For many parents like me, surviving crisis schooling during Covid-19 was a real challenge.
Between keeping the kids engaged during my hectic work schedule, learning how to access dozens of websites for home/crisis schooling, keeping the kids feeling emotionally safe and healthy, and trying to stay healthy, engaged and happy myself, many days I felt like I had six jobs! It’s no wonder many parents felt exhausted and overwhelmed, only to feel like maybe summer would present the light at the end of the tunnel. That light seemed to give hope that when school demands went away, we’d be back to normal.
Thinking this way is actually a good strategy to help us weather storms in our life. Creating a mental end date can help us through the tough times. However, in this case, many of us have realized that the light isn’t shining so brightly at all. Why? Well for one, it’s not life as usual even though school has ended for now. Uncertainty about when and how the kids will return to school can create anxiety because our brains like to maintain the illusion of control even when we aren’t in control. Under normal circumstances, we could safely bet that come August, our kids would start school in person according to the calendar. When we anchor ourselves to beliefs that we know will likely happen in the future, it can create calm in the present moment. However, when uncertainty strikes (and has it ever!) we are wired biologically to become stressed. Even if we aren’t aware of that stress, it’s operating in the background. How can you tell? Cravings, irritability, a need for stimulation, mild depression, feeling unsatisfied in relationships, self-doubt, sleep problems, obsessing about the news…these are all signs you might be more stressed than you know.
And beyond the stress of not knowing exactly what will happen in the Fall, many decisions will need to be made and these decisions can cause a lot of stress. A recent survey showed 1 out of 5 teachers may not return to school in the fall. Parents are split on whether they will choose for their children to return in person if given the option. None of the choices we have may seem like good choices and we may be at a loss over what to do. Co-parenting might be particularly difficult right now as partners may disagree on what to do. Normal parenting is challenging enough and when we add to it the stressors in recent times, it’s no wonder that many of us are struggling.
How will you thrive this summer with your family? Here are some tips based on neuroscience to get you thriving:
1.) Take extra steps to avoid getting stressed.
Our normal social habits that keep us happy and entertained are not accessible and if they are, there can be stressors in places we would normally be relaxed. My friend went to a restaurant and sat outdoors, maintaining social distance. Her unmasked waitress came distressingly close to take her order, handled the food without gloves, and she watched as the waitress did the same thing for about 30 other patrons in the restaurant. A normally pleasant experienced turned into a stressful “should I get the heck out of here?” fight or flight situation. Her strategy to relieve her feelings of being cooped up at home turned out to cause more stress for her.
Tip: take extra steps when you are going out to make sure you won’t get stressed. When going to a restaurant, gage your comfort level of different scenarios and discuss it with whoever is going with you (inside or outside seating, do we leave if the waiter is unmasked or if we see guidelines aren’t being followed?). When going with kids, discuss safety beforehand and decide if you’re likely to be calm or stressed if you go out. If you think you might be stressed, make a different plan. Remember – stress is there to signal potential danger. If you feel you are becoming stressed and there really isn’t a danger, you can use TouchPoints or breathing methods to calm you down so you can enjoy the situation. There is a happy medium between appropriate caution and enjoyment and unnecessary stress. If it’s unnecessary, the best thing to do is lower it in real time and get back to the business of enjoying your life.
2.) Give yourself a news limit.
If you check the news more than once per day, I highly recommend you limit yourself. Being immersed in the play-by-play drama of what is happening can fuel anxiety and depression during this time. Giving yourself a break from what is happening outside that you have no control over can free your mind up for more peace and even joy. If you think you’ll miss something critical, think again. Critical news travels fast even if you aren’t spending hours a day on the news. Yesterday I did not check the news at all and was exercising, connecting with friends, and doing housework. I received a text from a friend in the neighborhood stating there was a new curfew imposed in Arizona. I have never once in my life missed a critical piece of information due to spending too little time immersed in the news. Global pandemic or no global pandemic – the negativity from the news can create feelings of despair, depression, fear, and hopelessness. Maybe it’s time to choose more elevated activities and surround yourself with other information that inspires you or makes you laugh.
3.) Focus on what you CAN do.
The list of what we can’t do is pretty long right now. If I dwell on it, it can be a real bummer. As I write this I was scheduled to be on a cruise that got cancelled. If your vacation plans are ruined, what substitutions will you make? Some families are using money saved on vacations to buy above ground pools, inflatable waterslides, and outdoor playsets to create more fun at home this summer. Others are picking new places to go with outdoor activities that will be safe and open over the summer. When we dwell on the “bummer layer” and stay upset about what we can’t do or have, we don’t get to transcend into the space of moving beyond the limitations and enjoying ourselves anyway. It’s time to get creative and try some new things. Even if it’s in the house and you’ve been on lockdown for over 10 weeks – there’s still more that can be done.
4.) Focus on sleep and basic health habits for you and your family.
You don’t need to get fancy and overhaul your entire diet or purchase expensive exercise equipment. Basic, basic, basic is the key here. I guarantee there are very basic things that you can shift quite easily for a huge effect in your mental health. The first thing I often target is sleep. Get 7-9 hours per night, wake up around the same time each morning, and wear amber colored glasses 2 hours before bedtime to help with natural melatonin production. If your thoughts race before sleeping and you can’t settle down, keep a journal next to your bed and write things down to help relax you. Or, use TouchPoints before bedtime to shift you out of stress mode. Avoid adrenaline packed TV or content before bedtime. If you’re having problems sleeping with those methods in place, let us help you with our easy sleep protocols to get you sleeping. If you’re good on sleep, focus on basic health habits. Aim for 60 minutes of physical activity every day along with a healthy diet. Identify one or two easy things you can do to get on track and don’t overwhelm yourself with too much. Remember, the current state of affairs is already overwhelming for most people.
Strike a balance between reasonable changes in easy to change behaviors and don’t beat yourself up if many things are harder for you right now.
5.) Trust yourself to make good decisions when the time is right.
Kick the can down the road regarding school decisions for the Fall given that information changes daily. Remember, trying to force a decision with incomplete information doesn’t work, and the decision you may make today will likely be different in a month anyway as things unfold. Try to be patient with districts, the government, and everyone trying to scramble to make changes and trust that things usually work out. Focus on what you can control and take good care of yourself in every way possible.