We are facing strange and unprecedented times. At over a month in isolation parents around the country are feeling the stress of having to stay at home, go to work and risk exposing their family to illness, work from home full time while taking care of kids, virtually teach their children, explain to their children why we cannot go out and do things we normally would, cancel family events like holidays together, trips, birthday parties, and more. It is understandable that parents are feeling frazzled, impatient, exhausted, irritated, anxious, hopeless, and fearful.
Our society is experiencing a trauma right now and how everyone copes with that each day is different and dependent on a variety of factors. Regardless, this experience is taxing on every single one of us. We can feel the stress of it every day and that takes a toll on both your physical and mental health. Finding ways to cope can be difficult, so here is a list of 5 easy things that you can do to stay sane during the pandemic.
This sounds so simple and yet it is so effective. Taking the time to do deep breathing helps to trigger the body’s relaxation response. This is a physical response to stress, lowering blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension, and increasing the amount of oxytocin (a “feel-good” hormone) in the brain. Deep breathing increases the amount of oxygen to the brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, leading to a state of calmness.
How do I do deep breathing? There are actually a number of ways to do deep breathing. First, you should be intentional about your breaths and they need to be taken slowly. One method is square breathing in which you inhale through your nose and out through your mouth. Inhale for 3-5 seconds (filling your lungs completely), hold, exhale for 3-5 seconds (allowing all breath to leave your body), hold, repeat a few times so that you feel your body relax.
Some people find they are more comfortable with varying the time spent on the breaths. For example, I like to breath in for 3-4 seconds but out for about 6 seconds. Some prefer to do all breaths through their nose or all through their mouth. The key is slow and deep so that the breathing engages that parasympathetic nervous system, which is linked to relaxation of the body’s nervous system.
Another great thing about deep breathing is that you can teach this to your children, even as young as 2 years old. If you have an infant or toddler, holding them to your chest while deep breathing can help trigger their system to relax as well. It’s a win-win for everyone.
Making sure that you are hydrated is an important factor in mental well-being. Did you know that if you are thinking about drinking water then you are already mildly dehydrated? Mild dehydration can result in difficulty concentrating, headaches, fatigue, moodiness, and diminished memory; plus, studies have shown that these effects are more pronounced in women than in men. Most people are not meeting the daily recommended water intake of six to eight 8oz glasses of water so making sure that you stay hydrated is an important factor in combating the stress brought on by this pandemic.
Stay at home does not mean you have to stay indoors. In fact, the fresh air does wonders for the body. Breathing in fresh air can help improve concentration, boost your immune system, improve mood, energize your body, and increase relaxation. Taking your shoes off and “grounding” your body to the earth (feet on soil, not on concrete or other surfaces) has also been reported by many to uplift mood and ease tension and anxiety. Even on rainy days, breathing in some fresh air will have a positive effect on your daily mental well-being.
This seems to be a popular term these days but how many people actually put this into practice? Intentionally taking the time each day to do something nice for yourself, something that uplifts you, energizes you, or helps “fill your cup” is important. It doesn’t have to be anything major or time-consuming. Something as simple as taking (and enjoying) a shower, sitting down to drink your coffee, reading a book, or watching a show instead of stressing over the dishes that aren’t clean or the toilet that hasn’t been scrubbed in a week is an important part of maintaining good mental health.
Let Go of What You Cannot Control
This one is easier said than done and it is one of the most common topics I discuss when working with parents. We have so many stressors in our lives, and that list is ever-growing in the midst of this global pandemic. We experience anxiety, fear, worry, depression, frustration, and so many other responses to these stressors that it is easy for them to weigh negatively on us. These stressors impact the way in which we take care of ourselves and how we interact with those around us. Instead of putting energy into the things which we have no control over we need to shift our focus to those which we DO have control over.
Sometimes that means shifting our focus to controlling what our response is and sometimes that means shifting what we decide to put our thinking energy into. For example, you cannot control if your toddler is being extra “clingy” right now. Their routines are off, their parents are stressed, they haven’t gone anywhere to burn off energy, and although their stress is different than ours as an adult, they are still feeling it. This makes them more emotional and in need of us, and the physical connection with us, to help regulate their immature emotional systems. So no, you cannot control how they are acting, but what you can control is how you think about it and how you respond to it. Do you choose to be frustrated and have that lead to irritated interactions which dysregulates them more and actually causes them to need physical contact with you even more? Or, do you choose to take a breath, slow down, pause what you are doing, meet the need, and help them move on?
You cannot control that school is not in session and that you have to do virtual schooling. Instead focus on what you do have control over. What is your daily schedule going to look like? Do you allow yourselves to be a bit more relaxed on some days when you are all feeling tense? Do you place too high of expectations on yourself and on your child? Do you accept that you are not homeschooling but rather, crisis-schooling?
When you let go of that which you cannot control and instead focus on the things which you do have control over, you will find things easier to cope with. Shifting your focus allows you to take the wheel and create plans of action and that sense of control, especially in a time of such chaos, can make you feel better.
Parenting during this pandemic is not easy, it is exhausting and frustrating and it removes us from vital supports that we need for healthy functioning. This is a traumatic experience and we are all just trying to do our best each and every day. Some days we will be doing great, and others we will be hanging on by a thread. But, if you follow these 5 steps to stay sane during the pandemic, you will find that your sanity is a bit easier to hang onto.