Managing Our Stress
Updated: Apr 22, 2020
The novel corona virus COVID-19 is affecting everyone all over the world. In the last week, things have changed drastically. Here in the United States we are facing new realities daily. Schools have closed. Many people are staying home. The entire state of California is on mandatory "lockdown." Businesses everywhere are closing their doors. More people are working from home. Doctors are asking us to only come to see them if our cases are severe. Given the severity of this virus, these are wise guidelines.
People I have been speaking to have been quite heavy-hearted and anxious. It is absolutely understandable that people are feeling extreme stress. The question everyone is asking is, “How do I handle this?"
~Adults want to know how to face this pandemic with strength and equanimity? ~Parents want to know, how do I help support my child? The way I am approaching this is realizing that this is the moment many of us have been training for our entire life. I am asking myself: Have I matured and become any wiser or compassionate over the years? Can I handle whatever life brings? What am I made of? As hard as this crisis is, it is an opportunity for immense personal growth. We are all being asked to be mentally strong, calm and patient, moment-by-moment. It is really important for all of us to learn to manage our own anxiety. One key that has helped me: Make a list of what I cannot control and then a list of what I can. It gives me perspective. I did this a couple weeks ago. It helps to read the list every day. Most of the things we stress about are things outside of our control. There are things we can control, even if it is what we focus our attention on, our reaction to how people speak to us, what we do with our free time, how we treat our family members, who we chose to reach out to, what we make to eat. Focus on things you can control. It is also important to be informed about this virus. It is important to be vigilant and careful. It is important to follow the local guidelines in your communities. For all of us, this now involves a social isolation we likely have never experienced before. Every parent I know is telling me that their children are no longer in school. This will bring challenges as the days go on because kids are going to be more isolated, and many of them don’t understand why. Those who do understand are often irritable about it. We are especially seeing this with the teens. Even though they initially like having a break, it’s a loss for them to not have school, friends, sports etc. to count on. Something has been taken from our children. Like us, they have never experienced this lack of freedom. Here are some suggestions that might be helpful for parents dealing with kids of all ages: First, it is important to inform children about what’s going on. But remember to speak to them in concepts appropriate for their age. I think very young children under age five need not be informed in any detail about what’s going on. There is nothing they can do about the corona virus. I would tell my preschool-aged children, "Schools are taking a break right now. Let’s play!" And move on, unless they begin to ask questions. If they ask questions, answer them honestly but as simply as neutrally as possible. Assure them they will be fine. Their innocence will be likely heartwarming for you, and give you a break from the heaviness you feel. The terrorist attacks of September 11th happened when our oldest daughter was five. We did not put the news on, we did not discuss it with her, and she had no idea. It was so much better for her to not be bombarded with that information. Years later she learned about it and was so grateful we did not talk to her about it when she was a kindergartener. However, school-age children, starting probably around seven or eight, and certainly tweens and teenagers should be spoken with calmly, empathetically, gently and directly. Understand they will feel anxiety, plus disappointment that their plans are being cancelled, their life is being radically changed by an outside event beyond our control. We truly do not know how this will unfold. We know more people will contract this virus. However, most of us will be able to fight it off with our healthy immune systems and fully recover. And some people are testing positive for it with no symptoms. We all know that stress only hinders the immune system. So let’s talk about ways to reduce stress. Limiting exposure to daily and hourly news media outlets at this point is wise. Be as informed as you need to be, and then go on with your altered life and routines. Be as prepared as you can be. Do your best to have some food for your family to last a few weeks. Plant some seeds in a garden if you are lucky enough to have one. Cook with fresh herbs as much as possible. Also try to find creative ways to get things like toilet paper. We found some facial tissue. Laundry soap is something to make sure you have on hand. If you do not have hand sanitizer, use soap. Wash your hands for 20 seconds, as is being suggested, and avoid touching your face. A great way to kill germs is to make a spray solution of isopropyl alcohol and water — 65% alcohol and 35% water. Have this in your car and at home. Use it on your hands after you go out shopping, or have direct contact with another person, like a cashier. This home isolation time is a good time to spend time as a family. It is a blessing to have this time together. Do a house project, a small renovation, or a creative project together. Watch funny movies, paint that room that you’ve been wanting to do for a while, clean out some closets, plant a garden. Deep clean the house or apartment. Read books you have been too busy to get to. Most parents are going to be feeling worried that their children are spending too much time on their screens. I do. However, I personally don’t think this is a time to worry about that. They are stuck at home, and we have bigger fish to fry. I think children, and especially teens, do need to stay connected to one another, and many of them will do this through their computers and phones. Plus, maybe it’s time to sit down with them and actually see what it is they are doing on screen! Screens do occupy kids. My teen son is building an intricate house with Minecraft. We would not normally encourage that, but it’s better than him watching TV. In fact, we’ve turned off the TV. Try as best as you can to be patient and kind with each other. Give each other the benefit of the doubt. Let little irritations go. Your children are watching and learning from you. Try to be an example of equanimity. If you are religious, this is a time to pray together. Pray for the planet. I believe this is a powerful use of our time and energy. If you are Buddhist, meditate together. Teach your children to meditate. Even if you take deep breaths for a few minutes daily, you will benefit. This would greatly help everyone’s nervous system to stay more regulated. Reach out to me if you want instruction with this. I teach a simple method, and I am happy to help. Try to keep things as normal as possible. I would suggest every evening to share a meal. I have been making my family’s favorite meals. This can be a great comfort. Keep mealtime conversation positive and uplifting. Perhaps after dinner watch something together on streaming services or home movies that is lighthearted. Laughter is great balm for the soul. Everyone is going to be feeling the isolation as the weeks go on. Therefore, you can also take this time to reach out to family or friends in different parts of the country who are also home and isolated. This is a great time to reconnect with people on the phone. Thank God for Facetime and Skype. Long distance calls used to cost so much and you didn’t even get to see the other person’s face! Let’s be grateful for the ability to see those we love even when we are a great distance away. I would also suggest each of us focus on gratitude for at least a short period of time each day. For the last two years, each morning before I get out of bed I think of things I am grateful for. This has changed my life. Research has shown that daily gratitude boots up a part of the brain that adapts to this mindset and results in long lasting neural effects.
So let's all be grateful for what is working! Right now, I am grateful for my health, that we have running water, electricity, cars that work, food, some toilet paper, laundry soap, movies to watch, mail service, emails and texts that are going through. I also have the love and company of my wonderful spouse and my teenage son. It’s interesting to note what we all take for granted, and maybe shouldn’t any longer! Many of us have children off in college or graduate school, or living on their own. Some cannot get home. Stay in close touch with your young adults and do what you can to reassure and support them. I have been ordering groceries for my two girls via Instacart. It is a great time to send care packages. And reach out to your neighbors, especially those who are elderly. I did this recently and my neighbor was so touched. Help each other out. That’s the silver lining of this crisis. We are all connected, and little things, small acts of kindness, can go a long way.
This is a wonderful opportunity for all of us to build lots of resilience and grit. And try your best, above all, to stay optimistic. Come what may, commit every day to being optimistic, believing that the best is yet to come.
Remember, this too shall pass.