Parents have unquestionably been hit hard by the pandemic. Between school closures and virtual learning, many parents have assumed the role of teacher on top of their usual household obligations and adjusting to working from home. And on top of that, parents are helping their children navigate their fear, anxiety, and depression around COVID and tumultuous societal events.
Additionally, many women are reporting an uneven divide in chores and child-rearing responsibilities. This is a lot to handle, so it’s no surprise that we’re seeing health implications of this added stress, such as increased blood pressure, for both men and women. And while experts point out that these health effects are brought about by multiple factors (changes in diet, for example), there is no doubt that stress is a major culprit.
So what can parents do to protect their mental, physical, and emotional well-being during the pandemic and beyond?
We’ve put together these 9 tips to help lower stress and anxiety during these uncertain times. After all, parents can’t care for anyone else until they’ve cared for themselves.
9 Tips to Help Lower Stress and Anxiety during the Pandemic, and Beyond.
- Keep Your Routine: We’ve all heard the stories of people admitting they aren’t showering as often or are staying in their PJs all day. While this was fun and novel at the beginning of the pandemic, allowing this to continue can negatively impact your mental and physical health. It’s important to keep a daily routine. This means setting an alarm, showering, dressing, etc. Sticking to a schedule can help you maintain other healthy habits such as a sleep schedule and exercising.
- Get Moving: You may not even realize how much more you used to move around at your office or place of work. Going to the bathroom, walking to the kitchen for a tea break, or going to a coworker’s office for a chat, all offered opportunities to move around. While it can be challenging to keep moving at home, it’s important to stay active. Doing so can help keep you alert and focused throughout the day. Try setting hourly reminders to stand up and stretch or take a meditation break during lunch.
- Stock Up on Healthy Food: It’s easy to keep snacking when you’re home more often. After all, the kitchen is probably a lot closer! That’s why it’s important to keep healthy food on hand for meals and snacks. This will help you feel better, maintain a healthy weight, and feel less guilty when you snack. And you’re modeling good eating habits for your kids. and maintain.
- Stay Connected: Not everyone is cut out for working from home and they can end up feeling lonely or isolated. If you find yourself craving human connection check in with friends or coworkers. Whether it’s scheduling a video chat or just sending jokes over email, keep those lines of communication open so you can maintain your relationships and feel less lonely. Odds are you’re not the only one feeling this way so people will likely appreciate and welcome your efforts.
- Breathe Deeply: The minute you feel anxiety coming on, an important first step is to just breathe – stop what you’re doing and gain control of your breath. This is helpful because deep, slow breathing sends a signal to our brains that everything is safe in our environment. Controlled breathing is one of the most powerful ways to activate your body’s relaxation response. It will take your mind and body out of “fight or flight” mode and put it instantly into a calm and relaxed state. Do this for as long, and as often, as you need to!
- Accept That You are Anxious: It’s important to remember that anxiety is just a feeling, and like all feelings, it can go as quickly as it comes. Feeling anxious is an emotional reaction to a string of thoughts, and as those thoughts change, so too will your anxiety. It will be easier to accept your anxiety and ride it out rather than pretending it’s not there or trying to bottle it. This will not ease your anxiety and could actually make it worse. Accepting anxiety can be very uncomfortable, and even scary, but remember, the only way out is through.
- Remember That Emotions Are Benign. If you’re experiencing panic attacks, it can feel like you’re in serious physical danger or may even die. But remember that your body is just reacting to your thoughts. A panic attack activates the flight or fight response and can trigger things such an adrenaline rush, increased heart rate, sweating, and shallow breathing. These reactions can feel very real and serious but they cannot harm you and the moment will pass. Remind yourself of that as many times as you need to.
- Question Your Thoughts: If you find yourself feeling anxious or spiraling into a panic attack, stop and examine the thoughts that brought it on. Your mind may be throwing out outlandish or far-fetched scenarios to make your feelings justified and keep the anxiety going. But before you take these thoughts as reality, stop and examine them. Odds are that while the thoughts feel real, they are not reality. Once you’re better able to observe your thoughts, you’ll be in more control of how you react to them.
- Visualize: Picturing a happy, safe place – whether real or imagined – is an easy way to bring you peace and calm. Maybe it’s your grandparents’ old house or a beautiful beach you’ve longed to visit. Whatever it is, picture it in your mind’s eye and really put yourself there. See it, smell it, feel it, taste it. Feel how calm it feels to be in this space that is perfectly comforting and safe. Visualization is something you can practice anytime and anywhere that can help you feel calm in no time.
Without question, we are all living under an intense amount of stress and it is affecting us all in different ways. If you and your family aren’t able to handle the stress any longer, it’s important that you seek out professional support. Working with a therapist to identify and address the root of your symptoms and begin to find ways to restore balance in your life can be an important first step in feeling better – both for your mental AND physical health.