Parenting Stress & Coronavirus: Tips to Survive & Thrive As a Stay-At-Home Parent During COVID-19 Quarantine by Holly Wilson
Homeschooling, working from home, minimal social contact. Even with glimmers of hope that restrictions on coronavirus (COVID-19) stay-at-home orders may begin to lift, most of us are still home with our kids, still living under very different parameters for our lives. Every day you are expected to do your job, be a teacher, be a playmate, make meals, attempt to keep the house tidy during the constant parade of dirty shoes, toys, books and games that scatter around the house. How can you do it all? The answer is you can’t. And you shouldn’t try.
As someone who has spent quite a lot of time in personal therapy as a recovering alcoholic, I’ve learned several important lessons that have supported my mental health during times of struggle and which I today pass along to my own clients. The first is that our brains are hard-wired to try and solve the current puzzle of our situation.
- How do we fix the coronavirus problem?
- What does a return to normalcy look like?
- How do we get by with the expectation that we can do our jobs, educate our children and still maintain a shred of sanity?
All of these questions, these puzzles that our brain is trying to solve, are problems with no real solution. We just don’t know the answers. And the “not knowing” and uncertainty can lead to incredible anxiety.
It is reasonable for us to feel anxiety given the current circumstances, but how we cope with that anxiety can lead us down a path to mental wellness or a path toward unhealthy coping mechanisms such as excessive drinking. A glass or two of wine after the kids go to bed may seems like a good way to unwind after a long day, but what if those two glasses turn to three or four, or maybe even two bottles? It is here that we have to remember, it isn’t the wine that is the root problem, it is the anxiety. So how do we manage this anxiety and not only survive our situation, but thrive in it?
The Road to Thriving
The first step is recognizing the negative thoughts that might be producing anxiety. Dr. Daniel Amen, a well-respected brain health expert and psychiatrist, recommends we remove the “ANTs” from our life. ANTs, or Automatic Negative Thoughts, can drive depression, anxiety and can deprive feelings of joy and happiness.
According to Dr. Amen, “Every time you have a sad, hopeless, mad, cranky, unkind, judgmental or helpless thought, your brain immediately releases chemicals that make your body feel awful. Your hands get cold and wet, your muscles get tense, your heart beats faster and your breathing becomes shallower. Additionally, the activity in your frontal and temporal lobes decreases which negatively affects your judgment, learning and memory. The opposite is also true – whenever you have a happy, hopeful, loving, kind or positive thought, your brain releases a completely different set of chemicals. Your hands get warmer and dryer, your breathing becomes deeper and more regular, your muscles relax, your blood pressure decreases and your brain works better.”
The happy, hopeful, loving, kind and positive feelings are exactly what we need right now to thrive as working parents during this crisis. So if you can train your brain to identify when you are having a negative thought process, and stop, eliminate or at least acknowledge that it is a negative thought, then we can make room for positivity. Here’s the advice I give to my clients who are experiencing anxiety:
- Make an acknowledgment: When you are feeling like a failure for parenting mishaps or not completing your work to-do list, acknowledge that this thought is negative and unproductive. It is OK if you are having trouble balancing work and child care, you are not alone. All parents are struggling with added stress and responsibilities and none of us are going to be able to achieve perfection.
- Find a replacement thought: After you’ve acknowledged the negative thought, see if you can come up with a replacement that lends a more positive spin on the situation. Perhaps you say to yourself, “That probably wasn’t the best way to punish my child’s bad behavior, but I’ll try a different approach next time.”
- Focus on the present: If the predicted longevity of the stay-at-home rules and “new normal” feels overwhelming, break time into smaller, more manageable chunks. Instead of wondering how you will survive the next few weeks or months, ask yourself, “What am I going to do this evening to make myself and my family feel good?”
- Put yourself first: If you are struggling with anxiety, stress and worry, everyone will struggle along with you. Acknowledge this fact and prioritize your personal wellness. Find even just a minute or two of alone time. Take a walk, do a home workout or meditate. If you are feeling good, you’ll be much better equipped to handle stress.
Parenthood is certainly hard enough during normal times. The coronavirus safer-at-home rules make it infinitely more difficult. Utilizing tools to help mitigate stress and anxiety is crucial to mental well-being.
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