The not-so-good news:
Remote learning has been stressful for all of us. Everyone is concerned about the academic advancement of their kids, but it can help to remember that we’re all in this together and everyone is dealing with the similar struggles. Middle schools, high schools, and colleges alike are especially aware that we’re in a difficult and unprecedented situation. Rest assured that there will be time for your kids to catch up.
So far, fall and winter have been just as scary as summer. Guidance from the DoE and city leadership was scant at the start of the school year, and repeated school closings and reopenings have caused additional stress on top of the initial difficulty of choosing between remote and hybrid learning. As circumstances continue changing, remember that whatever you choose is the right thing to do as long as you and your family are comfortable with it. Everyone has a different comfort level around Covid, and that’s okay.
Kids are resilient, but many are experiencing their own form of trauma. Taking a step back and seeing your kids as humans who are experiencing their own trauma can help you cope with their difficult behavior. Structure, routine, and connection are crucial for kids, so you can help them move through this trauma by providing these things.
Plan and set expectations. If you’re partnered, sit down with your partner at the start of each week to build a plan that works for both of you. Express what you need; delegate; and negotiate division of labor.
Let kids help. Think about where you might be able to give your children more responsibility. Kids like to help, it’s a way for them to feel like they have positive control over something. Taking ownership can give them solace in these traumatic times.
Have some compassion for yourself. Think about what you would tell yourself if you were talking to a friend in your situation. Probably “You’re awesome, and you’re doing great.” Extend that same appreciation to yourself.
It’s not an “either/or.” You can be sad and disappointed about things that are going on, but even in dark times you can still feel joy and gratitude for everything you do have. Conflicting emotions like these can bring up feelings of guilt. Give yourself permission to feel more than one thing at once. There’s a place for both grief and gratefulness at the same time, and you don’t have to choose.
Anxiety manifests differently for everyone. Anxiety is emotional and can also be extremely physical. You may feel the stress happening in your life in various different parts of your body. Beth recommends all of her clients to get out of the house—taking a walk or giving yourself a time-out (really!) can be a great de-stresser.
Remember to breathe. Breathing is incredibly helpful. When you’re stressed, you forget to breathe, so take the time to do some mindful breathing exercises. Take in air through your nose, let it out through your mouth, and repeat. You’ll feel the difference in your body immediately.
Ground yourself when you feel panic coming on. When anxiety reaches the panic level, you can feel like you’re spiraling out of control. Grounding techniques can help. Grounding basically means to bring your focus to what is happening to you physically, either in your body or in your surroundings, instead of being trapped by the thoughts in your mind that are causing you to feel anxious. You can use them when you’re not anxious as well. Here are a few techniques Beth suggests, courtesy of Dr. Sarah Allen.
Engage your five senses. Bring yourself back to the present by taking stock of your immediate surroundings: “I see a cup. I feel my shirt. I hear a video game. I smell dinner cooking. I taste this piece of chocolate.” Dr. Allen uses the “5-4-3-2-1” model: five things you can see, four you can feel, three you can hear, two you can smell, and one you can taste.
The grounding chair. Take a comfortable seat and bring your attention to how each part of your body feels against each part of the chair. Then push your feet into the ground and picture your energy draining all the way down from your top to your toes and into the ground.
Hold and focus on an object. It could be a crystal, a stone, or any small token you have handy. Hold it in your hands and focus your full attention on it, noticing the color, the texture, the shape, and the weight.
Let your thoughts come and go. Just watch your thoughts for a minute. Imagine leaves floating on the surface of a stream. For each thought that comes to mind, allow that thought to take its place on a leaf and watch it blow away in the wind. Allow those thoughts to come and go without needing to respond to them.
Distract yourself. Pick a color and try to find as many things in the room in that color as possible. Count backwards by seven, starting at 100.
Focus on your feet. Look down at your feet, pick up an imaginary pencil in your mind, and slowly trace the outline of each foot. Or just wiggle your toes inside your shoes, focusing on how each one feels and on the sensation of tensing and stretching each foot.
NOTE: You can use these techniques when you’re not anxious as well. That way, they’ll become familiar to you, and it’ll be easier to engage them when you are feeling overwhelmed.
If you’re partnered, remember that you and your partner will deal with stress in different ways. One of you may spend hours immersed in the news cycle, while one of you may feel the need to disconnect. This can be challenging to navigate. Communicate using “I feel” statements to express your limitations: If you’re the disconnector, you might say something like “I feel anxious when I spend too long reading the news. I need to cap our discussion about it after 15 minutes today.” This strategy works for any topic or conversation. If you come from an “I feel” perspective rather than an accusatory one, it reduces the chance of bringing up defensive feelings in your partner.
Self-care is key. This could mean taking five minutes in the morning to meditate; journaling; taking time to do something you enjoy; planning Zoom calls with friends; or whatever feels right to you. If you feel guilty taking time for self-care, remind yourself that you no longer have your morning commute, and repurpose the time that you’re saving on travel as a time to care for your own wellbeing.
Carve out time even when there’s no time to carve. Especially if you’re a single parent, this is an admittedly tough task. It can help to connect and form a pod with a family you trust and create windows where childcare is taken off your hands. The planning aspect is also key. If you parcel out your days, switch off with partners, take an extra 5 minutes in the shower, sit on a bench when you come home with the groceries. You may be able to find time that you didn’t even know you had.
Realize when you need a professional. Red flags for needing extra help include changes to your normal behavior—sleeping less, difficulty making decisions, extreme reactions or no reactions, extreme apathy, increased substance use, and decreased hygiene are all potential markers that it’s time to reach out to a professional. It’s best if you make that contact before you’re in crisis. Therapy is for everyone—it’s like an oil change for your heart and your brain, and there’s no reason to wait until things feel dire. There are many different ways to find the right therapist for you: Seek out a clinic, ask your pediatrician for recommendations, or read reviews on Park Slope Parents.
Final thoughts: We love this video from John Green, which reminds you to find joy in the everyday. It’s so important to find even small moments to look forward to, as those times where you’re experiencing joy will help reframe your mind and allow you to carry forward a more positive mindset into the rest of your day.
We’d also like to share this Loving Kindness Meditation with Dr. Rebecca Sachs, which walks you through mentally sending goodwill, kindness, and warmth towards others and to yourself by silently repeating a series of mantras.
Further reading and resources:
- Full recording of the Mental Health Check-In
- PSP’s Expectant Parents Mental Health Check-In with The Motherhood Center
- PSP’s Mental Health Check-In for Parents of Elementary School Kids