Your feelings are valid. You are not alone in feeling anxious, disappointed, fearful, frustrated, and uncertain, even if there are lots of people who have it worse than you. There’s a great interview with Brene Brown about how to deal with these big emotions during these trying times. She specifically talks about comparative suffering, that “other people have it worse than me” guilt that can lead to dismissing your feelings. Experiencing shame over your feelings as if they are not as valid as other people’s experiences is not helpful in the grand scheme of things and only adds to the stress.
You may be grieving, and your kids may be grieving too. You and your kids may be grieving milestones like moving-up ceremonies, end-of-year parties, graduations, dances, sports they didn’t play, camps they won’t attend, and summer jobs they won’t have. On top of that are the changes in lifestyle we’ve been dealing with and not being able to hug friends and family. That loss of physical connection can make you feel grief as well. This article from the start of the pandemic explains it well—That discomfort you are feeling is grief. And you may have even more grief as many of us have lost friends, family, colleagues, and community members. Validating your feelings and your kids’ feelings is important. There is a great article I recommend called Why Grief Is A Series of Contractions and Expansions, which discusses how grief is not linear but instead ebbs and flows.
Even though things seem really overwhelming, it’s also okay to feel joy. You may be experiencing grief at a personal and global level. Yes, the world is suffering. Yes, people have it worse than you. However, you may also be feeling moments of joy about things in your life; embrace that joy as an equally valid feeling. I get the sense at some of the meetups with expectant and new parents that they feel happy and excited but they don’t want to express it too much given the state of the world. Sheryl Sandberg’s Option B book reminds us that we need to let in joy to help recharge our batteries to get through the harder feelings. Finding joy in the little things right now, like watching your kids sleep, taking some much-needed alone time, or sending silly pictures to a good friend are ways to help recharge your life.
Practice holistic healing. These are simple things like getting enough fluids (which can help flush out the cortisol and adrenaline), eating right (which fuels the body and brain), exercising and moving, and seeing your doctor. Make appointments with your healthcare specialist, OB-GYN, GP, chiropractor, and acupuncturist. Make sure that your blood pressure, blood chemistry, and body are well. If you need tests or routine follow-ups, don’t delay—get them on your calendar.
Move. Put on your favorite song from a fabulous time in your life and dance. Set a timer and stand up every 30 minutes and stretch. There are special exercises you can do if you are working at a desk every day (I love this Bob and Brad video). We’re also still having PSP Workouts so that you can feel accountability when you exercise. Bike rides, walks, and throwing the ball to your kids are all great ways to keep moving.
Do something creative. Journal about your experiences, paint pictures or signs, and recharge yourself by channeling all those feelings and energy into something tangible.
Monitor your media consumption. The constant bombardment of news and images can take a toll on your psyche. While it’s important to stay informed, and there are unbiased, positive places where you can get your news, it’s still important to take time to disconnect and recharge. Balance your media intake with things you enjoy that don’t involve screens, such as listening to music, cooking, or reading.
Build your relationship. For those of you who are partnered, remembering the good times and why you fell in love is a great way to build resistance and resilience. Download the Gottman Institute App and reminisce about something besides whose turn it is to take out the trash! Tell your love stories to your kids, too, and help them learn what good love looks like!
Practice gratitude. Whether it’s being thankful for running water or for the fact that you have the chance tomorrow to be a better parent than you were today, practicing gratitude can change a bad mood for the better. If you want to create a jar and put a date on each daily entry, you can read them over at the end of the year knowing that we persevered while the times were hard. A friend and I have been texting each day for 5 years sharing 3 things we’re grateful for that day.
Get some space. Spend time by yourself by going for a walk, taking an extra-long shower/bath, or plugging in your earphones and closing the door.
Practice Relaxation Therapy. On the Park Slope Parents YouTube channel, there’s a loving kindness meditation with Dr. Rebecca Sachs that can help you feel connected to the whole community. If meditation isn’t your thing, practice tensing and releasing different muscle groups. YouTube and most music apps have sounds of falling rain, forest noises, and sea waves that can help you relax. There are also a number of apps you can access from your smartphone to help with coping, including meditation apps.
Give yourself a timeout. The notion of a parental timeout came out of the Mental Health Check-In we had last week for parents of 2- to 10-year-olds. Mandi White-Ajmani from Small Brooklyn Psychology and I were talking about what to do when your kids are getting on your last nerve. A friend of mine used to give herself a timeout and go and cool off when she knew she was running on empty and was possibly about to say something she might regret later. It’s a good way to slow down and also models good behavior for kids when they need to cool down.
Share yourself with someone you trust. Talking through your emotions can help you feel understood and like you have someone on your team. Don’t feel like you only get one shot at it; tell your stories until it feels better. Wednesday we’re having a Mental Health Check-In with the Motherhood Center for people who have experienced birth during Covid.
Ask for help. Ask for help from your family, friends, mentors, allies, and kids. Allowing your kids the ability to feel useful will give them agency and build their sense of self in the world.
Listen to other people’s stories and help if you can. While it’s good to share yourself with others and ask for help, it’s also important to return the favor. If you have the bandwidth, consider taking a Mental Health First Aid course so you can become a more confident friend and more available to others.
Interact with others while you social distance. Being outdoors in the park with other people is healing and low-risk.
Get out in nature. Take a walk in the Lullwater at Prospect Park and hunt for frogs and turtles. Bring home a stick, pine cone, or leaves and put them somewhere to remind you of the restorative power of nature.
Listen to a mental health podcast. Sharing in other people’s experiences can make us feel less alone and give us tools to cope.
Continue to practice social distancing, since it’s a way to show respect to your neighbors. Also, as things open up, there may be fewer people wearing masks. Control what you can and let go of the rest. Seeing people not practicing social distancing can lead to angst, worry, and frustration, but remember: you can only control what YOU do.
Help others. Check in on your neighbors, friends, and those at risk for both physical and mental illness. If you have friends who have struggled with substance abuse, food issues, depression, anxiety, or other issues, know that this might still be an especially trying time for them. You can connect them (or connect on their behalf) to free resources through NYC Well. For those folks who may be at risk for domestic violence and abuse, here are resources.
Seek professional help if you (or your family) need it. Telehealth visits are a great way to get connected to someone who is trained to help you with your specific problem. Park Slope Parents’ members have reviewed hundreds of mental health professionals over the years. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The best gift you can give your child is a parent who knows how to take care of their mental health.
Be kind to yourself and others. As my brother and I finished up a phone call tonight, he said, “above all else, start with love.” That includes giving yourself a break as well as radiating kindness outward. And one of my favorite sayings is: “Be kind. You never know what someone is going through.” So many of us have been through so much in the last 3 months, and starting with kindness can do people a world of good right now.
Your kids are going to be okay. Really. In their overall life, this is just a tiny slice of time, and they will learn how to handle stress from how you handle stress. Continue to think about how you want them to remember this time, and strive to reach that goal. If you want to start re-integrating with other families in a podding or homeschooling situation, fill out this form to find another family.
Adversity builds character and strength. The Roman poet Horace once said, “Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents which in prosperous circumstances would have lain dormant.” The current challenges we are facing have already created new movements toward change. The longer we can be good role models for our children, the more resilience and fortitude they will have.
All change, even positive change, can be stressful. There have been a lot of changes to our lives over the last 3 months, including many changes to routines, privacy, and responsibilities. Phase 1 of reopening NYC started today, and while this is seen as a good thing, it may also bring up more uncertainty and stress for some of us. My brother in Spokane told me that getting a haircut for the first time since their state reopened was a bit of a surreal process, as it heightened for him how many of our simple freedoms had been unavailable for months. So while the reopening may bring welcomed things, like seeing some of the local business folks you didn’t even realize you missed, you may also experience a lot of inconsistent feelings as well. Accept those feelings, breathe into them, and let them pass.
Remember, social distancing doesn't mean emotional distancing. More and more people are having meaningful socially distanced meetups. With the nicer weather, it’s easy to be outside at a safe distance from each other. And while we may be experiencing Zoom fatigue, it’s really important to stay connected to people outside of the immediate area.
You may fall short on some days, but practice self-care, meditate, and exercise to help you be the parent (and human) you want to be. The world is moving toward a greater tomorrow, but if we’re depressed and anxious, we won’t have the strength and energy to do the important work.
There’s a lot more for us to do as a human race (more than I can expound on here), but there’s got to be time for self-care. My crisis fatigue was punctuated last week by a routine MRI on Monday (cancer survivor from 2016), worrisome results Wednesday, biopsy on Thursday, and the stressful waiting for (thankfully benign) test results. I’m trying to take time to heal and feel the relief while processing a host of other emotions unrelated to my health. I realized last week that without me taking more time for myself, I’m going to burn out and be less helpful to everyone. I'm assuming if I’m caught in that trap, others might be too. So take what works for you in this message and leave the rest.
I’m sending out lots of healing, love, and light to everyone. Be well and take care of yourselves.
Founder, Park Slope Parents