You’re worried and it’s hard to think about anything but Covid-19. Your children don’t really understand what is going on but they know it’s not good. Anxiety is high right now, for kids and parents. I hear you. Things are so difficult. Worry is an appropriate and understandable response. At the same time, being stuck in worry won’t help anything. Here are some strategies you can use to help reduce anxiety.
Talk back to your worry.
If you find yourself caught in a spiral of What Ifs and worst-case-scenarios, remind yourself, “Whatever happens, I can handle it.” Our worried thoughts appear when our amygdala, the fight-flight-freeze part of the brain, gets activated. This is useful and necessary and keeps us safe. And of course with concerns about our health, our loved ones, our livelihoods and the world economy there is a lot to actually worry about right now. At the same time, we need to keep excessive worry in check.
Do what you can to make good choices and stay safe, and let the rest of the worried thoughts go. Being stuck in worry is bad for our physical and mental health. Imagine that the worries are like telemarketers calling to sell you duct cleaning services. Say, “I hear you, but, no, thank you” and disconnect the line. Along with the “I can handle this” mantra, I also like “I can do hard things” and “We’ll figure this out somehow” and “We’re all in this together.”
Talking back to your worry tells your amygdala to settle down and resets your brain. You can use this same strategy with kids. For more on my favourite anxiety resource, the Worry Brain strategy, and how to use it with kids, check out this post.
We are hard-wired to connect with each other. Connection with other humans makes us feel safe and grounded. It’s harder to feel afraid in the loving presence of loved ones. Connection provides not only emotional relief, but can actually help us feel more calm physically. Our brain’s mirror neurons pick up on the emotional state of those around us. This is called co-regulation. Our nervous systems can actually be soothed by the loving presence of someone else.
If you are a parent and feeling lonely or anxious, pick up the phone or FaceTime a friend or loved one. Post on our peaceful parenting Facebook group. No one can help us if we don’t reach out. We are all in this together.
If your child is feeling anxious, provide as much physical contact and loving affection as you can. Help them have virtual playdates if they miss their friends. Set up video calls with the grandparents and other extended family. Make some time to focus on connection time with them every day. Our peaceful parenting tool Special Time is perfect for this. (even more connection ideas here)
Move your body.
When we’re anxious, our brains and bodies react the same way to an actual threat in front of us (like a tiger) and a perceived threat (like Covid-19). Our brains and bodies produce chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol to help us mobilize to run from the tiger or stay and fight it. This build up of chemicals is why we feel jittery or nauseous when we’re anxious. Physical exercise clears the body of the built-up fight-flight-or-freeze chemicals floating around in our bodies.
If you or your child are feeling anxious, get moving! Run around your yard if you have one. Put on a family-friendly exercise video on Youtube. Set up an obstacle course in your living room. Have a dance party!
Bonus points: Get outside if you can. Fresh air, sunshine and the wind on your face work wonders for our spirits.
Laughter is literally a stress and anxiety buster. Similar to exercise, laughter clears our bodies of stored-up tensions. In addition, when we laugh our bodies create endorphins, nature’s feel-good and pain-fighting chemicals. Laughter even boosts the immune system. Laughter also boosts connection! When we laugh our bodies create oxytocin, the bonding hormone. Ever wonder why we are drawn to people who make us laugh? Try for 10 minutes of laughter with your child every morning and every evening. If you don’t know how to get started, try some of the ideas in my free ‘Get Laughing’ e-book or Google some ideas.
If you notice you’re feeling anxious, take a few belly breaths focussing on the long exhale. Too many deep inhales can actually make you hyperventilate and feel more anxious. Encourage your child to breathe with deep exhales by pretending they’re blowing out candles or blowing on hot chocolate.
Try a self-compassion break.
Use a self-compassion break* when you feel overwhelmed or are experiencing difficult emotions.
Step 1: Notice. Try to recognize where in your body you feel the stress. If it feels good, you can put your hand on your body in that place or where it feels comforting. Say to yourself, “This is a moment of suffering” or “This is very difficult” or “Of course I am having a hard time.”
Step 2: Normalize and Connect. Say to yourself, “Suffering is part of being alive” or “Other people feel like this sometimes, too” or “I am not alone in my suffering.”
Step 3: Soothe and Comfort. Say to yourself, “May I be kind to myself.” Ask yourself, “What do I need right now?”
I hope these strategies help. You are most certainly not the only one feeling anxious right now. We are all in this together and we will all get through this together.
*self-compassion break adapted from Kristen Neff
Sarah Rosensweet is a peaceful parenting coach and parenting advice columnist for Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper. She lives in Toronto with her husband and three big kids (ages 12, 15, and 19). Sarah teaches parents a non-punitive, connection-based approach that uses firm limits with lots of empathy. Enjoy your kids again! Find her at sarahrosensweet.com