The most crushing thing about Covid-19 is that it is an unknown, unseen threat. In the animal kingdom, when a predator threatens an animal, their body goes into high alert, their metabolism shuts down and the heart rate goes up. All the body’s energies are directed into the muscles, poised to act. The fight, flight, or freeze state of existence. This is exactly what is happening to most of us and is now experienced as anxiety.
WhatsApp forwards are flying around about how eating garlic, or bathing in hot water will keep us safe. Research has substantiated none of these . New information on the virus is coming out every day. I find myself often wondering, in the words of Freddy Mercury, “is this the real life? Or is this just fantasy? Caught in a landslide. No escape from reality.”
There is no escape, but we have evolved beyond superstition, we are sentient beings with the ability to get to know the enemy and ultimately defeat it slowly. In the meantime, we have had to manage many anxieties. As counsellors in a school, we are dealing not just with our own mental health at this time, but that of the staff as well. We are also supporting the students we work with (that are being able to find the privacy and space to speak to us) and the parents that are reaching out, wondering how to manage themselves and their children at this precarious point in human history. Here are some of the recommendations:
Ways to deal with parental anxiety
● Find time and space for yourself! Between managing the house, the children, and the fears that come with being a parent, the self tends to get neglected. Carve out an hour a day to do something entirely for yourself. Be creative, challenge yourself, or just relax. Perhaps a puzzle or a book, or drawing, painting, knitting, whatever helps you stay in touch with yourself.
● Carve out time for yourselves as a couple. When one is being bombarded constantly with unforeseen challenges, it’s important to take solace and comfort in each other, to support and encourage each other, to feed on each other’s strengths and cover for our weaknesses. Discuss challenges and fears openly, cook together, maybe share a drink or an episode of a TV show at the end of the day!
● Don’t worry too much about keeping your children engaged. As most classes are being conducted online, chances are they aren’t too bored. Even if they are, that’s okay. Boredom can allow for creativity! The one thing to watch out for, however, is an overreliance on screens and the virtual world at a time like this. Longer hours of screen time have been linked to anxiety, stress, inability to focus, and insomnia. Instituting free time away from screens, even for teenagers, will encourage the ability to just be with oneself, a very useful skill to have.
● Make sure that news is only consumed in blocks and not throughout the day. An hour in the morning and, if you’re so inclined, in the evening – but that’s it. Things are scary enough without doomsday inputs round the clock.
● Designate spaces in the home for different activities. Work in one area, relax in another. It’s important for the mind to be able to separate work from leisure. The problem with working from home is that boundaries blur and things spill over in frustrating ways. Try to get your work done when your children are ‘in class’. Switch off from your work in the evening, as far as possible.
Ways to help children deal with anxieties
● Be aware of your own anxiety when discussing the virus with your children. They need facts but they also need to be reassured that things will be okay and that they are safe as long as prescribed guidelines are followed. This is a scary time and that needs to be acknowledged, but it doesn’t have to take over our minds. If done right, your children will learn from your example, how to function during crises!
● Provide opportunities for teenagers to exercise independence. Give them chores around the house, involve them in discussions regarding decisions that have to be made for the daily running of the home. Don’t let them feel helpless and without purpose!
Managing the family as a whole
● Encourage exercise – maybe do it together! No one is getting the amount of exercise they need trapped at home. Yoga/stretches in the morning and cardio/strength in the evening should be a good start. There are innumerable options available on YouTube for home workouts.
● Focus on the silver linings. Time together as a family is not easily available in our fast-paced lives. Try to savour the opportunity for quality time. Tell your children stories, tell them about your life and experiences, about their grandparents, about the country. Debate topical issues. Play board games, now is the time to really draw value from those underrated pastimes!
Stay together, stay safe, and stay sane! We will get through this – never in history have we been better equipped to do so.
The author is a Senior School Counsellor at Shiv Nadar School, Gurugram