Fear, uncertainty, and anxiety are bound to be heightened with wide-scale disease outbreaks that are contagious, like coronavirus (COVID-19). Not only does this give the average person a great deal of anxiety, it can be debilitating for people already suffering from anxiety, not to mention wreak havoc on your children's mental health.
" We can’t underestimate the impact this pandemic is having on mental health" ~Gov Andrew Cuomo, March 25, 2020
Stress during an infectious disease outbreak can include
- Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones
- Changes in sleep or eating patterns
- Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
- Worsening of chronic health problems
- Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs
The outbreak of COVID-19 around the world has led to the spread of fear and panic for individuals and communities. Here are just a few precautions from the New York State Office of Mental Health to taking care of your psychological well-being.
- Reduce anxiety by reducing risk. Ways to reduce risk include practicing good hygiene (e.g. sneezing and coughing into your elbow, sneezing into a tissue and immediately throwing the tissue away, wash hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, etc.). Staying social distant from others, six feet is what is recommended. In addition, create a plan in case your regular routine is disrupted, such as setting up remote work and alternative childcare arrangements. Setting out a plan can help reduce anxiety by taking charge of the things you can control.
- Practice good self-care, including exercise, eating healthy foods, and sleeping an adequate amount at night. If possible, spend some time outside. Avoid staying up late to monitor the news.
- Practice self-compassion. This is a new situation for everyone.
- Stay Connected from a distance. Virtually reach out to different types of support networks, such as family, friends, colleagues, faith-based communities, and social organizations to strengthen your overall feeling of connection. Isolation and loneliness feeds anxiety. Find or create spaces that are not focused on COVID-19. Start a social media thread about other topics, ask friends to discuss other topics, or watch your favorite TV or movie.
- Stay Mindful and Positive. Savor small positive moments, amplify positive stories, and stay optimistic. Try to cultivate a mental wellness practice, such as writing in a gratitude journal, or talking nightly with your family about moments during the day that were fun or enjoyable. Take an opportunity to practice mindfulness when managing anxiety. Mindfulness tools like grounding exercises, sensory modulation, and deep breathing may be helpful.
- Monitor your anxiety levels. Anxiety is a normal response to a stressful situation and can provide adaptive benefits in many situations. It is recommended that If you experience significant changes in your energy level, eating patterns, or sleeping patterns, difficulty concentrating on normal tasks, prolonged and overwhelming worry and hopelessness, or thoughts of self-injury or suicide, seek out immediate help at 1- 800-273-TALK (8255) or text Got5 to 741741.
NYS COVID Emotional Support Helpline has launched with more than 10,000 volunteer therapists.
New York State residents who could benefit from mental health support, the NYS COVID-19 Emotional Support Helpline at 844-863-9314 is staffed 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., 7 days a week. The phone line is staffed with specially trained volunteer professionals who are there to listen, support and refer if needed. For individuals in crisis, the Putnam County Crisis Hotline remains open 24 hours a day, 7 days each week and can be reached at 845-225-1222, and the National Suicide Prevention Talkline continues at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) 24/7, with special supports for Veterans by pressing 1 after dialing.
NYC Well website offers a number of well-being and emotional support applications (apps) that can help you cope. You can contact NYC Well, a confidential 24/7 helpline, staffed by trained counselors. They can provide brief counseling and referrals to care in over 200 languages.
- Call 888-NYC-WELL (888-692-9355)
- Text "WELL" to 65173
- Chat at NYC.gov/nycwell
Easing Family Anxiety
Here are recommendations from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA ) that you can follow to ease COVID-19 anxiety for yourself, your family and your kids.
Get The Facts
To find the facts about COVID-19, and not be overwhelmed, it’s a good idea to stick with just one or two trusted resources. Choose well-respected national medical groups like the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), or the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Or, use other resources you already know and trust — like your doctor’s office website.
Facts often can help reduce stress, especially for children with anxiety disorders. If your child is fearful of sickness, for example, you can remind them that the reason people are staying home is to stop the virus from making people sick.
Establish A Routine
COVID-19 is disrupting our daily lives in a lot of ways. Kids may be going to school online, for example, while parents work from home.
Although the amount of impact is different for each person, everyone is still affected to one degree or another. Creating a daily family routine can help adults and children alike regain a new sense of “normal.”
One way to do this is by structuring your children’s day as close as possible to what it was before COVID-19. For example, have them:
Wake up, get dressed and eat breakfast at the same time they did when going to school.
Go to a non-distracting area of your home to work on school assignments during the hours they usually would be in school.
Copy the school schedule by switching activities every 30-40 minutes or so. At “lunchtime,” eat lunch together.
“Social distancing” measures are meant to keep people healthy. However, children may be sad or even mad about needing to limit their in-person interactions with friends and family.
To keep kids from feeling alone, help them stay connected with others in new ways. Use technology like Skype, Zoom, Facetime or other apps to set up “virtual play dates.” Let friends play a game or eat together. Go on a neighborhood web page and let kids shop online for groceries for an elderly neighbor. Or, just set up regular times for your children to talk with their friends on the phone.
Set up opportunities to virtually speak to your coworkers so you don't feel isolated, and connect with your loved ones outside of work. It also really helps to set and maintain a routine. Keep your sleeping, eating and exercise schedules the same as you typically would (if possible) and take frequent breaks. Know what hours you’ll work, and when you and your partner can take shifts to care for your kids. Of course, that can be more difficult for single parents, who may need additional problem solving around their child’s schedule.
Contact NAMI HelpLine at 800-950-NAMI (6264)
How to Communicating with Your Children
How a child responds to news of novel coronavirus may depend on several factors, such as 1) age of the child, 2) language/comprehension abilities and developmental level of the child, 3) prior history of trauma or serious illness of loved ones or self. Therefore, a parent’s response would need to be tailored to the individual situation and context surrounding their child/teen. But, here are a few general tips for communicating with an anxious/child or teen about coronavirus from The Anxiety and Depression Organization of America (ADAA),
The most important and impactful form of communication to your child/teen is your own behavior. Children typically tend to be perceptive and sensitive to the behavior of others in their surroundings. If you and other adults in the household are acting and behaving calmly, you are sending a clear message to your child/teen that there is no need to panic or worry. For this, you would need to watch and monitor your own feelings and reactions. Children can sense their parents’ anxiety even when parents are not voicing or expressing their anxiety related thoughts or fears. Carving a few minutes for yourself for mindful breathing pauses during the day may help you model calm for your child/teen.
Listen to your child/teen’s feelings, worries, fears and questions about coronavirus. Children may receive their news about coronavirus from school, internet, TV, home or elsewhere. They may worry that the worst may happen to them and/or their friends and loved ones. Ask questions in a non-judgmental and empathetic manner. Show your child/teen that you are present and interested in hearing their thoughts and feelings. This will make it easier for your child/teen to approach you with their thoughts and feelings in future as well.
Acknowledge your child’s feelings. Be careful not to dismiss, invalidate, make fun of or reject their feelings. You may also inform your child that it is common to feel this way; many other people (including children) experience similar feelings. More about Validating Your Child/Teen: Many people worry that validating their child’s feelings would mean they are agreeing with those and that this may further increase those feelings. Validating someone’s feelings does not mean you agree with the beliefs underlying those feelings, but, it means you acknowledge the presence of those feelings and that you understand that such feelings are a part of the human experience. Validating is very powerful as it helps the person feel understood. This is especially important for children as they rely on and check with parents/teachers to make sense of their emotional experiences, particularly experiences or situations that are new or unusual for them. Validation can help the child feel calmer and enhance the child’s ability to process their emotions.Frequent invalidation of a child/teen can lead them to be confused about or doubt their own feelings as they grow up, and may contribute to low self-esteem or sense of self, besides potentially affecting or even rupturing your relationship with them in the long-term.
Help Sit with Anxiety:
Encourage your child to practice sitting with and experiencing the anxiety, rather than doing something to relieve it or distract from it. Sitting with the anxiety may be challenging for your child/teen at first (depending on the severity of anxiety), however, with practice, it will help your child/teen know that even though sitting with anxiety can be challenging and unpleasant especially in the beginning, it is doable, that this is a wave they can ride, and that these are feelings that will pass and these do not define them or their life. Help your child notice and verbalize the experience of anxiety rather than avoiding it. Putting anxiety related feelings in words facilitates faster and optimal processing of those emotions and experiences. Normalizing the experience of anxiety as one that many people around the world feel, can also be helpful.
Watch Closely and Monitor:
If your child/teen suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and tends to fixate or get stuck on certain things, you would need to take that into account while creating an activity or exercise. In that case, monitor so that this activity/exercise itself does not become a repetitive ritual. Children/teens with OCD may also struggle more than usual with handwashing, checking, counting and other compulsive rituals during this time, particularly as they hear recommendations for regular handwashing as part of prevention measures for coronavirus and as they hear about the rising numbers of people affected by the virus. In that case, you may work with your child’s therapist/psychiatrist to weave in and integrate the CDC precautions and recommendations into ERP (Exposure and Response Prevention), such that precautions are followed without turning into compulsive rituals. If your child/teen appears to have symptoms of an anxiety disorder or obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), that are impairing or significantly interfering with their daily functioning at school and/or home, please consult a mental health professional at the earliest and work with that mental health professional closely.
Consult, Collaborate with Healthcare Professionals:
If your child/teen is suffering from an anxiety disorder or other psychiatric condition, talk to your pediatrician and arrange for a consultation with a mental health professional, if you haven’t done so already. Most treatments for anxiety in children and teens should involve psychotherapy. There are various modalities of psychotherapy that can be beneficial for anxiety; Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one form of psychotherapy that has substantial evidence of benefit for treatment of anxiety in children and adolescents. If your child/teen already is under the care of a mental health professional, work closely with that professional to help your child navigate this unusual time.
It’s a conversation you may need to have many times over the coming days. But one of the best ways to reduce anxiety is simply to make time to talk. These may not apply if your child/teen is suffering from a moderate to severe anxiety disorder. In that case, please consult your child’s mental health professional/psychiatrist/pediatrician at the earliest, to devise or modify your child/teen’s individualized treatment plan so that it weaves in the recommended precautions while addressing the anxiety symptoms that can occur in the context of the novel coronavirus.
Contact ADAA Phone: 240-485-1001