It’s August 2020, month 6 of the COVID-19 Pandemic in the United States and the shitter’s full.
The last time I wrote about the pandemic coupled with my anxiety I was in a hopeful space. It was mid May: Luv Gov Cuomo was still giving daily briefings; the numbers were coming down substantially; our family found a sense of pause in an uncomplicated cadence. When life went back to normal we would remain less frenetic and unhurried. In May, the height of my optimism, I thought we were finding our way back to a renewed normal… Assumption was this renewed normal would arrive before the kids returned to school.
It’s August 2020; renewal hasn’t arrived; COVID-19 is rampant in America; the anxiety is creeping back in. Of course it is. The human brain is not designed to make a relentless collective of fight or flight decisions. We are not wired for this. You give up, you give in, or maybe like me, you desperately want to turn your fight to a solution.
Controlling your response to anxiety, like any situation analysis, first involves understanding what happened to get you where you are and then finding potential solves.
- What were your expectations?
- What went awry?
- What went as planned?
- Enact low hanging fruit methods to ease the immediate strain, gradually expanding to the long-term more complex solutions.
The 2020 spring trade
The spring of 2020 was understood to everyone as a trade. If we complied with the closures, the social distancing, the financial strain, the isolation, the federal and state governments would use that time to develop a COVID-19 Pandemic Management Strategy. They would build up testing and turnaround time, develop sufficient tracing, correct hospital inadequacies, succinctly communicate to the people, create sustainable reopening road maps for businesses and ensure students/educators would safely return to school, in person, in the fall.
We did everything we were supposed to do in the spring trade. We worked unsafely outside of our homes, lost our jobs or relocated our office to our dining room table school house. We cancelled and modified everything: visits, hugs, travel, the indoors, friends, education, graduation, rent, business, savings, stability, sanity. We supported local businesses, embraced curbside options and bought gift cards for future use. All during a crisis. A crisis that is worse than when we started. Fact: Most of us are still doing this, while caring for children, while coping with the anxiety, exhaustion and defeat.
After you traded for a lemon
Okay, we understand what happened and why we feel deflated and disgust. It feels like we got a lemon, or since it’s a coronavirus, a lime. As valid as the feelings are it doesn’t change the place we are in and immersing ourselves in them 24/7 will not be any help to ourselves or our families. How do I know this? Because I teeter in between drinking in my closet and taking charge. Every day I have no idea what version of myself I’m going to get. What I do know is the latter feels better for everyone including me.
Taking the control back from anxiety
Below I’ve listed COVID anxiety management strategies to pull yourself out of the deep end. What to expect? Some days you’ll try one or two, other days you’ll try them all. There are also days you’ll call bullshit and try none. That’s perfectly okay too.
1. Stay informed, but filter your news.
This is an area I need constant reminding. We’re all hopeful we’ll wake up to learn it’s over – I understand the compulsion to check + the desire to have a clear understanding of where we are. I’ve found news or media sources carry an underlying anxiety and that anxiety transfers to us. Try to limit your exposure to tick those levels down a bit while still staying informed.
Compounding the information situation is the communication of essential details has been abysmal at best. We haven’t gotten much better at this 6 months later. Poor communication doesn’t help anxiety. In April, Jen and I made a skit of contradicting messages because it was so damn confusing. What else could we do?
Solution: Limit consumption of conflicting messages. Remain fact-based and knowledgeable.
- Understanding the media source is essential.The chart below provides a detailed breakdown of media bias and reliability of media sources. Where your media source lands on the bias and reliability scale greatly impacts the anxiety undertone in addition to the doom and gloom. Aim for reliable sources – places you can get the facts clear and unweighted. You can almost guarantee if it’s an ad on your social platform, it’s not accurate and is skewed by opinion. Click-bait will not help COVID anxiety. There have been a lot of high-quality videos produced with highly inaccurate messages. Just because it looks good doesn’t mean it’s reliable.
- New Data = Gained Knowledge. This is a new virus and new information is learned daily. Do not dismiss information as false just because it’s new. As information becomes available it’s okay to learn new things, evolve your thoughts and change your opinion. This is what makes us so unique, the ability to think critically and pivot when presented new data.
2. Managing important decisions
With information changing daily, situations effectual to your family pop-up weekly. It can be hard to not make impulse decisions. It’s also difficult to quiet the conversation at home, which can be emotionally taxing for everyone. The constant either/or life decision has become the new norm. This is not easy or optimal for anxiety management.
- Schedule time to review important decisions. My husband and I set aside time every 2 weeks (that seems to be the time period to let the information flesh itself out) to review our family choices and decisions. Every 2 weeks we look at our community spread status, review new reliable and relevant science and evaluate any other important details that impact our lives. It’s in these meetings we make any changes or adjustments and then plan to iterate 2 weeks later. This is how we came to both our Quarantine-Team decision and our choice with schooling for both our twins and college son.
- Do what’s best for you. Do not base your decisions on what everyone else is doing. You are not aware of everyone else’s home dynamics, privilege or lack of. Base your decisions on what’s best and sustainable for your family. If you are following reliable information and taking time to understand your options you’ll make the right choice. My circumstances and reasoning may be wildly different that yours, so please also remember not to judge.
3. Fitness goals, maybe?
I know it’s easy to say exercise helps and just go for a damn run. How do you go for a run when you barely make it out of bed? I get it. Even after a workout, I climb back into my pajamas. Most days I also sabotage the calories I burned with cookie dough, Sour Patch Kids or copious handfuls of Swedish Fish. Petty candy aside, activity helps our mood and eases the load. It also helps establish a routine for your day and for moms, provides much needed time just for you.
- A Couch to 5k is a goal many of my friends have taken on. They’ve brought their kids along and together they accomplished what they didn’t think possible.
- Many days I walk with a friend or two. We keep our 6 feet and push each other to walk at a near run pace. It feels good, normal and effortless.
- I lift and do Crossfit. I’ve set goals for time, weight and growth for myself. Reaching my personal fitness goals keeps me motivated day after day.
4. Find ways to create connection.
We need to feel connection. It’s an essential part of being. COVID-19 has limited our abilities, but we are adaptive. Gone are the days of House Party and Friday night Zoom calls with friends. No one really wants to go back there either… But we still need to create connection to remain whole.
- CALL your family members. Texting is nice but a call can make all the difference.
- Create a social bubble if it’s an option for your family. We’ve been able to do this and it’s been a lifeline. Interactions are small and typically outdoors. Everyone in our bubble is basically limited to each other and we all practice the same risk prevention methods. We keep each other respectfully informed if there’s any deviation and most importantly if anyone feels unwell.
- Work at continuing to develop communication within your home. We are around each other a lot and tensions will grow. I’ve tried to understand each of their communication style in a more meaningful way. Providing validation to feelings, practicing active listening and also knowing when silence is needed, has created a much stronger foundation for our family – and also saved us a lot of arguments.
5. Your children will be okay, gap or not.
Take a pause and don’t project too far into the unknown. Yes, kids have lost some classroom learning, but ultimately they will be okay. There is going to be a gap and They Will Catch Up. The experts talk about the learning gap but if you listen, they also talk about the gap that was filled. The emotional gap, you know, the one you filled. So many children have learned essential life skills. Kindness, consideration, social responsibility, boredom, imagination, responsibility, flexibility and presence. Our 9 year olds are making meals, helping with housework, practicing consideration and are more understanding when something isn’t going to work out. I have a sneaking suspicion when they get back to school they may be lagging in some areas but might be able to control their bodies a bit better to tackle a year’s curriculum in a week.
Here are some low-maintenance activities you can do at home to reenforce educational basics but not add to the stress. They take minutes a day and are great for passing time. As for reading, it gives all of us a little break.
- Reading – We have the children read a lot. They have improved tremendously in level, vocabulary and reading aloud.
- Writing – They write a lot of letters to our family and friends we can’t see. Our first letters were cryptic but now resemble an actual letter.
- Social responsibility skills – We talk about how we can be more aware, show respect and share what we learned with others. The twins understand it will be their responsibility to pass on some of the learnings they have gained over the last 6 months to others when they return to school. Not everyone had the same opportunity or conversations and it’s their obligation to set an example and show positive leadership.
- Keeping up on math skills – We stay on top of these when we can through games. Sidewalk chalk hopscotch where we multiply the numbers. Speed counting by 2’s, 3’s and multiplication facts. I have them measure things all the time. Who knew this was so entertaining for kids? They measure size, distance and figure out perimeter! If you don’t do any of these at least consider the wine lady’s fraction routine…
6. Please try and relax, Mama.
I know it’s much easier said than done. We’re going to be okay – you know what you need to do. Do that and that’s it. It’s okay if everything doesn’t get done. No one is coming over to see it anyways!
- Get out. Try to get out of the house and do something that feels normal. You know what you need to do to stay safe and protect others. Sometimes a couple hours out cures everything.
- Ask for help. Whatever it may be, ask for help. You are not alone in this. There are more women available to you than ever. It doesn’t matter what the ask is – An ear to listen, support, meals, guidance, advocacy – We are here. If you don’t know where to start, reach out to us, we’ll help you find direction.