How to Manage Anxiety During a Pandemic
Right now, in the US, things are uncertain and frightening. People’s anxiety is rising. There are many parents that are panicking due to school closures and lack of childcare. Some parents worry that pulling kids out of school will negatively affect their kids because their routines will be disturbed. While others simply don’t know how to talk about this crisis to their children.
While there is nothing positive coming out of this situation, it can still be a teachable moment for your children. Our generation has not really been exposed to anything of this magnitude and so we really don’t know how to deal with any of it. We worry so much about keeping to our routines that we miss the bigger picture. This is a real life or death situation. And we need to teach future generations how to deal with this more effectively than we have so far.
How to talk to kids about this crisis
How in depth you get about this crisis will depend on your child’s age. The older kids can understand more and thus should be told more detailed information. While for our youngest members of society we need to keep it simple. But no matter how simple or complicated this conversation is going to be, it needs to be the Truth! I can’t emphasize this enough. Do not sugar coat or downplay this. Tell it like it is. The situation is scary, the virus can be deadly and it’s easily spread.
Now, I wouldn’t emphasize how scary it is to young children. They are impressionable and understand the world in much more black and white terms than the adults. While we don’t want to scare them, we still need to explain why they can’t go to school, have play dates or go to their usual activities.
We framed it to our 4 year old in terms of an invisible bug. We explained that it can be anywhere and because we can’t see it, the only way to keep ourselves and everyone safe is to stay home and not interact with others. Did he truly understand the whole concept? Of course, not. He’s 4. But at least he has an explanation for why his routine is disrupted.
For older kids though, this can be such a great educational opportunity. Research other global pandemics that occurred through human history and how they were handled. Talk about how this pandemic is impacting different countries. Take the time to educate yourself, as well as your child, on which countries are having success containing the virus and which ones aren’t. Use this as an example for vaccine necessity. This is really what it looks like when people don’t have immunity against a communicable disease. And that’s why we value our vaccines and need people to get them.
Also educate your children on why hoarding and being in it only for yourself in this type of situation is not a good way to respond. We need to take care of those who really are at the highest risk and remember that we create more panic and disruption when we hoard and buy up essentials that others need. Make this an honest conversation. You’ll be surprised how this can lead into many other wonderful conversations with your kids.
How to deal with your anxiety
While you’re trying to calmly talk to your kids about this to not scare them, you may be experiencing severe anxiety on the inside. And the anxiety may not be about the virus specifically but about all the negative consequences it’s having on your life. You may be out of a job or have to care for your kids while still performing your job duties. You may be worried that bills are piling up and income is not coming in. So you have a lot on your plate to worry about.
I don’t want to give you any platitudes about using this time to connect deeply to yourself or finding pleasure in the little things. But do want to give you some tips that can help.
First, try to keep a similar routine for you and your kids to the one you had before this happened. Routine disruption is a very easy way for you to start getting anxious because things will feel out of control. Next, create a schedule for yourself and your kids that supports the routine. Then be prepared that things won’t go smoothly. Your kids will not cooperate with you every single day and that’s ok. Do whatever you can on the days you have more time and give yourself grace on the days your kids won’t leave you alone. Aso be prepared to work with a lot of interruption and in short bursts. Kids (especially younger ones) don’t self entertain for long.
If you are able, allow your kids to be outside. Not at playgrounds but playing in the yard, going on bike rides or walks. Kids love the outdoors and it can give you additional time to work. Learn something new (like a new recipe, game, skill) that can keep you engaged and anxiety at bay. The point is to keep busy in order not to give yourself as much time to worry about everything else. Anxiety loves filling idle time.
Do see if you can engage more with your family. Put away all technology, talk, have dinner together, put a puzzle together, watch a movie. Whatever you find pleasurable. But it can be exhausting having to be in constant contact with your family without much outside engagement. So take breaks from each other as needed. It’s good for everyone to recharge.
Practice yoga and mindfulness to help with anxiety. There are numerous studies on the benefits of mindfulness for mood regulation. It doesn’t have to be a long practice, even 5 minutes will bring benefits. You can do it while you shower, if you don’t feel like you have any other time during the day.
Limit your screen and news time. Break free from the 24/7 news cycle. It will only raise your anxiety level. Set a reminder every couple of hours (at most) to check the news and limit your checking to no more than 10 minutes at a time.
Write down the thoughts that are bouncing about in your head. Your intrusive thoughts become much easier to deal with when they’re on a piece of paper. Burn them, cross them out, toss them in the garbage after. Do whatever makes you feel better. But this symbolic trashing of your anxiety clears your brain up and allows positive thoughts to come in.
And don’t forget to exercise. There are so many wonderful cheap or free exercise videos online that anyone can find something that appeals to them. We subscribe to Down Dog and do yoga at home. They have all their resources free until June 1st, so it’s a great time to test out what they offer.
I understand this is a difficult time for everyone. I’m living through this too. But it will pass, especially if we follow advisories and practice “social-isolation” and “social-distancing”. And don’t forget the elders in your community. Help them with grocery shopping, donate items to them and write some encouraging notes to them. Remember, we’re in this together and we can persevere if we work together. Take it from someone who had many conversations with great-grandparents and grandparents who experienced World War II firsthand. If they pulled through that, we can pull through this.