Depending on your family’s circumstances in dealing with Coronavirus, some of you might have already been self-quarantined in your home before this week. Many more of you who might have children in the New York City public schools could be planning to transition to working from home, due to the recent shutdown. If so, there are bound to be some new challenges as a family, regarding childcare, education, finances, health/safety, personal and marital issues, and access to resources. Many families are not used to spending so much “quality time” together while NOT on vacation.
My recommendation is to lean into it. Take this opportunity to reconnect (emotionally and virtually) with loved ones and grow as a person, parent, partner, and professional. As with any adjustment or transition period, there will be stress. What’s important is how you cope with that stress.
Here are some tips to reduce stress and better cope:
1. As a person – Being at home for long stretches of time will not be easy for most adults. Choose healthy ways to cope with stress, such as exercise, talking, therapy, reading, making art, cooking, cleaning, organizing, and learning. Try to avoid too much screen time, emotional eating, substance use and other activities that disconnect you from the moment and loved ones. As the adult, those around you will turn to you to set the tone, so your behavior will become a model, whether you intend to or not. For example, it’s perfectly reasonable to tell your child or partner, “I’m feeling very stressed right now, so I’m going to go read by myself for 10 minutes and then I will come back when I’m calmer.” Stretch yourself by doing activities and engaging with your family in new ways. This virus could impact society for months to come so plan for long-term change.
2. As a parent – This means many things. First, keep yourself and your family safe by following the CDC precautions. Second, try to stay calm. Children will respond to your affect and behaviors. If you seem stressed and agitated, it will dysregulate your children. This can present in many different ways depending on the child, such as increased tantrums, loss of appetite, increased negative attention seeking and sleep refusal. It’s ok to share with kids that you are nervous or stressed – this explains your behavior and normalizes the situation. Just make sure not to overshare and keep it developmentally appropriate. Third, children at home will need a regular routine and the day to be broken into chunks, just like school or daycare. So will the adults. This should start with a regular wake up and bedtime, which will make keeping a routine throughout the rest of the day easier. During the day, try to create a mix of “work/academic” and fun/play activities, both inside and outside. The more you break things up, the faster the time will go. Screen time should still be limited and used as a reward or for work only. Finally, explain to your children what’s going on in developmentally appropriate ways, especially if you are self-quarantining in your home, someone is already sick and/or one parent is now working from home full-time.
3. As a partner – If you live with a partner, my recommendation is to increase communication, not pretend like everything is the same. During stressful times, you want to try to communicate more, not less. This means telling your partner what you need from them and what they should expect from you. No one can read your mind, no matter how upset you are or how obvious you think the issues are. Such close physical proximity will be stressful for some couples who are not used to being home together all day while working and caring for the children. Try to set up clear boundaries and time limits around working, spending time apart, and spending time together as a family. Try to have empathy for your partner as they are probably under a tremendous amount of stress and may have uncontrollable worries about the future.
4. As a professional – Flexibility is key here. As the boss or owner, your staff will be looking to you for guidance. Stay in regular contact with your staff so that they know that you care about them, especially if you are no longer in the office and/or have staff that work remotely. Stay calm. Don’t make any drastic changes. Your staff will feel unsafe if you act impulsively or make changes that negatively affect their current work load or pay. Give as much notice as possible before making any changes and explain why. Your staff will understand if you come across balanced and thoughtful. If you are an employee or independent contractor, stay focused on the tasks before you. Continue to do great work and showcase yourself as a reliable and professional team player. When the dust settles, your boss will recognize which staff stepped up and which staff were more of a burden to the company.
Regardless of your living or work situation, COVID-19 will impact everyone. Interpersonally, the question is – how will you cope with it? Will going through this difficult time strengthen your relationships or damage them? In my opinion, nothing strengthens a relationship more than making it through a stressful time together!
Written by Joshua Rosenthal, PsyD