Mental Health during COVID-19: Taking Care of Yourself and Your Family
Posted on May 28, 2020 by CHS
If you are in distress and need immediate assistance, please call 9-1-1 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255.
Even during the best of times, it can be challenging to manage stress and keep a positive attitude The health precautions we are all taking to protect ourselves and flatten the curve during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic have left many people feeling isolated, anxious, and fearful. This blog will connect you with tools and services to help you care for your own mental health during COVID-19, as well as help you teach your children and family to care for theirs.
Physical distancing and wearing a face covering or seeing faces covered is a new experience for most of us, and it can cause feelings of fear, especially in children. You may be working from home and trying to educate your children, looking for work and worried about your finances, concerned for elderly family members you are not able to visit, working long hours away from your family and experiencing loneliness, or feeling fearful about the future in general. Whatever your circumstances may be, life has changed for all of us. Be patient and kind to yourself. Be patient and kind to others. We are all adjusting.
Some Facts about Mental Health
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, which is celebrated in order to promote understanding and reduce the stigma that often surrounds mental health so that people who need support feel comfortable asking for it. To learn more and download a free toolkit with information, posters, and media graphics, click here.
According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.” Mental health is different from mental illness, which is a diagnosable and treatable mental disorder or disease. The term well-being refers to a combination of practices for mind and body health.
Human beings need social contact and relationships. This is why physical distancing is difficult. New research shows that when parents cradle their newborn infants, both the parents and infants feel calmer. During this time of self-isolation it is important to continue reaching out to loved ones by phone or online. Recent studies of people who have experienced quarantine in the past reveal that some of the more common psychological symptoms of being isolated can include “depression, stress, low mood, irritability, insomnia, anger, and emotional exhaustion.” There are several things you can do to cope with feelings of stress, sadness, and fear.
Caring for Yourself and Your Family
First, be kind to yourself. There are going to be some days that are tougher than others. You might make mistakes or not accomplish all you planned to do. Take a deep breath and remember that each day is a new opportunity to do better. Be kind to others. They are learning too.
Sit down with your family and create a schedule for the week. Ask your family to try it for one week, and then sit down together to talk about the week and discuss anything that might need to change. Schedules alleviate feelings of fear and uncertainty because they offer a predictable future. If your family finds it difficult to stick to a time schedule, remove the times and just do the same events in the same order every day. Try to schedule self-directed learning projects for children such as homework, reading, puzzles, or art activities during the hours you need to work.
Include family self-care time on your schedule. It is important to practice self-care every day, even if you had a good day. Practicing self-care each day gives you something to look forward to and helps you prepare for the next day. Including your children in self-care activities helps them develop a healthy lifestyle for themselves, be more resilient, and manage strong emotions.
Include some of the following practices in your family self-care routine. You can do them in any order, change some of the activities each week, or add new activities that you think of together. Plan a family dinner where you sit down together and talk about your day. Discuss your successes, mistakes, problems, solutions, and your plans for the next day.
Make self-care fun by making a word or picture poster of the ideas below. You can number them and roll dice to select an activity, or put them on slips of paper that children can pull out of jar. Once you have done one or two activities as a family, select activities for each person to do on their own.
- Expressing Gratitude: Sit in a circle and take turns sharing something you are grateful for and why. If you have young children who have trouble sitting and taking turns, try passing around a stuffed animal or other familiar object with the rule that the person holding the stuffed animal’s job is to talk; everyone else’s job is to listen. Adults and children can also choose this as an individual activity by writing about three things they are grateful for in a journal or notebook.
- Deep Breathing Exercises: There are a variety of deep breathing exercises you and your children can do together. Start by focusing on breath awareness. Lie on your backs with a stuffed animal on your stomach. Ask children to watch the stuffed animal. They should see it rise when they breathe in (inhale) and go down when they breathe out (exhale). You can also try Butterfly Breathing, Rainbow Breathing, Box Breathing, or Take Five Breathing. Remind children of deep breathing activities they have learned whenever they find themselves feeling challenging emotions, such as frustrated, stressed, or upset. Eventually children will learn to use this tool automatically as a way to cope with stress.
- Emotional Literacy: Take time to pause and think about the emotions you felt during the day. Form a circle and repeat the Expressing Gratitude activity above, but instead of talking about something you are grateful for, discuss one emotion you felt that day, how it influenced you, and how you coped with it (for example, anger, frustration, jealousy, or disappointment). You can also read a book about emotions and go around the circle asking each person what they think about the book. Books are also a great solitary activity for children. Learn more about how to build your child’s emotional literacy here. You can find guidance for talking about COVID-19 here.
- Stretch and Dance: Try stretching or dancing together for ten minutes. It will build your lung capacity, strengthen your muscles, release energy so you sleep better, and improve your mood. Try some simple yoga poses, mindful movement, or put on your favorite music and dance. Make dancing a game by turning music on and off and instructing your family to freeze when the music stops. This game is good for helping children develop self-control.
- Music Appreciation: Spend time listening to music together. Try different genres and styles of music like classical, jazz, blues, pop, country, rock, or hip-hop; whatever appeals to you. Talk about what you like about each music style. If someone in the family is a musician, ask them to play music for you.
- Reading and Storytelling: Choose a classic children’s book such as Charlotte’s Web or Stuart Little by E.B. White. Ask everyone to close their eyes and imagine the story as you read one chapter each night.
- Share Your Hobbies: Spend time teaching your children about something you like to do. It can be anything! Your enthusiasm will capture their interest and working together will create happy memories. Whether it is cooking, baking, drawing, sports, knitting, sewing, wood-working, fixing cars, collecting stamps, or scrapbooking, your child will enjoy sharing time with you and learning something new. Make sure you reciprocate by showing interests in your children’s passions too!
Self-care can also include pampering activities like bubble baths, trying new hairstyles, giving each other neck massages, doodling, listening to music, or taking naps. Make sure that you and your family are eating healthy foods and getting enough rest. Developing a routine for self-care takes time, but the positive impact it will have on you and your family is worth the work. Below are more resources to support your mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.
References and Resources
- The Pandemic Crisis Services Response Coalition provides a list of helplines you can scroll through, as well as additional resources
- Crisis Text Line Text HOME to 741741 to speak with a live, trained counselor on a secure platform
- Center for Mindfulness guided audio and video exercises
- Child Trends resources for supporting your child’s emotional well-being
- Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC) offers tips for supporting your family’s well-being and answers questions about COVID-19
- Coping with Stress during Infectious Disease Outbreaks by SAMHSA
- Coping with the Stress of COVID-19 by UCI News
- COVID-19 Well-Being Toolkit and Resources by Healthy Minds which includes guided meditations in English and Spanish
- COVID-19: Emotional Eating by Kaleidoscope Behavioral Health
- COVID-19: How to Talk to Your Child by KidsHealth
- #COVIBOOK: Supporting and Reassuring Children around the World is a free children’s workbook in multiple languages that helps them understand the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and explore their emotions about it
- Family Assessment Counseling & Education Services provides telehealth and counseling by phone via no-cost 30-minute sessions; contact FACES at (714) 447-9024 or firstname.lastname@example.org
- Feeling Scatter-brained? Here’s Why by the New York Times
- Forty-Four Children’s Books about Mental Health by Child Mind Institute
- Guidance for emotional well-being from Teaching Strategies
- Guidance on helping children cope with emergencies from the CDC
- Guided S.T.O.P. Practice for developing focused awareness from Mindful
- How to create a Glitter Jar to teach children about mindfulness
- How to Talk about Mental Health with a Child by Kaiser Permanente
- Kids Want to Know presents a video about why we lose control of our emotions sometimes
- Mindful Movement for Young Learners video by Healthy Minds
- Mindfulness Breaks: A Weekly Practice for Self-Care by Zero to Three
- New Research on Stress of Quarantine and 5 Ways to Feel Better by Psychology Today
- Resources and tips for helping children stay socially connected and manage stress are available on the CDC website
- Self-Care Tips to Get You Through the New Coronavirus Normal by KQED
- Seven Fun Ways to Teach Your Kids Mindfulness by Kaia Roman
- Seven Ways to Ease Your Anxious Mind by Mindful
- Taking Care of Ourselves: Stress and Relaxation Resources and Tools by the Center for Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation