Helping Families Cope with COVID… one day at a time!

This blog has been percolating in my head for a while. The thought of writing it has been daunting because the topic is so enormous and there are so many angles from which to approach the many ways that this coronavirus pandemic has touched all aspects of our lives – socially, emotionally, physically and financially.

Let me begin by saying that like you, my foremost thoughts are about helping to keep me, my family, friends, clients and community, safe. With this in mind, I am not seeing clients out of my office, but via telecounselling – video and on the phone. Last year, while recuperating for a couple of months from foot surgery, at home, I had the opportunity to rehearse for this pandemic. My clients and I realized how incredibly effective telecounselling can be and so, I continue to encourage reluctant clients to give it a try. Those who have are glad they did.

I am also practising physical distancing and encourage everyone around me to do the same. I have been impressed at how diligent my daughters have been, even sometimes reminding us to wash our hands! My 20-year-old daughter’s boyfriend has moved into our home so that they are not having to travel back and forth in order to see one another and we are all safe at home together. Our 28-year-old daughter is living alone and also practising physical distancing and working from home. We are working as a team, even when living apart. It certainly helps when a team is on the same page. Without it, the stress of having to monitor other’s actions and behaviour is magnified.

Nevertheless, stress and anxiety exist. No matter how well you’re working together, there are daily questions and decisions to be made. Such as: who will go grocery shopping? Is it safe to order in? Is It okay to walk to a friend and sit in her backyard six feet apart? Is it safe for the grandchildren to play ball at their grandparent’s house while they sit watching from a distance? My expertise doesn’t provide me with immediate answers to these questions, but as I’ve said time and again over the past few weeks, “we’re all learning as we go,” “lets take one day at a time,” and “let’s explore the risks and rewards on a case by case basis.”

This is some of what I have learnt so far:

  • We can change our attitude. While it’s important not to dismiss feelings of anxiety, sadness, anger and fear, it’s also important, I believe, to look for the silver lining in this COVID cloud. My attitude allows me to reflect on some of the positive outcomes – such as the time that “this break” has allowed us to spend with families, to catch up with old friends, to learn more about how to use technology at its best, to get off the treadmill of running between appointments and extra curricular activities, for teens and adults who are dating to learn more about their prospective partners without feeling rushed into being physically intimate, to not sit in traffic for hours each day trying to get to work and back home, to allow our children to invite as many friends as they’d like to their virtual party without any fear of them driving drunk or having a big mess to clean up afterwards. There are so many opportunities to see the glass half full.
  • We need structure and routine. I keep a calendar on my desk which reminds me which day it is. Every day I put a line through the day before and circle the one we’re on. In addition, I maintain a schedule (even if its looser than typical) most days. We need to be mindful about getting up and going to bed at regular, healthy times, maintaining hygiene such as showering, washing hair, grooming and brushing our teeth, for example. Even getting changed out of PJ’s and into day clothes is important. Eating the same number of meals as you typically do, and around the time you usually do is important too. Maybe arranging a specific time to call a friend, to face time with a parent or grown children or grandchildren are all ideas for maintaining some structure and routine.
  • Its important to take one day at a time. I hear so many people – clients, friends and family – say things such as “I wish I knew when this was going to end, the uncertainly is very anxiety provoking,” “I think this is going to go on for at least a year, maybe we will never return to normal” and “what happens if I really need medical attention for something other than the virus and can’t get it?” Yes, fears are normal. Feeling anxious when things are not in order and there’s uncertainty is normal too. But I urge you to visualize a stop sign and to remind yourself not to go there. Its ok to ride the wave but not to allow yourself to be swept away by it. Rather, deal with now. Think about what you’re going to do this day. At the very most, think about what you’re doing this week, but no more.
  • It feels good to move around. I am guilty of spending more time in front of my computer than I typically do. I too remind myself to get off my chair for an hour or more at a time. I might do some housework (washing dishes in warm sudsy water can be quite therapeutic), or go for a walk and isn’t it great that with warmer weather and more to come, we can get outside to walk. It reminds us that we’re not living in a bubble – or at least that our bubble is bigger than our home – and exposes us to other faces than the people we’re living with. Walking and exercise also releases endorphins which makes us feel better.
  • Its important to practise patience and self care. Being at home with the same people 24/7 magnifies the positive and negative aspects in our relationships. For example, one member of your family may uplift everyone’s spirits with their sense of humour. Another may be baking the most delectable cookies and breads and filling the house with a smell that inspires feelings of warmth and nurturing. On the other hand, being cooped up for long periods can magnify the idiosyncratic behaviours that are more tolerable when you’re away from one another for periods of time. I encourage you to go for a walk or to find a specific spot in your home where you can be alone, even for short periods of time. If you’re co parenting, especially with young children, parents playing tag with one another at specific points of the day allows each to take a break away everyone.
  • Have family meetings and dinners together. I encourage families who are living together to come together for dinner most nights. In fact, I recommend this even when not living through a pandemic. These dinners provide a great opportunity to talk about what each has heard (on the news or social media) that day, how each is really feeling, to listen to fears (and acknowledge but not feel the need to fix them) and to share one positive thing that each has learnt that day as a result of living through COVID 19. Appreciating living with one another and having enough food to eat, for example, may be something that a family member may begin to realize they were taking for granted before this pandemic. With younger children, talk about what activities they’d like to do more of with everyone around. Maybe this is the time to look through the games cupboard and to take out those at the back that you’d forgotten about. Maybe everyone can contribute family activitiy ideas into a jar so that a couple can be drawn each day. This is a perfect time to model resilience and a positive attitude around your children and family. A time to all pull together and to role model helping not just oneselves but also a community and a global team. Let the kids know that they are in the midst of history making times. That in years to come they will have stories of resilience and patience to share with their children.
  • This is an opportunity to clear your clutter. How many times have you said that if only you had time you’d tackle a project in the house that has gone unattended for years. Now’s the time! Caution: I know that its tempting to get out one’s honey to do list, now that honey is captive, but this may not work so well. Again, sitting down together and figuring out what needs to be tackled, who’s going to do what and how, may work best.
  • Try to filter information. We live in a time of information overload. Some of that information comes from trusted experts and some comes from friends who heard something from a friend and so on. Information, true or rumoured, can go viral in minutes. News broadcasts, even from people in the know, can be presented in a sensational manner. Its important for us to choose one or two trusted experts or news broadcasts that present information in factual but undramatized ways and to filter out the rest. If you’re scrolling through social media and you’re on information overload, be in tune with your body and your mind, resist the urge to read or listen. Be careful how you share information with others, too. I urge you to do so responsibly. Don’t click ‘share’ without knowing or trusting the source. Please watch what you say in front of your children. Children are traumatized by overhearing (and they are hearing even when you think they’re otherwise occupied) glib or dramatic comments between one adult and another. “It feels like the world is ending” is difficult enough for anyone to hear, even if they don’t believe it. A child may not have the ability to reason out what he hears. It may create more panic than you realize.
  • This too shall pass. Even though you may feel especially burdened right now because your income is reduced or you’ve been laid off, or you’re struggling while juggling working from home and keeping the kids occupied and in touch with learning online, take note that we are all in this together. Unlike the individual who calls to ask a creditor for a break because of a personal financial crisis, now its assumed that most people need a break and many are getting one. Even though you may feel that this will drag on for a long time and you’re worried about how you’re going to cope, consider that you have emerging coping and managing skills you didn’t even know about. Even though you may really be missing spending time in the company of your friends and family, missing seeing movies and going to restaurants for dinner, think about how much more special the people and places will be when we transition back to what we knew as normal.

Some words and images on social media have really resonated with me. Such as: we’re not stuck at home. We’re safe at home. That people are nicer. That nature is healing and happier. That, unlike generations of people before us who had to live in bunkers, without any access to technology or ways to stay in touch, we are fighting this war from the comfort of our homes where the majority of us have Netflix and Zoom and ways to continue to be comforted by familiar faces.

Yes, this is difficult. Yes, this is different. Yes, we are taking drastic measures. Yes, people are dying. And yet, what doesn’t kill us, will certainly make us stronger.

Stay strong, stay safe and stay home!