I’m here today with a special message for the moms and dads who listen to this podcast. And that is managing your own anxieties and to put on your own mental oxygen mask first, so that you can be strong and calm for your kids. Or, even if you don’t have kids. So you can be strong for the folks in your life who might be freaking out right about now.
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But First, A Little Story
At 10 o’clock on March 1st, which was a Sunday night, I did something I know better than to do. I checked the news headlines on my phone. That’s how I learned the first coronavirus case in my state had been confirmed. In the town whose border lies two blocks away from my house.
If there’s one night a week when I often have a harder time sleeping than others, it’s Sunday night. My mind is starting to anticipate what I need to get done during the next five days. So this was an especially silly decision on my part. Needless to say, I didn’t do much sleeping that night. My tiredness the next day only added to my stress and made it more challenging to be a source of strength for my elementary-schooler and middle-schooler who were starting to have a lot of questions about the virus. Questions we really didn’t have the answers to yet.
If you’re a parent, you’re facing a double whammy right now of managing your own anxieties about the news cycle while also modeling resilience and stress management for your kids.
Because let’s face it:
Something as big as a global pandemic is bound to trigger stress. And stress lowers immunity all on its own. When you add in lost sleep, that toll rises higher. Plus, stress and bad sleep both impair good decision-making (and when you’re a parent, decision-making is pretty much a daily job requirement—especially now when you’re having to decide whether or not to leave the house, or get together with friends, or what to keep on hand in your cupboards, or whether to go to the doctor…the list goes on, as I’m sure you now).
Since we need as many clear-thinking people as possible to curtail the virus’s spread, and because your kids are looking to you for direction, today I want to share with you five ways in managing your own anxieties to keep your coronavirus anxiety in check.
The first, and maybe the hardest, is to choose when you’ll check in
I’ve done an episode on this idea before, that there’s a time and a place for everything. And that includes when to consume your coronavirus news. As my experience illustrates, that time is not right before bed. It’s also not a great idea to do it when the kids are likely to need your attention, because getting interrupted while reading something stressful can easily cause an overreaction—and cause you to pass your upset on to your kid. Think about times during the day when you aren’t on hands-on Mom duty. Designating a time to read the news will make it easier to refrain from hovering over your phone all day just in case there’s news.
Give Yourself A Buffer
Once you find that time, you also want to give yourself a buffer of some time for managing your own anxieties where you can digest what you’ve learned before you go back into Mom mode. For example, try reading the news just before you start cooking dinner, because the physical movement and specific objective will help quiet your mind. You also go on a walk after checking in, because movement plus nature equals a mental reboot. Or if you’ve got a pet, spend a few minutes cuddling them, because it will get some oxytocin—aka the love hormone—flowing to make it easier to be present with your kids.
Another time that you want to schedule is your worry time
One thing motherhood will teach you is to compartmentalize, and now’s the perfect time to put that superpower to good use by giving yourself permission to worry during a specific and finite period of time a day for managing your own anxieties . Maybe 15 minutes right after they go to bed, or before they wake up in the morning. Whenever your worry time is, write down or share out loud with someone you trust everything you’re anxious about—writing and sharing helps get all that stress and anxiety out of your head and onto the page, so that you don’t have to keep re-hashing it in your mind.
A great way to protect your mental health, especially during times of enforced isolation, is to stay connected to others. But you have to be thoughtful about this. Now is not the best time to be in close contact with the Chicken Littles in your life. Whose judgment do you trust? Whose perspective do you value? Reach out to them when you need shoring up. For those folks in your life who are generally more in need of moral support, reach out to them when you’re feeling the most even-keeled so that you have the strength to lend.
And Finally, Model Self-Care
Now, I know how tempting it is to tell yourself that you don’t have time or energy for self-care when you’re stressed, but tough times are when you need the steadiness of self-care the most. Also, remember that kids watch you to learn how they should respond to crises. Let them see you doing a couple of yoga poses, journaling or going for a walk to clear your head (even if it’s just in your yard). Tell them why you’re doing it (“This helps me feel better”) and invite them to join you. That way, you’ll spread calm instead of anxiety.
I am sending you tons of good vibes for patience and mental resilience right now and for managing your own anxieties
People have lived through tough times before and together, we’ll live through them again. We can do hard things. Be sure to come back next week when I’ll be airing a special theme week called Happy at Home, so that you can make the most out of the extra time we’re likely all to be spending at home. Take good care of your mental health, and I’ll talk to you on Monday.