Posted by: Dr. Justin D'Arienzo, Psy.D., ABPP
Coping with Coronavirus Anxiety
Dr. D’Arienzo, Board Certified Clinical Psychologist here. Today’s topic, COVID-19 anxiety, how to cope with it and how to help your kids cope with it. I get it, I’m a smart person and I don’t understand what is fully happening around me. The stock market is falling, businesses are shutting down, my children are home from school for an extended time, healthcare professionals and the media disseminate mixed information, and it seems there is no end in sight and absolutely no certainty…Humans like certainty and without it, we become anxious and depressed. Despite feeling uncertain though, we CAN rely upon the human spirit and the human heart. Anyone that’s been in the military, that experienced 9-11, or has been through a natural disaster knows that WE DO come together and persevere when faced with great challenges. This is no difference with this situation, despite past studies that show people over isolate and become fearful of their neighbors during pandemics. This does not apply to our modern social media driven society. I know what all my neighbors, friends, and family are doing, what their kids are doing, and how they are all being affected. Fortunately, despite this great uncertainty, we are not isolated or alone.
Understanding how we think, feel, and behave when faced with a significant crisis like a pandemic that challenges global social order is crucial if we want to avoid past mistakes and effectively work together as a global people using kindness, reason, science and technology to eradicate this disease. Let’s talk about these psychological phases of fear and panic, stigma and moralizing, and calls to action that move in sometimes messy and destructive waves
- Model healthy reactions. Remember, your children take your lead on how to feel, think, and respond. Your job is to teach them to be calm and act responsibly rather than ranting, raving, being stir crazy, and obsessing about the news and social media.
- Make this a team effort. Our good hygiene, washing hands, not touching our faces, and social distancing will prevent those who are more vulnerable from getting really sick.
- Instill confidence. Tell your children that you and the community are doing everything they can to limit the spread of this illness reminding them about the practical steps they can take too.
- Fill in the facts. Kids make lots of assumptions, just as we do, when we don’t have the whole story. Control the narrative with the truth. They don’t need to needlessly worry about the virus being in the water supply. Ask them what they think is happening.
- Involve the children with preparation. Take them to the grocery store or have them help you create a grocery and item list for what you will need in the event everyone is home for an extended period of time.
- Emphasize the importance of good self-care to boost your immune system, and their immune system. Your job is to take good care of yourself but eating well, getting a good night sleep, exercising, and practicing good hygiene. I’m visualizing you, your house, and your kids are going to be cleaner than they ever have been before.
- Acknowledge their feelings and acknowledge your own. Don’t fight your feelings or deny theirs. Process your child’s worries with them. Process your feelings with a friend or family member, and not with your kid. Google mindfulness for adults and for kids and start practicing it.
- In the same vein, adults this is for you, again experience negative emotions, it’s okay to do that, but please do it proportionally, and then get yourself together, and reframe this experience for your children and for yourself as designated family time. When else will we be forced to slow down and be at home with our families. There is no hurricane damage to clear. There is no loss of electrical power. There is only family fun time to be had or time for self-improvement, or time to finally get through that book.
- Call or message your neighbors, especially the old or vulnerable.
- Spend time outside. Take a walk, run, skip, jump rope, ride a bike, get active.
- Create and post new routines or rules in the house. This will be important when your young students are taking online courses. They need to know that study time in their room begins at 9:00 a.m.
- Do some gardening, clean closets, work on house projects, teach your kids how to cook and do the laundry, work on crafts, learn an instrument, and make Tik-tok videos with your kids.
Bottom line: Lets respond proportionally and rationally to what we hear and see. Remember little eyes are watching and little ears are listening. We will get through this no matter what, and they, just as we, need to live that.
Let me know if you have any questions or concerns. I’m, as well as our staff, are always happy to comment or assist.