All our lives are upside down at the moment, and it’s a time of high anxiety and uncertainty for all families. Here are my essential tips for parents on how to de-stress during stressful times:
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“I’m not feeling not okay,” Sarah said. “I don’t think many parents are at the moment. How to de-stress during such a stressful time? Life has been thrown totally upside down and inside out.”
Sarah’s frank expression of how she is feeling can be echoed by many parents as we live with the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting isolation.
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How To De-Stress During Stressful Times
#1. Be Gentle On Yourself and On Your Family
This is not “life as usual” and in the words of Victor Frankl: “An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behaviour.”
If you or your family are suffering from cabin fever right now, and being reactive at times, that’s probably pretty normal in this abnormal time!
#2. Take Each Day As It Comes
These words are often given as advice to people who are suffering a huge loss or dealing with a time of upheaval and struggle. And I think it’s safe to say that we all, every family, and even the global community itself, is suffering a loss and dealing with those struggles right now.
That loss that we’re all feeling is a result of being displaced from our ‘normal’ life. In a work context, perhaps there has been a job loss, or a general lack of normalcy within the work context as we all work differently at home or otherwise separate from our colleagues. There is also loss of practical support of wider family and friends, and restrictions on being able to visit and practically care for elderly relatives.
Most people are also challenged with loss of security, loss of personal space and “me” time, loss of being physically with friends and colleagues, loss of regular routine, loss of involvement in sport or cultural activities, and many others factors.
Add these various stress factors together and multiply it by a thousand for the impact of societal stress, and you will recognise that the current loss you are facing is huge – and it makes complete sense that at times you may feel overwhelmed.
So, as with any grief, handle what you need to handle today – and trust that is enough.
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#3. Recognise Children Are Experiencing Loss Too
Our children are also suffering huge loss. Being unable to go out and be with friends is massive for children, as is the loss of their school community. For some it is the loss of the opportunity to have a proper farewell as they move into another phase of their schooling, or life path.
They too are suffering from loss of personal space and loss of “me” time – there are all the family members at home all the time!
For some children, it is the loss of being able to spend time with the other parent, who does not live in the same household.
Not being able to spend time with grandparents or other members of the wider family is another loss. They too are suffering from being unable to go out to activities.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused the loss of security regarding life itself, and children are also absorbing that the adults, whom they rely on for their security, are stressed and anxious. So, if your children act out, cut them some slack and remember that they too are feeling anxious, scared and overwhelmed.
#4. Name And Claim Your Emotional Reactions
In any time of loss, people experience a rollercoaster of emotions – including anger, anxiety, guilt, denial, overwhelm, sadness. When we acknowledge our feelings, even to ourselves, we can get a grip on what we are dealing with.
When we name and claim our emotions, we can tame them. In other words, we may be challenged by our strong emotions at this time, but we don’t need to let them grab the steering wheel.
Our feelings are never wrong, it’s what we do with them that counts.
#5. Support Your Child To Name and Claim Their Emotions
Yes, your child will act out at times. They are doing the best they can right now, under the current circumstances. Rather than scolding them for “bad” behaviour, hold in mind that all behaviour makes sense and support them to restore their inner equilibrium.
After an upset, and once your child has calmed down, to be able to talk through what happened, sometimes they may be willing to talk with you about how they are feeling.
Top tip: The Disney Pixar movie Inside Out is a great one to watch and discuss together as a family, because it gives a clear image of how emotions can sometimes take control in unhelpful ways – and yet there is an important place for all emotions, including sadness.
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#6. Build A Sense Of Hope
Look for ways to help them navigate this time, by giving them a sense of optimism. Perhaps an older family member can share about how they got through a tough time in their younger days.
Ask others what movies and books they have found are helping them as a family through this time.
Great children’s stories are not just for children! Just yesterday an online group were buzzing about the beautiful book, The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy, described as being “for ages 12-99 years old” with the teaser line “When big things feel out of control…”.
#7. Look For Things You Can Be Grateful For
Life is enormously challenging right now, and taking time to count your blessings releases “feel good” chemicals in your body, which counteract the stress chemical cortisol, which is probably in mega-doses in our bodies right now.
A personal practice I have started is to find a different thing to say “thank you” for as I wash each one of the spaces between my fingers.
So, the frequent hand-washing – rather than a constant stressful reminder of the threat of the virus – becomes a simple and regular mindful practice of gratitude, that helps to induce calm, which can have a knock-on effect on the rest of the family.
#8. Do Creative, Fun Things…Or Take Some Time To DO NOTHING!
Both for yourself and/or with your family, make space to do the things that give you pleasure; that help you to feel relaxed.
This matters because enjoyable, fun things that you want to do are one of the best de-stressors. This increases your family sense of well-being, and is a proven factor in developing a strong immune system.
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If this has helped you to think about how to de-stress during stressful times, and has given you encouragement, then you might like to download my free checklist “How Well Do You Tune In To Your Child?
What is helping you to de-stress during this stressful time? Which one of these suggestions most resonates with you? Leave a comment below and let us know – we’d love to hear from you!