3 Steps for Parents to Handle Ongoing Anxiety During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Uncertainty is stressful, and the Coronavirus/COVID-19 definitely has a lot of us uncertain and stressed. Maybe it shows up as the urge to keep updating your feed, endlessly scrolling. Or you might find yourself almost “nesting” if that's something you're familiar with from pregnancy – trying to prepare for every eventuality. It makes sense – it comes down to wanting to do SOMETHING to quiet that anxious feeling inside.

But what to do once you've done all the things to do and you still feel anxious? The underlying cause – a global pandemic – isn't something you can control. The lack of control can lead to a feeling of ongoing anxiety which can spark short tempers and distraction.

All of this makes parenting more difficult. What can you do to increase your calm?

Handling Ongoing Extra Stress:

One thing a lot of us tend to do is ignore what we're feeling. This can further increase stress because we keep going on like everything is normal, our expectations high, but we don't gain a magical ability to handle day to day life with heaps of extra stress piled on top. I invite you today to take a second and accept that if nothing else, it's time to adjust your expectations. The following exercise can help you do that.

I'm going to go over the same steps I outlines yesterday in part 1 for helping kids manage anxiety about Cornoavirus/COVID-19, and we'll see how to apply these steps to yourself.

  1. Check in with feelings
  2. Acknowledge those feelings
  3. Ask questions to invite resourcefulness and self compassion

1. Check in with feelings:

Start by taking a second to breathe into the anxious feeling. Let's accept that it's happening. Repressing it or trying to run from it isn't making it go away, but acknowledging it can invite self compassion and awareness, and awareness let's you make choices about how to handle things.

So – breath and check in. Where are you feeling things in your body? How are your shoulders? Your chest? Breathe. Hows your stomach? Your hands? Breathe into any tightness you find. You might feel tears come up, or shivering – which is ok, it's normal as your emotions pass through. Feelings don't last forever, they pass through.

2. Acknowledge those feelings

As I mentioned in my post about kids – don’t try and fix it, just listen. In this instance I mean: listen to your body. You may feel uncomfortable as fears and anxieties rise up, and depending on your patterns and coping mechanisms – you may be tempted to shame yourself for having fears or anxiousness. You'll know you're encountering shame if you hear an internal voice getting mad at yourself. This voice might say something like: “It's FINE, you're FINE, stop overreacting!”

We can let go of this shame. You are allowed to feel WHATEVER you're feeling. Every feeling is ok and makes sense given your own personal history and circumstances. You are not your feelings, you don't have to act on them and you don't have to justify your feelings. One of the best ways you can help yourself move through feelings of fear or anxiety is through acceptance and self compassion.  These feelings will pass if you let them move through you.

For a concise description of using of breath to let feelings pass through, take a look at what my friend Jenn Carson, a yoga teacher says about using breath during this anxious time:

“When I feel the anxiety or frustration rise in myself, I come back to my breath. My precious breath. And let the emotion roll over me and remind myself that it is something I am experiencing and not a permanent state or something I need to cling to and obsess over.

It's ok to feel anxious or scared or frustrated or tired. Life is often uneasy. We are not promised or entitled to otherwise, no matter the stories we tell ourselves. This is not a punishment. There is no such thing as “fair” in any sort of objective sense – it all depends on whose viewpoint you are looking through. But we do not need to live continuously in this agitated state. First, feel it, and know that it is there. Second, let it pass and be present for what is coming next. It may be another wave of negative emotion. That's ok. It won't last forever. I promise.”

When you feel ready, you can ask yourself questions to invite resourcefulness and self compassion.

You can tap into your own resourcefulness and self compassion by asking questions that are “forward facing” So – not looking back and digging up regrets, but looking forward and finding the ways you are capable and able to make choices and take action.

Examples of questions you can ask yourself include:

  • What actions am I taking to take care of myself? (There is no perfect way to handle this, but you can remind yourself of what you're doing.)
  • Am I being kind to myself?
  • Are there any commitments I need to say no to or cancel to give myself more space in my schedule?
  • Are there any expectations I need to loosen right now given the stress level in our home?
  • What can I do to treat myself gently?
  • Who can I ask for support?

Be real with yourself. Know that you have diminished capacity to problem solve when stressed. Know that you are likely to have a shorter temper and less focus when you're anxious. If possible:

  • Give yourself more time with less to accomplish in that time.
  • Give yourself permission to change plans for the day.
  • Mostly – give yourself some grace as you handle the extra stress. You are deserving of compassion and gentleness.

If you need help with how to talk with your kids about their anxiety, take a look at part 1 of these posts on helping kids handle anxiety from Coronavirus here. If you'd like to talk more about this, or any parenting concerns, please join us in the Bounceback Parenting League on Facebook.

Wishing you well,