If you’re not stressed and anxious right now, you’re probably in the minority. The COVID-19 outbreak has almost everyone on edge—but there are ways to manage those feelings (without breaking self-quarantine).
We talked to Paula Miltenberger, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist and founder of Women’s Mental Wellness in Dallas, about how moms can cope in this strange new world.
Create new routines
For most of us, day-to-day life looks different right now. Still, “as humans, we work better under a schedule,” says Miltenberger. “It gives a sense of control. Even when we’re stuck at home, a routine can really help our psychological well-being.”
Miltenberger adds that you don’t need to create a rigid routine, but it should be something that gives a sense of structure to the day. “I tell my kids that we’re all going to be up by 8am and get dressed,” she explains. “Then we’ll have some time for schoolwork, movie time, reading time—maybe like a little book club. Your kids might roll their eyes, but a loose schedule is helpful.”
Limit news consumption
“This is a big one and also one of the hardest things to do,” says Miltenberger. “Whenever we pick up our phones, we’re getting news. But if we spend all our time doing that, it’s going to raise anxiety. And sometimes what we’re reading, especially on social media, isn’t necessarily reliable.”
Of course, staying informed is important. But you don’t have to constantly be reading about the novel coronavirus. “Maybe spend 15 minutes getting updated when you get up, and 15 minutes at the end of the day,” says Miltenberger.
While moms are conditioned to take care of others, taking some time for yourself is critical. Take a long, hot shower while the kids are occupied. Ask your spouse to give you a little massage. Miltenberger highly recommends meditation and relaxation. “If you’ve never done that before, it’s not too late to start,” she says. “And you can do it all from home. There are great apps for mindfulness, like Headspace and Calm.”
“Exercise is one of the best ways to get endorphins and burn off stress,” notes Miltenberger. She recommends following videos online or taking a walk—no special workout equipment needed.
Reach out to friends and family
(Thank you, technology, for helping us stay in touch during social distancing.) “Don’t feel like you can’t have support. I love the free ZOOM app. You can see and talk to a group of girlfriends, your family members—we don’t have to sit by ourselves and think we’re alone.” This is important for kids too; you may consider arranging a call with your child’s friends.
Acknowledge your emotions, but understand the facts
“We have to accept that we’re going to have negative emotions right now,” advises Miltenberger. “The life we had is on hold in many ways. We’re going to have sadness and anxiety. A lot of times we try to avoid those feelings, but research tells us if we avoid them, they’re going to be stronger and last longer.”
But that doesn’t mean you should dwell there. “We should think about our emotions and acknowledge them—maybe take a minute and journal—but then let those feelings go,” says Miltenberger. “That’s a great thing about therapy; you use techniques like visualization, envisioning all those thoughts leaving your head.” She shares that you may have to practice that visualization multiple times a day.
Some of our excessively worried thoughts may center on germs and transmission of the virus, but remember to rely on the facts. “You have to go to the reputable sources—WHO, the CDC—and follow their guidelines,” recommends Miltenberger. “If you are going to the extreme—say, washing your hands dozens of times a day when you’re not leaving your house—you should talk to someone and get help.”
Get help when you need it
“Be conscious that pre-existing anxiety and OCD will be elevated in a situation like this,” Miltenberger says. “Continue your treatment if you already see someone. And if you don’t see someone, but your anxiety and worries are out of control, there are a lot of options.”
Some therapy practices are still seeing patients because one-on-one treatment falls within current guidelines. You can also get help from your couch. “There’s so much tele-therapy out there and more every day now,” points out Miltenberger. “Individual practices may do it, and there are companies dedicated to it. You don’t have to go through this alone, even if we are isolated in our houses.”
And a final point worth noting: “In my practice, I see all the time that the most difficult and painful times transform us and show us the strength we never knew existed in each one of us,” Miltenberger says. So carry on, moms. We’ve got this.
Image courtesy of iStock.