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Giving Yourself Credit for Coping During the Pandemic

Simple strategies can help structure the day and enhance your well-being.

As COVID wears on, and in the face of national events, many people have expressed a host of feelings, including anger, sadness, fear, and anxiety. Given the rise in the ongoing death toll from the pandemic, as well as the events at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, all of these emotional responses are reasonable. Parents, especially, ask: How can I help my child cope with what is going on when I am having difficulty myself?

This is an important question: Focusing on maintaining a sense of equilibrium for children is essential to their ongoing development. But, in light of these events, what can parents do?

  • Letting go of responsibility for those things that are not only beyond your control but are also not essential to helping you and your child cope is a key consideration. If you have basic needs met (food, shelter, heat, etc.), you are doing a good job of providing for your child. In this vein, be sure to give yourself credit for coping in the face of COVID-19, the economy, systemic racism, climate change, and public rancor about how to address all of these.
  • Don’t let expectations defeat you. If you set yourself up by having an expectation that is too high, you should be prepared to revise it rather than fight with what is. A good way to counter expectations is to have a positive mantra or two (a repetitive phrase that you say to yourself to reinforce your strengths). An example of a positive mantra is found in the Saturday Night Live sketch featuring the character Stuart Smalley: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me."
  • If basic needs are met, focus on safety. If you live in a place that is safe enough, meaning that you can move about your home and community without fear of violence, you have gone a long way toward supplying what is needed.

Recent can make us feel unsafe in an amorphous, ill-defined way that can lead to traumatic stress. Since it is not yet known how the threat will ultimately be contained, it engenders the fear of the unknown, which can be a source of great anxiety.

Here are some strategies you can use that address things entirely under your control:

  • Focus on the here and now. If you got up this morning and everyone was where they should be, your day is off to a good start! Give yourself credit for beginning another day during the pandemic—we’re still here!
  • Structure the day, for yourself and your kids. Everyone does better with structure since it is one way of making your daily activities knowable and predictable. Lists help, and so do routines. If you do the same thing at about the same time, and in the same order, every day, it provides a sense of security for children.
Maggie Fairman Williams, used with permission
Practicing piano.
Source: Maggie Fairman Williams, used with permission

Eight things to include in daily routines:

  1. Exercise. If you live in a climate that is conducive to getting outside in the winter, take a break for you and the kids to go out walking and/or playing. Even a small amount of exercise builds resilience and releases endorphins, which will improve your mood.
  2. Do something artistic. If you have a musical instrument, spend time playing. Singing with kids is a wonderful way to help them organize; it can be used to direct activity, as in the Barney song about cleaning up, and to learn repetitive information like math facts. Choosing a song that reflects the mood or addresses problem solving can also be helpful. From The King and I by Rodgers and Hammerstein, "I Whistle a Happy Tune" sets forth a way to address feeling afraid:

    I whistle a happy tune
    And every single time
    The happiness in the tune
    Convinces me that I'm not afraid

  3. Do something kind for another person, and encourage your kids to do the same. This may be challenging during the pandemic, but if you look for opportunities, they will present themselves. In my neighborhood, other people’s mail is sometimes delivered to our address. I value the opportunity to walk the mail or package to the appropriate household and deliver it.
  4. Challenge your creativity to adapt to circumstances that interfere with your expectations. Be ready to be flexible since most things can change during the pandemic. What I had planned is not going to work out, but how can I substitute something else that will work just as well? Along these lines, recognize that we are talking about very small things: What do I have that I can use that will not involve going out to get something, and that costs nothing? If you are someone who saves things, now is your chance to find a creative use for your treasures!
  5. Find things to look forward to, both short and long-term. Calendars like those used to count down the days in Advent (Christmas) can be created for any event that is upcoming. As you are looking forward, realize that the expectation gives you hope. Again, think small. For Valentine’s Day, for example, what do I have that is red that I can put on the table to brighten it up?
  6. You can make a hope kit in addition to a calendar. Just select a box and put in it images or keywords that remind you of things that make you feel hopeful.
  7. If you are able, give something to someone in need, or a charity. Think about the reason for your gift and what it is can do to help others cope with food insecurity, for example.
  8. Finally, allow yourself to feel icky sometimes. It’s part of life and, as is often done in the treatment of pain, if you recognize it and, name it, and become friends with it, the icky feeling somehow feels better. The more specific you can be in your visualization, the more likely you are to be able to invoke humor, which is in itself helpful.

At the end of the day, as they sing in The Wizard of Oz (Stothart and Arlen):

Hold onto your breath, hold onto your heart, hold onto your hope,
March up to that gate and bid it open.

Kristen Boyer, used with permission
Exploring nature
Source: Kristen Boyer, used with permission