Last week, I sent a letter to faculty to share with them my own experience of living through this strange time of the coronavirus. In addition to my own reflections, I’ve been interested to hear the advice of other mental health professionals. Recently I found a great article written by Dr. Judson Brewer, a psychiatrist from Brown University, titled “A Brain Hack to Break the Coronavirus Anxiety Cycle.
Here’s what I found very helpful. Dr. Brewer very simply breaks down the aspects of anxiety that are born out of uncertainty, and we are definitely in a time of change and uncertainty. I have found that at these times we, as parents, are in a place of processing our own anxiety, and it is difficult for us not to spill over to our kids. Most importantly, it is really okay and authentic to soothe your children’s fears and tell them what you do know, of course putting a lighter spin on it. I say this because when folks impart their own fear and anxiety to others there is a contagion that occurs. Uncertainty is something humans don’t do well. Some of us can go with the flow, but the majority of us seek answers, solutions, and anything that will bring a sense of calm, resolution, and control. This one is tough; in truth we don’t know the best way to navigate the uncertainty of the coronavirus. The bottom line is that fear helps us learn to avoid dangerous situations. Our primitive brain (the amygdala) is the part of our brain that senses danger. Our prefrontal cortex is responsible for creativity, problem solving, and future planning. When anxiety creeps in, Dr. Brewer defines it as a “feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.” So right now, our prefrontal cortex does not have enough information to predict the future, especially with the coronavirus.
Some of the things I suggest are to begin to bring some structure into your family with your children. If you have the opportunity to work at home, carve out a time and place to do your work every day so it becomes as routine and predictable as possible. Interruptions cause stress and tension. So have a plan for each day. Set your expectations the night before. And try to get everyone on the same page. It would be wonderful to set up a quiet area where your kids can do their school work that is separate, if possible, from an area in the house where they can relax, play and have time to chill. And while you should certainly practice social distancing, painful as it is, with people outside your household, take time to connect as a family. Make fun meals and eat together, relax, and read, watch movies together, etc, since this is your family, not a theater filled with people you don’t know.
Embrace not being busy. We are always complaining that we do not have enough time to rest, cook healthy foods, exercise, etc. Seize the present. This can be unsettling at first and might take some practice. I know for myself, I am always moving from one task to another. Everyday, I try to meditate or just sit quietly to separate myself from the news and my computer. Taking care of oneself might feel indulgent, but now is the time. Your self-care will help give you energy to care for your family.
If you are feeling anxious, talk to your spouse or a friend or a therapist. And pay attention to how your kids are doing; it’s uncanny how anxiety rears its head in our kids: It can come out in the strangest ways - sometimes directly and sometimes sideways. For additional guidance, we’ve collected a variety of resources to help families deal with the psychological impact of this crisis. You can access them on the Dawson's Coronavirus Information
page; links on the Portal and on the website homepage.
In closing, please don’t hesitate to call if you need to chat or need resources for you or your family. I can be reached at 720-556-2555.
Warmly and with love-
Upper School Counselor