Dr. Serin’s Survival List for Summer and Preparing For Back-To-School

It’s hard to write this when there are so many things to talk about.  Our collective stress and suffering during this time of uncertainty is taking its toll on many in the form of restless sleep, anxiety, panic, and relationship difficulties.

And if you’re lucky enough to be thriving in some ways during this global pandemic, there may still be decisions that are weighing heavy and uncertainty as school districts scramble to provide options for returning in the Fall, states change policies on a daily basis about what is safe and when to open up, and meanwhile our stamina is being tested every day and sometimes every hour.  The feeling I get is similar to when I was running a marathon and I hit a wall during mile 20.  Exhausted and sore, I wanted to stop but I was not in a part of the race where I could just bow out and be rescued.  I had to keep going.  In this case, we have to keep going. There’s no magic rescue medic, no way to tap out of life, and we don’t even know how many miles we have yet to go.  Ugh. And yes, there are positives coming out of this forced change including simplifying life, spending more time together, and cleaning out your drawers. Layering on positives may not help the freak-out moments when we ponder the what-ifs about what is to come, and pressure ourselves to make decisions we’ve never had to make before – worried that they might not be the right ones.

One of the biggest issues on people’s minds is what to do about kids returning to school.  Will it be safe for the kids to return? What are all the options? If they do return and there is a virus outbreak, will the schools be shut down? How can I balance work and life if my child is only attending part-time? How will my child react to seeing people in masks?  I am going through the same questions in my mind as I try to make the decision once Fall comes.

For some parents, school isn’t even on the radar yet because this summer is a lesson in surviving and thriving when our typical outlets aren’t available.  Just when things started to open up, Arizona saw a huge spike in cases and hospitals are now nearing capacity.  Not knowing what is safe and also desperately needing to keep the kids engaged and busy is a difficult place to navigate for sure.

Here’s what I am doing about the virus based on the current science and state of affairs so I can survive this summer and be prepared for back-to-school. This is not medical advice and what I do may change tomorrow based on updates.  Some of what I’m doing might be helpful to know and some may not apply at all to your current situation. But I am frequently asked about my decisions so I thought I would share my current thinking.  Also know that one of my children, Connor, has a medical condition and his pancreas does not function well so he is at increased risk for medical complications should he get the virus. So I am taking a conservative approach.

Dr. Serin’s Survival List

1)     I dismiss what politicians say about what is going on and look at the data being published by other sources.  A global pandemic is not a political issue; it is a public health issue.

2)   Everyone except family who enters my house must wear a mask and immediately wash their hands. I limit visitors to those that are essential.

3)     I only go to the store when necessary, wear a mask, sanitize my hands as soon as I get in the car, and wash my hands after I put the groceries away.  I use disposable masks and if I didn’t, I would have more than one that I washed after every outing. I also wear my glasses in the store for eye protection and wash them when I return home.

4)     I keep Pepcid, Viricid, Vitamin C, Zinc, and a Portable Oxygen Unit to help with symptoms if they should start to occur.  I don’t take Ibuprofen right now and use Acetaminophen instead.  I eat healthier and monitor my weight so I’m not creating new medical risks for myself.

5)     I will have social distancing get-togethers with neighbors. They don’t enter my house but come through the side gate and we stay separated, don’t share food or drinks, and if we are in the pool we stay in one location.  I don’t go to restaurants or bars.  I do order take-out food occasionally.

6)     I don’t have get togethers with small children (my kids are 11 and 13) because small children can’t really social distance.

7)     My partner originally didn’t feel the need to wear masks. As soon as I found out Covid-19 was attacking multiple organs in people and that my son might be at medical risk of complications, we discussed that if he didn’t start wearing masks I might choose not to see him anymore until there was a medical treatment or vaccine. I’m happy to report he immediately started wearing masks and limiting unnecessary exposure.

8)     I have upped my self-care game to get me through this and have been exercising more and meditating more.

9)     When my Stress Switch turns up because I’m obsessing about what back-to-school looks like, I remind myself I can’t make a decision now because the districts have not solidified their plans.

10)  I put my TouchPoints on or take a deep breath and remind myself I can trust myself to make an informed decision when I have all necessary information. I try to practice patience and flexibility (with myself and others!), and remind myself that there’s not going to be a perfect solution. Because we are all going through this together, whatever my kids miss or lack because of this will be a collective issue that there will be future solutions for. I just can’t think of what those exact problems or solutions are now because I’m anticipating a problem that can’t be solved in the present moment.  So, I play “kick the can” with my thoughts about it. I ask myself – is this something that I can solve right now?  If no, I “kick the can” into the future to a time when I can actually make a decision or take action.  So I essentially trick my brain into stopping the worry and I’ll take action when I can. If I’m really stressed, this solution might not occur to me, so it’s helpful that my partner can gently remind me that I don’t need to be fixated on the problem in a moment I can’t do anything about it.

11)  Because I tend towards being hard on myself and perfectionism, I also remind myself that being in this together means that there will be a collective wisdom emerging that I can turn to when I need to make decisions, and that I don’t need to make the “perfect” decisions.  I can trust myself to be flexible as things change because I always have done that. (And so have you!)

12)  I seek funny memes and share them as much as possible. It helps me feel connected and that humor helps me maintain a more positive mood.

13)  I don’t look at the news before I go to bed at night and limit my “dosing” of the news.  I force myself to only read articles that are data driven and I don’t expose my kids to live news broadcasts; rather, we have discussions together about changes in plans, etc.

14)  I give myself a break for feeling restless because my usual “fun” outlets are not an option at this time if I want to mitigate risk

15)  I replay the good things over and over so I can pull positive feelings into the moment. I helped 7 people today in individual appointments.  Every day I feel blessed to be doing what I am doing. My team is going strong and despite the current pandemic, neuroscience is continuing to evolve so our treatments just keep getting more efficient and there are more people we can help.

16)  I make sure I get at least 8 hours of sleep each night.

17)  I’m doing teletherapy from Park City, Utah in July to escape the Arizona heat. Even if nothing is open, a change of scenery in the summer can go a long way towards my mental well-being and we can still enjoy some bonding time as a family.

As much as I wanted that 26.2 mile marathon to be over at mile 20, it wasn’t. I had to keep going.  I encourage everyone to not pretend this is over if you’ve hit your wall. If your Stress Switch is only mildly elevated during this time, it might be easy to change some behaviors to keep you going and feeling better. If it’s triggered on high, everything might seem overwhelming. I hope that is not the case. but if it is please let us know how we can help.  Remember that life is long and we can get through this challenging time. How much we suffer during is somewhat within our control if we take the right action.

Sending you healing energy from the safety of home!

– Dr. Serin