I recently had the opportunity to do a Facebook Live event with Dr. Randy Carlson for the Intentional Living radio program. We were discussing some of the issues families, in particular, are dealing with as they are staying at home due to the Covid-19 protocols. Here are some of the tips and insights that might help you and your family as you navigate your own situation.
One of the disturbing factors of the virus and the measures being mandated to prevent its spread is the uncertainty that accompanies loss of control in our own lives. One of the strategies we can employ is to reasonably control what we can. I have talked to many people who are anxiously watching news reports for developments and finding it only adds to their stress. My suggestion is to drastically reduce the amount of news they consume. In reality, from hour to hour, there will not be any drastic changes, so a brief, daily check-in is probably enough to keep you informed but not overwhelmed.
It can also be beneficial to limit the amount of time you spend watching television or streaming videos. Too much inactivity can contribute to emotional distress as well as physical problems. Research has revealed that extensive television viewing can lead to aggression in children, teens, and adults. Choose wisely what you watch and for how long. Limiting screen time is a wise idea even if the content is not “negative”.
Another area of life you can control for positive outcomes is staying connected to people you love via telephone or video chats. Some day you will feel free to hug them again, but for now, simply talking with someone can be very encouraging when they are feeling anxious and worried.
You may not be able to do everything you want, but you can create a routine that creates comfort, normalcy, and optimism. Be sure your day includes physical activity, like walking, doing yoga stretches, running or even cranking up some music and dancing! This is also an important time to focus on good nutrition and hydration. Not only will it help you feel more alert and positive, but it will strengthen your immune system.
If you have children at home, keep an eye out for signs of distress in their behavior. Symptoms may include stomach aches, sleep or appetite changes, isolating or not participating in activities they usually enjoy. Some children will verbalize their fear, worry or anger. The most helpful thing you can do is to model how to regulate their emotions. This may include saying, “I understand that you are feeling anxious, angry, sad, etc. I sometimes feel that way, too, and I choose to respond in positive ways. When I am anxious, I can pray. When I feel angry, I can take a fast walk. When I am sad, I can talk to someone I love. These are ways I can control how I feel.” As with every other aspect of parenting, patience and consistency is key. Kids will usually follow your example, so be sure to set a good one!
This unprecedented, strange time can be especially hard on individuals who are already vulnerable to anxiety or depression. But in spite of the unusual circumstances, the same therapeutic measures apply: deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation exercises, objectively identifying emotions and finding healthy ways to express them. Bottom line is that our emotions are a byproduct of our thoughts. Scripture reminds us that to combat anxiety it is important to “Fix your thoughts on what is true and good and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely, and dwell on the fine, good things in others. Think about all you can praise God for and be glad about.” If you process your negative thoughts through this filter, you will not be swept helplessly into thoughts of despair.
If you have a friend or family member you believe is isolating themselves out of fear or to avoid “being a bother” be sure to proactively reach out to them regularly. If you are the “loner” who doesn’t want to be a bother, keep in mind that research has shown that people are more attracted to a person who is willing to ask for help than those who maintain a wall of stoicism. You don’t have to wait until you need something to call your family. Just checking in with them will make you all feel better. At the same time, if you have a friend or loved one who is capable and desires to take care of their own needs, even if they are over 65, resist the temptation to debate or argue with them and let them exercise their independence.
For couples who are spending much more time together because of working at home or avoiding outside activities, I have a surprising word of advice: Give each other some space! Identify a place in the house or yard that’s “yours” so you can retreat for a while to read, work, think, relax or just enjoy the silence. Too much togetherness can rub you both the wrong way, so agree to respect each other’s space and then you will likely enjoy the time you have together so much more!
We have the choice to allow this pandemic and all of the distancing precautions to be the worst time of our lives or we can redeem the time and find value in the cessation of our former hectic daily schedules. Be creative, be patient and be aware of how you and those you’re with are doing; and be proactive to begin planning how you will re-enter the world when this time is over. What an opportunity to re-set your priorities and find new ways to do things that are important to you – make the most of it!
Live, Work and Relate Well!