Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Helping Kids/Teens and Adults with Anxiety During Covid-19

If you haven't suffered from anxiety before, then I am sure you are feeling it now.  Anxiety is worry and I think it's safe to say we are all having some worry right now with Covid-19!  The pandemic is something we have no idea how long, how widespread or catastrophic it will be.  Which means we are uncertain of the future = anxiety.

Anxiety feeds off of UNCERTAINTY.  Any time we don't feel like we have control over something,  or feel uncertain, we worry.  And Covid is the definition of uncertainty.  We have no end in sight.

If adults are feeling it, then kids and teenagers are as well.  How do you handle it for your kids and for you?  With my training and some great advice from Lynn Lyons and others with the Association for Play Therapy, I combined it all and came up with a few tips.

How to help kids deal with anxiety during Covid-19

1)  Check in with your kids. Ask them how they are feeling, ask what they have heard about the virus, if they are afraid of getting it, etc?

2) Explain the virus in developmentally appropriate language.  That means young kids (preschool and younger) don't need to know a lot about it.  Just explain that there is a virus that is going around and we are staying home to keep the family safe.  For older kids, explain a little bit more that it is a new virus that came from China, and since it is new and unknown, we have to be safe and stay inside, practice social distancing so we don't spread or catch the germs.

3) Don't immerse yourself in the news, Twitter, stats of the virus, etc.  It's easy to become obsessed. Just a quick daily update is all you need.  We need to model as parents that even in the chaos, we don't have to be caught up in it and become more anxious.

4)  Have your children be a "Super-Hero".  Kids usually never have power, it's always an adult telling them what to do.  This is the time that kids can be powerful and their superhero job is to stay inside and protect people by washing their hands, and not spread germs to older people who aren't as strong and healthy.  You can have them draw a picture of themselves as a superhero getting rid of the virus!  My children drew pictures of themselves kicking the virus :)

5) Stick to a routine. Kids THRIVE on routines.  It helps decrease anxiety!  Children will act out less if they have limits and boundaries and know what comes next.  Make a schedule for your family and stick to it.  Have lunch around the same time too.  Keep the same bedtimes if possible as well.  Have kids get up around the same time but you can be a little flexible too.  Kids need their rest, to stay healthy as well as to decrease anxiety and meltdowns.

So if school starts at 9am, they can get out of bed at 8:30.  Have them eat breakfast, brush teeth and get dressed.  As adults we need to do the same thing.  I have my pajamas that I'd love to keep on all day, but I will change into my 'lounge clothes' like sweatpants and a t-shirt.  You can be a little more flexible too and feed them breakfast for dinner.  But also try to have them go to bed around the same time each night as if things were still the same.  Plus adults need our alone time to watch our R-rated binge shows when the kids go to bed..lol.

5) Have your kids keep a journal.  It can help ease their worries on paper.  Sometimes it's easier for kids to write than to talk to you.  And now is a good time to write about their experiences as it will be amazing to look back on in 10 years! My grandmother lived through the Spanish Flu and it's interesting to hear her talk about how her family survived it.  (She is 100!)

7) Empathize with your kids!  These feelings they have of being scared, sad, and angry can be overwhelming for them and us, but let them feel them!  Let your teens be angry with you for not letting them socialize with their friends.  We can't eliminate anxious feelings.  When we have these 'bad' feelings, allow them, accept them as normal feelings, then do something to reboot them such as going for a walk, coloring, playing with play-doh, and other moving activities, so we don't ruminate (think over and over) about them too much.

8) Have your kids and teens get connected to others!  Facetime or Zoom friends and family; play a virtual game with family such as Yahtzee, Uno, etc.

9) Give them more autonomy in the home.  Having them help out at home helps decrease anxiety.  Have them do more of their normal laundry steps, dishes, bathroom chores and help with the pets, etc.  We don't expect the house to be perfect and clean, but being home more means the house is getting used a lot and it needs to be cleaned more.

10) Get Moving!  Kids, teens and adults all need to move. Movement helps decrease anxiety.  We can use this as a Reboot- we can't get rid of anxiety, as that is not possible, but we can reboot/restart.  Go for a bike ride, get out that old exercise trampoline for indoor jumping, get a jump rope, do online exercise videos for kids and adults, drive to a park you can walk around in if you don't have a backyard.

11) For teens, they are having a hard time now not being with their friends.  Developmentally, they have a sense of immortality- they think they are okay texting and driving or drinking and driving- that it doesn't pertain to them.  Almost like the egocentric stage of toddlers.  Explain to them that this is about helping our community.  The impact is beyond them, it's for everyone.  Let them be angry with you about having to stay away from friends, that's okay.

12) Role model for our kids good coping skills!  Talk about a mild worry you have, give it a name and talk to it as a role play.  For example, tell them you are worried about not getting enough sleep and name it 'sleepyhead'.  Talk to 'sleepyhead' and tell her she needs to move over, not be the boss of me and let me get some sleep!  Show them it won't boss them around.

*Also on the role model note, try not to teach your kids and teens that alcohol is the answer, even if you say it jokingly.  We don't want them to learn that drinking alcohol is how you cope through chaos and stress.  It's okay to have your glass of wine or beer at dinner, but you don't have to talk about how it's the only thing getting you through this right now.

Also remember it's more important that our kids will remember how we bonded with them during this time at home, not how much they learned homeschooled or if they broke a rule.  Be there for them, give them extra hugs, hot chocolate and cuddling.

How to cope with anxiety as an adult and parent:

1) Try to go to bed and get up at the same time each day

2) Don't become too obsessed with the news, Twitter, CNN, etc.  It can overwhelm you reading the statistics, especially before bed!  Just get a brief update in the mornings is best.

3) Make sure you have some downtime for yourself. Whether you live alone working from home, or with family and managing a household, schedule an hour out of the day to do something mindless. Read a funny novel, a magazine, adult coloring books, etc.  I try to set aside an hour in my day to go to my bedroom, shut the door and read a book/magazine or journal.

4) Do yoga every day!  It will help calm you down and ease stress.  Plan it the same time each day and stick to it.  I started doing yoga in high school and did the old school method of Hatha yoga that was super slow and more meditation style.  There are so many variations out there now, but I prefer the stretching kind that helps relax you, not power yoga.  You can find a 30 day yoga routine on You Tube, or google Hatha or Raja yoga.

5) When you feel overwhelmed or anxious, stand up and go outside for fresh air. I know this sounds easy to do, but sometimes when we get anxious, we panic and freeze up and forget the most obvious thing!  Belly breathing helps as well.  Breath in while your stomach caves out, then breath out as your stomach caves in and pushes the air out.

6) Journal.  Write down your thoughts and fears.  It helps lessen the anxiety overload in your head.

7) Socialize on Facetime or Zoom.  Even if you live in a house of 10 people, call a friend, reach out to relatives, plan a book club via Zoom, or a guys' poker game!

8) Eat Healthy!  It's so easy to stress eat and bake cookies during this time.  Believe me, I am tempted every day to bake chocolate chip cookies.  But unhealthy foods make us feel worse.  Research shows how our moods are affected by what we eat.  I know it's hard to find food out there during this crises, but try to stick to healthy fruits and veggies.  When I need a snack I try to go for a clementine orange or a handful of nuts.  Or a piece of dark chocolate :)

9) Minimize alcohol.  It can increase anxiety and trigger panic attacks.

10) Remember you can't control what is going on. Accept the anxiety as something you can't get rid of and then as we do with kids, reboot it.  Tell yourself it's okay to feel anxious, then start to move and go for a walk, do some jumping jacks, or yoga, etc.

I wish there was some magic potion or words to help it all go away.  As we know with history, this will pass, it just will take some time!  Embrace the slowness we have going on right now.  Embrace the not rushing from activity to activity.  And embrace the ones we love!

Anyone have any words of wisdom?


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