I don’t have to remind anyone that the last few weeks of this pandemic and period of social distance have been unlike anything experienced or seen in our lifetime. My work schedule has been interrupted, my husband’s work schedule has been interrupted, our social life has disappeared, and my kids are completely thrown off. Field trips were cancelled, basketball season has been delayed, and school went online until…when? Do we even know? Dates spin in and out of my head, fighting for the return of normalcy. Is it April 9th? 21st? Or do we wait for the 30th to resume prior activities? I can’t even keep track.
This kind of disruption and uncertainty is difficult for me. Change of all kind is hard for me, especially as one who fights to stay mentally stable. I get the opportunity to verbalize that, share about it with my friends (via phone or text only, of course), and have long discussions with my husband.
My kids, however, don’t know how to express their fear or anxiety as well. For them, it comes out in misbehavior, aggression, moodiness, hyperactivity, tearfulness, or even closed off apathy. That is developmentally understandable. As their prefrontal cortexes are still developing, it is difficult for them to access emotions or positive decision-making when they are in fight or flight mode. A stressful trigger, like being told they can no longer see their friends or go to school, is going to take a toll on their bodies. Stress hormones get ramped up, contributing to more fear and anxiety that is difficult to process. Chronic stress can also affect the immune system and its function.
This is true for adults as well. Even though we have the luxury of developed brains, it is still difficult to access our frontal lobe and respond appropriately to hardship when we are faced with extreme stressors.
So what is the solution?
It starts with us.
If we, as parents, can learn to manage our stress and be aware of our triggers, we teach our children proper responses. Children are so perceptive. They feed off of our emotions, whether we know it or not.
You know that old saying, “Put your own oxygen mask on first?” I absolutely believe that during times of uncertainty, we must put our oxygen masks on in order to best care for our children’s emotions.
5 Tips for Managing Your Mental Well-being
Mind your use of social media. There are so many articles and opinions and views on social media right now, more so than ever before. This can trigger a stress and anxiety response in the body. I have learned I need to limit my time on social media, and I have completely stopped clicking on every gloom and doom article that is posted. I asked my husband to keep the news off when I am in the room, and to only update me on a need-to-know basis. With that, I can much more easily take captive my thoughts, which leads to number 2.
Create awareness of unpleasant emotions. When my mind starts racing, I can let it go into a lot of scary “what if” apocalyptic type of thinking. When I find myself doing that, I stop and take note of what is happening in my body. Am I feeling physically tense? Am I experiencing fast, shallow breathing? Is my chest tight? Does my stomach hurt? I create awareness of those things then I ask myself what is happening to cause that. Am I feeling out of control? Unsafe? Helpless? Fearful? If so, why? What is it that is underneath those feelings? Is there a lie that I am believing? Then, after I have created awareness of the cause of my anxiety, I combat it with truth of God’s word. Philippians 4 is on repeat for me right now, as is Psalm 121 and Psalm 91. I must keep myself grounded in that truth when my mind is racing.
Practice breathwork. Taking deep breaths is so important for my continued well-being, that I have taught my children how to breathe as well. When we take deep breaths through our noses and slowly let all the air out, it helps to take us out of fight or flight mode and it activates our parasympathetic nervous system, God’s natural chill pill system in our bodies. I love the 4-7-8 breathing technique. Breathe in through the nose for 4 seconds, hold it for 7, breathe out through the mouth for 8.
Get active. As the weather allows, get outside and take a walk in the sunshine. This is a wonderful way to stimulate the production of vitamin D in the body, which is excellent for immune health and mood health, not to mention improved sleep, which is also much needed during times of fear and uncertainty.
Accept this extra time as a gift. Yes, many of us are trying to juggle work and kids at home all the time. Or maybe we are experiencing job uncertainty. There are so many unknowns. Remind yourself that it is only temporary. It won’t stay like this forever. I can’t control the future or the outcome. I don’t know the end date. I do know that I am getting more time with my family than I ever have before, and we get the opportunity to make memories that will last a lifetime. By creating a safe place of fun and joy for my kids, I can redirect the way they experience this pandemic. We are enjoying baking, creating new recipes, making music, playing games, watching funny shows on TV, playing outside, and so many other activities that we don’t always have time for.
“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:11-13 ESV)
God has given us everything we need to survive this trying time, and he has given our children US as guides. My prayer is that we as parents can find awareness and rest in him first, so that ultimately our children can find peace.