Keeping Our Families Mentally Fit During COVID-19
5 ways to decrease stress and focus on mental health during the pandemic.
Posted Mar 24, 2020
The nation is facing uncertainty as the COVID-19 pandemic leads academic institutions, businesses, and sporting and entertainment events to close.
Unpredictability breeds fear, which is an emotion that generally causes people a lot of stress. And this virus is causing a lot of fear in adults and children alike. Just one trip to a big-box store and you'll most likely see shelves that once occupied toiletries, hand sanitizers, and disinfectants stripped bare. In our effort to feel in control and prepared, mass quantities of everyday essentials are being depleted from stores and our isolation from one another continues without a clear end in sight. As a nation, we are desperately waiting for the return of everyday life.
In truth, we don't know how COVID-19 will fully play out in America, but we do have a lot of information from scientists and data from countries that have been affected by the virus. Although we may not have all of the answers to our questions, we don't have to let the anxiety of contracting the virus dominate our thoughts. We can engage in the healthy measures put forth by the medical community, such as physical distancing, not touching our faces, and washing our hands. The truth is we may have to ride out the duration of the virus and find ways to become more resilient physically and mentally during the vast shutdowns. Below are some ways to help you curb stress and remain physically and mentally fit during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Five Ways to Stay Mentally Healthy During the COVID-19 Outbreak.
1. Seek factual information.
Nothing can rev up anxiety more than misinformation, like sensationalized media coverage. Make sure that you and your kids are educating yourselves with facts, not myths. Be sure to read and watch information from reliable sources. Beware of hoaxes and inaccurate information being circulated. Also, make sure that the sites you are visiting are the actual site of the source you are seeking. It's not uncommon for fake sites to be launched and misinformation to be spread. Education is your best defense.
2. Read and watch media coverage in moderation.
For adults: It's easy to get caught up in the COVID-19 headline stories. While staying current is essential, it is equally important not to watch or read media coverage to the point that it's consuming our lives. Being bombarded by information can exacerbate symptoms of anxiety. There have even been studies showing that overexposure to upsetting news stories can release stress hormones, lead to a loss of sleep and affect a person's mood—resulting in stress, anxiety, and even depression.
Yet, according to the APA, one in ten Americans report checking the news hourly, and one in five say they are continually monitoring social media feeds, which often exposes them to the latest news developments. To top it off, over half of Americans say that the news increases their levels of stress. During this time, it's vital to stay healthy and informed but not overexposed.
For young children: Young children do not need to be watching adult news. Parents should be speaking with their children in developmentally appropriate ways, sharing only what is necessary for them to know. Young children may not understand the information being conveyed and that could cause a lot of unnecessary fear. Although this may be a stressful time for parents, it doesn't have to be for young children. We may not be able to control what's happening in the world around us, but we do have more control over what's happening in our home.
For older youth: Adolescents must be informed about what's going on in the world around them. So, keep the lines of communication open. Share with them the importance of accurate and reputable information… and teach them to always consider the source. Also, encourage your teen to limit themselves to reading or watching too much about COVID-19. Just as it affects adult levels of stress, it can also increase teen stress levels. Take time to have real discussions with your teen differentiating between the facts and myths of the virus. If your teen is overly anxious, provide them with a safe space to voice and work through their concerns.
3. Spend time with your kids.
As more and more people are opting to stay away from public gatherings, and the hustle and bustle of everyday life has slowed down, you can take this as an opportunity to really connect with your family. Sure, your kids may not have baseball or softball practices, but that doesn't mean that you can't go to the field and throw the ball.
We may be temporarily changing our fast-paced lives, but we don't have to stop living them. This is a prime time to connect and bond with your family. Whether you're pulling out a board game, making a family meal together or doing a project, you can choose to focus on your family and teach your kids how to make lemonade out of lemons.
4. Find something to keep you occupied.
If anxiety is good for one thing, it is producing energy. Some people keep their minds spinning with worrisome thoughts and others use that energy like a catapult to help them accomplish tasks. If you find yourself feeling highly stressed and anxious, then turn that energy into power!
Maybe you've had a home project that you've meant to work on, or maybe there's a good book that you've wanted to read—take advantage of this opportunity and turn your wishes into reality. Don't lose time letting an anxious mind get you down, instead put it to work and you may be surprised at how much you'll get accomplished.
5. Stay focused on what's important.
Whether you go for a walk or simply get outside to wash your car, look for ways to enjoy the day and be grateful. Soon, we will get back to the norm; things will pick back up, and the show will go on. It's crucial that we focus on what we do have versus fearing what we don't. Stay grounded in the present. For now, don't let negativity steal away a great day. Take time to appreciate what we do have: one another.
Bethune, S., & Lewan, E. (2017). APA stress in America™ survey: US at “lowest point we can remember”; Future of nation most commonly reported source of stress. American Psychological Association. Retrieved from http://www. apa. org/news/press/releases/2017/11/lowest-point. aspx.