Families today are facing many challenges as a result of living through a global pandemic. As a healthcare provider and a mother of four young children, I understand firsthand the importance that emotional health has on a person’s overall well-being during these stressful times. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many families have experienced ongoing disruptions to employment, schooling, housing, and social interactions. The loss of normal routines can lead to feelings of sadness and anxiety regardless of age. You may notice members of your family, including children, feeling overwhelmed, sad, lonely, angry, or afraid. It is critical for your family to work together to maintain your social, emotional, and mental health during the pandemic. You can practice these four strategies to support emotional health at home.
Exercise Everyday: Physical activity can relieve stress and distract you from daily stress.
With more time at home and on screens, both adults and children have become more sedentary. Some communities have canceled sports teams for the time being, and many playgrounds have temporarily closed. Our physical health impacts our mental health, and exercise can reduce stress and improve moderate depression. Physical activity promotes better concentration and focus and improves sleep habits. Exercise is also proven to boost moods and can help children reduce stress levels and build emotional resilience.
Children should be physically active for 60 minutes every day. They can exercise in 5 or 10-minute increments several times a day or play for 30-60 minutes once or twice per day. Although your local playground may be closed, there are many ways to stay active while social distancing. You can exercise as a family by going on walks together, having dance parties, or doing family yoga together in the living room. You can also take advantage of hundreds of free family activity videos available on youtube.
Safely Socialize: Social distancing is actually about physical distancing, while we work to stay connected socially.
Physically distancing, virtual learning, and being in quarantine can quickly lead to feelings of isolation. During this uncertain time, many people feel very vulnerable, and social connections can serve to comfort and reassure us. It is very important to look for new ways to stay connected, especially for children and teens. Maintaining relationships and staying social is key to emotional wellness.
Bonding with peers is essential to adolescent development. For your child, friends are a central part of their life, and it can be both difficult and confusing to put friendships on hold. You may need to adjust screen time rules in order to allow them to engage with their friends virtually. Encourage your teen to take advantage of technology like Zoom meetings or online games to safely connect with people outside of your household.
Create Control: Focus on what is still within your control to create structure.
Everyone is experiencing countless uncertainties, which can make adults and children feel helpless. One way to combat this is to focus on what is still within your control. Establishing a daily routine for your family is one way to create predictability. Waking up, eating meals, and going to bed at the same time each day will help to create structure.
You can also incorporate enjoyable activities into your regular routine, such as a weekly family movie night. Routines are restorative to everyone, and predictable activity can help calm the stress and anxiety within your family. Knowing what to expect will not only lower stress, but it can also ensure you manage your time more effectively and feel more in control of your daily responsibilities and goals.
Practice Mindfulness: Take time to breathe.
The way each person reacts to unanticipated life changes will likely depend on their existing support system, financial situation, emotional health, age, or other circumstances. With children at home, parents may need to work extra hard to manage their emotions and set examples for their children. One way to reduce stress individually and together is to practice mindfulness techniques.
The mind and the body are very connected. If you can help your child calm their body, it will calm their mind as well. You can teach your child how to do deep breathing exercises when they feel especially stressed or anxious. Take a deep breath, hold it for 10 seconds, and slowly release it. Other ways to practice mindfulness include listening to a guided meditation podcast together or keeping a daily journal in which each member of your family writes down what they are grateful for each day. Try to find something your family enjoys and do it at least once per day.
Ask for help.
If feelings of sadness or anxiety are making it difficult for any member of your family to function in your daily life at home or at work, please reach out for help.
- Text CONNECT to 741741 for any crisis 24/7 to chat with a live, trained crisis counselor for free. They can help with anxiety, emotional abuse, depression, suicide, and stress-related to school or COVID-19. Connecting with a real human can help you feel better in the moment, and come up with a plan to help in the long term. For more information, visit Crisis Text Line at www.crisistextline.org
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for English, 1-888-628-9454 for Spanish, or Lifeline Crisis Chat
- National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 or text LOVEIS to 22522
Follow Hazel Health’s blog for additional educational posts on improving your family’s health and wellness. To learn more about this topic, and ask a live pediatrician your health questions, join our weekly Ask a Doctor webinar every Wednesday at 3 PDT. Register here.