Thought for the Day:
“What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor, more unashamed conversation” – Glenn Close
Question for the Day:
Are you protecting your mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic as much as your physical health?
These are unprecedented times as we’re all coming to grips with a new normal ushered in by the novel COVID-19 pandemic, more commonly known as the coronavirus. The disease has most of us processing terms such as “social distancing” and “shelter in place” mandates and is challenging us to be more vigilant about the health and safety of ourselves and our families.
Knowing that this virus has the potential to end lives not only poses a threat to our physical health, but can be equally damaging to our mental health. We find ourselves increasingly worried, anxious, depressed, and even desperate as we must face more and more losses. Many have lost their jobs, our children are losing critical support to their education, and parents are losing much needed personal time as social outlets are removed and government mandates restrict us to our homes. This can be especially challenging for single parents who may already be short on finances, support, energy, and personal time. Just as we should be mindful to stay home, keep our bodies clean, wash our hands and wear protective masks, it is also important to take action steps to protect our mental health as well. So if you find that you’re struggling to get out of bed, crying excessively, or having trouble relaxing and being in the moment, you might be flirting with an emotional breakdown. Therefore, I’ve come up with the following tips for parents looking to retain their sanity.
- Move daily-Exercise is critical to fighting depression and anxiety. When we exercise, our brain releases feel good chemicals called endorphins that can minimize symptoms of depression and alleviate anxiety. Studies have shown that the benefits of regular exercise can be equivalent to taking anti-depressant medication. Though our gyms and fitness centers are closed, there is nothing stopping you from taking a brisk 30 minute walk alone or with the kids around your neighborhood or along the beach. It will help your kids burn excessive energy and keep you much calmer while managing their behavior at home.
- Meditate – A lot of people misunderstand meditation and assume it’s sitting on the floor with your legs crossed, chanting and listening to chimes. However, it’s really just about taking at least 10 minutes daily to get in a quiet room or perhaps somewhere in nature to just be still, take some deep breaths and focus your attention on your heartbeat and/or breathing. The purpose is not to “clear your mind” because we all know being a parent doesn’t much allow for an empty mind. Rather, its purpose is to help you practice tolerating whatever thoughts and feelings you may have without judgement or the need to react or “fix it.” Meditating builds what is called “frustration tolerance” which is the ability to stay calm even in times of crisis and who doesn’t need that right now?
- Watch Your Diet – Certain foods can improve your mood while others can make it worse. Overly-processed foods, caffeine, sugar, excessive alcohol, and artificial sugar substitutes can either over-stimulate the brain or add to an already depressed mood. Also, elevated blood sugar levels can contribute to mood instability. Increasing fresh fruits, vegetables and other “complex” carbs, and lean meats offers the body the antioxidants, protein, and vitamins it needs for mood stabilization.
- Reach Out for Support – Don’t feel you need to manage negative feelings on your own. I know we often think we must be “strong for our kids” but carrying too many burdens won’t look like strength when the load gets too heavy. Reach out to friends and relatives via telephone or Skype. Laughing with a friend or reminiscing over better days can be highly therapeutic and a great way to get your mind on something besides the virus.
- Structure Your Day – A day where everybody gets up when they want, there are no activities planned, and nothing is on the agenda but television and video games can get redundant quick. It also can leave one feeling useless which further exacerbates symptoms of depression. Even if you’re stuck at home, you will feel more productive if everyone gets up around the same time and the day is planned. There could be a set time for the kids to do school work, clean up, family time with games/crafts, exercise, meals, and relax time that can make the entire family feel as if they’ve accomplished something each day. The kids will be less bored, the day will go by quicker, and parents will feel effective and proud of the strides their family can make, even in quarantine.
- Get Enough Sleep – I know many of us are off from work and are now free to stay up as late as we want. However, when you have small children, the odds are you will have to wake up early regardless of how late you went to bed. Many parents are dealing with active children all day long on less sleep which is a recipe for disaster. Ideally, the entire family should go to bed around the same time, but even if that’s not how your family works, parents should still strive to get a minimum of 6 hours of sleep daily in order to minimize stress, anger, frustration, and impatience with children who are always eager for quality time.
- Get Out of Dangerous Situations – If you and your children are living with violence or abuse of any kind it will be IMPOSSIBLE for you to remain mentally and emotionally well. Even in quarantine, there are shelters in place that can provide a safe place for you and your children that can allow you the peace of mind you need to focus on yourself and your family. Don’t allow anyone to make an already difficult situation, even worse.
- Avoid Unhealthy Coping Skills – I know we’re all stressed and on edge, but turning to alcohol, marijuana or other drugs might help in the moment, but will only cause bigger problems down the line. Not only can substances make you less motivated and cause you to disengage from your children, they can also contribute to anxiety and fuel anger issues. Any coping skill that makes you less likely to give your children what they need, is likely damaging your family much more than it’s “calming you down.”
- Apply Healthy Coping Skills – Most people have a hobby or special interest that makes them smile and feel better about themselves or life in general. Whether it’s listening to or making music, painting, singing, drawing, doing hair, playing an instrument, writing, cooking, crafting, dancing, or reading, turn your attention to things that you enjoy when the day gets difficult. If you have a backyard, let the kids loose outside, while you read a magazine or listen to your favorite songs from back in the day. It can also be a wonderful experience for your children to see you doing what you love or maybe even learning a new skill from you. Not only will you be making yourself feel better, but you’ll be gifting your children with a healthy coping skill that they can use themselves one day.
- Seek Spiritual Support – For those who rely on faith to cope, it can be very therapeutic to start each day with a devotional, prayer, journaling, or inspirational music that can help set the tone for a positive day ahead. Focusing on the belief in something bigger than yourself, can be very comforting and might relieve you of the burden that you must handle difficult times on your own.
- Seek Professional Help – Sometimes symptoms of anxiety or depression worsen even despite your best efforts to manage. This is the time to seek help from a mental health professional such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, clinical social worker, or professional counselor who is trained to diagnose mental health conditions and help you process complicated thoughts and emotions. Most therapists are offering telehealth services that allow you to have therapy via the internet through your phone or computer. However, sometimes symptoms are just a product of a chemical imbalance that requires psychotropic medication to regulate. There’s no shame in taking prescribed medication for anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder or any other mental health condition. No, it’s not “crazy medicine,” but rather medication that is designed to regulate imbalances in the brain the same way other medications regulate imbalances in the body.
Mental health management is as critical to your survival right now as washing your hands or wearing a mask in Wal-Mart. The same way you take special precautions to avoid COVID-19 contraction, is the same way you should take extra measures to prevent significant depression or anxiety that can lead to an emotional breakdown or even worse, suicide. Like COVID-19, insufficient mental health treatment can be a matter of life or death, and it’s up to all of us to practice prevention, recognize the symptoms and proactively seek support. Our lives and our kids’ lives depend on us taking the health of our body AND mind, equally seriously.
“For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind.”
2 Timothy 1:7