Erlanger A. Turner Ph.D.

The Race to Good Health

Anxiety

Coping Strategies for Parents and Families

5 Tips from a Psychologist to Tolerate Coronavirus Anxiety

Posted Mar 14, 2020

Photo by CDC on Unsplash
Source: Photo by CDC on Unsplash

The Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) has been impacting us globally.  Anxiety levels continue to rise as more individuals in the United States test positive. According to data from the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University, 149,293 cases have been confirmed around the World and approximately 2100 cases have been identified in the US. In an effort to reduce risk and increase safety, many precautions are being taken including limiting contact with large crowds, increased online education for colleges and universities, and school districts canceling in-person classes.

Although these increased precautions are necessary to protect the safety of others and reduce risk for vulnerable populations, some wonder if the increased stress and isolation will be manageable for most Americans. In a report for USA Today, at least 12 states have shut down schools, many sporting events have been postponed or cancelled, and some nursing homes are restricting access for visitors.

As a psychologist, I am trained in understanding how our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors influence each other. With the increased social distancing and need to practice better hand washing hygiene, it is important for families to engage in healthy conversations around infectious diseases and develop a plan of action. Below are five simple tips to consider implementing in your home.

1.     Understand the risk

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), COVID-19 is spread through person-to-person contact when an infected person coughs or sneezes. As a parent, it is especially important to be informed about risk and protective factors. First, this helps to better prepare you to protect yourself and your family. Additionally, being educated about how infectious diseases spread helps to reduce anxiety. Once you have basic knowledge, this will also prepare you to answer questions that may be asked by your child about COVID-19 or why they have to limit contact with their friends.

2.     Model washing your hands

Changing behaviors can be difficult. However, we know that by engaging in routine practice of a behavior it helps create a habit. Medical professionals have always stressed the importance of good handwashing to prevent the spread of disease. This is often emphasized each year during flu season. The CDC provides some specific steps to make handwashing a healthy habit (https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/index.html). To help your child learn appropriate handwashing, it may be helpful to model or demonstrate the actions (wet, lather, scrub, rinse, dry). We also know that children often learn from watching adult figures so modeling good handwashing as a parent may also encourage handwashing hygiene as a routine.  

3.     Maintain connections with others

For many children and adults social isolation can increase feelings of sadness or boredom. It’s especially important during this when so many things are rapidly changing that you try to create a sense of normalcy for your child by fostering some level of contact and communication with friends or family members. Although you may have to limit in-person contact, this is a great time to maintain connections through video phone calls, talking on the telephone, or engaging in online group chats. One possible suggestion is to create a family activity by using an app to play a game with friends or family members. Several apps for iPhone and Android offer options such as Uno, Pokemon Go, and Fortnite.

4.     Don’t catastrophize

Although it may be difficult when dealing with uncertainty to remain calm, this is not the time to freak out and over-catastrophize. Negative thoughts will increase your anxiety and worry. Given that children take cues from their parents and adults about how to cope with situations, it is important to show your child how to be realistic and appropriately manage their worries. Being concerned and anxious is natural under these circumstances. However, panicking will increase anxiety and mental exhaustion. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America offers a few tips on managing anxiety and stress.

5.     Identify and activate coping skills

Having effective coping skills is always important for mental health. Over the last few weeks, many discussions have centered around coping with Coronavirus anxiety. The American Psychological Association recently published an article related to coping with COVID-19. Possible coping skills may include:

  • Limiting the amount news coverage
  • Maintaining a daily routine
  • Getting adequate sleep
  • Engaging in a hobby

For additional resources, visit the links below:

Parent/Caregiver Guide to Cope with Coronavirus from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - COVID-19 Facts and Resources

World Health Organization

National Alliance on Mental Illness

Locate a therapist on Psychology Today

Copyright 2020 Erlanger A. Turner, Ph.D.