Coping better together: when pandemic-level stress hits home

IMPORTANT: This blog is not a substitute for therapy, but provides evidenced-based education for the purposes of self-help, or to compliment the therapeutic process. ​ ​This blog is non-monetized.

By Christina Crowe, RP, Clinical Supervisor

We are nearing the end of week 3 of the COVID19 Ontario pandemic experience, headed into week 4, it seems with little end in sight.  To say it’s been stressful might be an understatement, but it might vary, depending on your circumstances and your support network.  The longer this goes on, the longer we are developing a more nuanced understanding of what exactly is so hard about staying home, and how we might cope better together. 

EXPLAINING THE PANDEMIC TO OUR KIDS

​It’s never been more important for the adults in the room to be able to be emotionally regulated ourselves – to be as calm as humanly possible, so we can reassure kids, the adults have the ability to care of them.  This doesn’t mean you can’t lose it from time to time, but perhaps be mindful of how you got there and what you might be able to tweak to support yourself more.  

​If you are losing it, ask your loved ones for grace and support. 

Children of all ages (yep, babies too) pick up on adult anxiety and chronic stress because this is how humans are wired.  To help manage it, consider practical things like not having the news running while the kids are in the car, or within earshot. Our older kids will have information from social media pushed out to them – make sure to ask them what they have read or heard (maybe a weekly check in?), and take that opportunity to reassure them. 

Be available

Model for your kids what good community citizenship looks like: ​

  • be mindful of how you describe COVID-19, of stigmatizing language and about how we can stand together to protect those more vulnerable than us, and each other. 
  • Teach and model for them how to reduce the spread of germs with handwashing.  Parents can turn handwashing into games, incentivize it, and maybe even create some rewards for good adherence. 
  • Provide information to them that is honest, accurate and age-appropriate. 
  • Let them know a lot of what they read online might be based on rumors and inaccurate. Demonstrate for them how to find credible places to check the news if they are older. 
  • Set them up with Zoom, FaceTime group call, or other free videoconferencing so they can keep in touch with their friends. Let them see you doing this with your own support network. 
Image of an early covid 19 pandemic Zoom call to stay in touch

HELPING KIDS COPE IF A FAMILY MEMBER HAS TO GO INTO SELF-ISOLATION:

​It’s important to remember that specifically related to COVID-19, self-isolation is an important part of stopping the spread. You should self-isolate: 

  • after travel, even if asymptomatic
  • if experiencing symptoms,
  • are over 70 years old, or
  • immune-compromised, or with underlying medical conditions. 

Kid’s can understand, it’s a part of being a responsible community member, because there are many people in our community who are more vulnerable, and we are also protecting them.  

When we are sick with something communicable at any time, we should stay home so we don’t spread illness.  This is no different. Reassure kids it’s not so much that we might not get better – by far and large, people are recovering from COVID-19.  

COVID19 mental health support Caledon Bolton

ONE OF OUR FAMILY MEMBER’S IS A FRONTLINE WORKER.

Kid’s and partners might be especially worried about a parent, or extended family member, who is a frontline worker or essential services worker. It’s important to reassure kids there ARE lots of precautions for that person’s safety and showing kids what those precautions are can be important signals of safety for their brains to process.  

Doing what we can to protect the health and sleep of those people while this unique moment in time is ongoing is a wonderful way to support your loved one.  Together, can you make them healthy snacks, or draw them colourful rainbows for their car or nursing station?  Give them reminders of home to put in their pockets for the day. And when they come home, make sure they sleep.

​It’s a sacrifice in quality time, but these aren’t normal times. 

‘ADULTING’ DURING A PANDEMIC.


“Adulting” is managing our own anxiety so we can be emotionally available to our children. It’s hard to do in normal times, never mind when we are going through the same thing as our kids. However, if its hard for us, with our adult brains and life experience, expecting them to go with the flow without some ups and downs is putting a standard on them that we can’t even meet.  

​It’s important to recognize: 

  • It’s perfectly normal to feel worried about this. We are mammals, and when we feel threatened, our autonomic nervous system kicks in automatically to fire up our survival instincts (fight, flight, freeze).  Recognizing your own stress reactions is a part of knowing yourself well. 
  • When you know you are doing The Thing You Do (you know …) when stressed (For example, “Fight” can look like: Irritable? Snappy? Madly cleaning the kitchen? Obsessing over TP and sanitizer? and “freeze” can look like insomnia) – here is where you can work to insert the pause
  • All of that nervous system energy is there for you to put toward things that can make you feel better – think less cleaning the kitchen, and more sit down and play on the floor with your kids. If you need some healthy distraction, be mindful to displace negative emotion with positive emotion  – you need to laugh! Watch a stand-up comedy special on Netflix (I recommend Michelle Wolf’s comedy special – but, not safe for little ears). 
  • Despite the Schools-Out-til-Maybe-Forever-Rager your teen is dreaming of, try as much as possible to stick to: regular bedtimes, regular wake times and regular mealtimes and responsible social distancing.
  • Continue to power down the devices at least an hour before bedtime.  Kids need to sleep.
  • So do Adults. Get back to an adult bedtime routine that tells your body, ‘the day is slowing down, let’s prepare to sleep’ (bath, chamomile tea, low lights, phones put away, snuggle time). 
  • If it didn’t get done today, it really can wait until tomorrow.  Really. 
COVID19 mental health support Caledon Bolton

​Finally, get supports for your child, or yourself, if you are struggling.  If you have a child you work harder to support emotionally than your other kids, a ‘strong willed’ child, or a child who has a diagnosed disorder or learning disability, take the time to set your kid up for success.

​While services might look different, you can certainly get parenting support online, across a range of qualified therapists as well as costs (from free to usual rates).  If you’ve got some ADHD brains in your house, check out all of our ADHD articles, now more than ever, is an excellent time to build skills. 

When we are all a bit stressed together, it could be a great time to experience for yourself the benefits of a family mindfulness practice.  

For example, when waking up: 

  • Take a few moments to explore the morning through your senses. Take turns naming things you see, hear, feel, taste, and smell. 
  • Try to notice things you would normally tune out, like the distant buzz of a neighbor’s dog barking, or the softness of a pillow. 
  • Try a family body scan: Starting with your toes and working your way up to the top of your head, notice the sensations in each part of your body. 
  • For example, notice the feeling of clothing resting on your legs, tension in your muscles, or cool air on your face. 
  • Practice box breathing & mindfulness breathing to start to get a handle on your body’s response to stress. 

BALANCING WORK AND HOME-SCHOOLING 

We’ve had work from home arrangements before … but we certainly haven’t had to do it will all of our young kids at home, without the structure and support of school, daycare, or extended family members to help.  

For the first time ever, we are working from home, and we are asked to be responsible for facilitating and carrying our our kids remaining curriculum, while doing our jobs, without the support of on site teachers, babysitters, grandparents or our spouse (if you have one, who is potentially in the same boat).  ​If you are a single parent, Godspeed.

If work has been tough, how can we model what good looks like to our colleagues? 

If you ever struggled with any whisper of perfectionism – the idea that we must ensure others think we have everything together, or that we don’t need help,  NOW is a great time for a refresher on why perfectionism sucks, and certainly in a pandemic, ain’t nobody got time for that (thank you Brené!). 


If you have kids at home, now is not the time to bear down on being superwoman or superman at work, if you are on your own. Now is the time to look your employer in the eye and invite collaboration, which sounds like, “how can we make this work?”

Major kudos for the employers who have already initiated flex hours, checked in on each and every one of their direct reports with compassion and empathy, and parents who have been able to do things like negotiate a block of several hours in the middle of the day that they can tend to their children.

​This isn’t the time where your ability to be very proficient at work we’re going to count in your performance review. And if you report to someone who doesn’t have the managerial courage to lead this (or is simply too overwhelmed themselves), reach out to someone who is experienced in your industry for some inspiration and support. 

In general: 

  • Keep the lines of communication open with your team.
  • Get dressed for your workday like you would have before (within reason).
  • Have a definitive start and stop time. 
  • Have a mid-morning coffee break if that’s part of your regular in-office routine. Eat lunch with your peers. 
  • Create signs with your kids that let them know when they can and can’t barge in on you. Kids in conference calls are just going to be part of our new normal (and perhaps should have always been). 
  • Make sure that when you’re done working for the day, you’re done.
  • Explore your benefits and HR policies to understand exactly what your employer provides for flexibility, therapeutic support, coaching support and perhaps you might be part of leading the new normal. If you feel like it. 

WHAT ELSE? 

Let’s avoid stigmatizing language. Rather than what we shouldn’t say, perhaps it easier to consider how we should be framing this. This too shall pass. The outbreak will begin to subside at some point (meaning new cases will level off). It’s challenging not knowing at this point when that might be.

Helping kids identify what the controllable’s ARE in their life helps, as well as giving them some controllable’s to feel a sense of safety from (empower them to get engaged with cooking, creating their own daily schedule, adjusting it upon reflection together, making plans for the future).  If you don’t love things being enforced on you, your apple might not fall far from the tree. Let them have an age-appropriate hand in what the new normal looks like for them. 

We learn new things every time we go through a crisis that affects us as a global community, which is a good thing.  We move forward through tough times and situation’s together, and we’re living one of those right now.  

​It’s really important to notice (and talk about) our loved one’s unique distress signals. Whether its increased irritability, snappiness, feeling over-responsible, exhausted or immobilized – we can take a deep breath (6 is best), look at our loved ones eyeball to eyeball and say, “hey, I can see you’re having a hard time.”  It gives us the opportunity to connect with each other rather than escalate. 

And when in doubt, everyone benefits from a nap and kindness. 

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Picture of ​Christina Crowe, H.BSc. MACP, RP

​Christina Crowe, H.BSc. MACP, RP

Registered Psychotherapist, Validated Clinical Supervisor, ADHD Therapist & Coach Podcast Host The Christina Crowe Podcast Christina is a Canadian Registered Psychotherapist, a member of CADDRA's Advocacy Committee and relentless mental health advocate. Christina believes great mental health information should be available to everyone, loves creating content that makes invisible things VISIBLE and finding new ways to bring healing experiences to as many people as possible.

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