and your emotional and relationship health during this challenging time. We are all in this together.
Lisa B. Kift, MFT
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