Here are four strategies for emotional coping during a crisis:
1. Recognize this experience as grief
During this health crisis, it’s easy to feel fear and loss. Loss of normalcy; loss of employment security; and loss of connections. Much of the discomfort you feel mimics emotions associated with grief: restlessness, irritability, unexplained aches, sadness, and early on, perhaps denial. Grief is the experience and/or anticipation of loss.
What helps? Self-compassion and employing healthy coping skills. Healthy emotional coping means being accepting of all of your feelings—no matter how scary and uncomfortable. The acceptance of our most difficult emotions can bring forth a sense of peace. To feel calmer, remember to breathe. Deep breathing helps us to be more aware of our emotions—without being overwhelmed by them.
2. Embrace new ways to stay connected
We have a longing for belonging because we were created for relationships. Let’s face it, if you are battling depression or anxiety (or even not), social distancing can feel confining. While spending time at home is enjoyable to some, for others it feels like entrapment.
During this time of physical distancing, it’s important to be part of a community that offers a safe and consistent place to be vulnerable. This pandemic has forced us to find creative ways of being together while staying at home—and staying sane.
Seek support and lend support via text messages, calls, or video chats. But try to limit screen time and get outside. Spending time in nature helps us to rebalance and is good for our emotional health. When outdoors, notice 10 cool things that stand out to you and breathe in the fresh air—even if it’s from your front porch or deck.
3. View small steps as progress
Managing your own feelings about what’s happening in the world along with what your kids are experiencing is no easy task. Listening to your younger kid(s) share about how much they miss their friends may lead to feelings of guilt. Hearing your teen complain (again) about missed activities may lead to exasperation and eventually trigger feelings of “not doing enough.”
If you’ve grown up as a people-pleasing overachiever, you continuously raise the bar until that raised bar becomes your baseline. Constantly running at 100 mph, trying to do it ALL, can cause burnout. Excessive thoughts about where you are versus where you believe you should be can be self-destructive.
Instead, work toward an attitude of acceptance of whatever occurs, rather than growing impatient if you don’t achieve a specific result. On days you feel far from your best, try to employ huge doses of patience. Remind yourself that you’re doing the best you can, and that slow progress is still progress.
4. Talk to your kids about emotions
Kids and teens, in large part, respond to what they see from the adults around them. They are taking it ALL in, even when it seems like they aren’t. When times feel uncertain, our discomfort with change can lead to a resistance to face our own strong emotions.
Before reassuring your kids, first, acknowledge what YOU are feeling. If you find that you are in your head a lot try to recognize the internal dialogue and the emotions those thoughts spark.
Teaching children that emotions are not to be avoided helps to build their resilience. As parents, when we acknowledge our emotions, we model to our kids how they can accept their own difficult emotions—no matter how uncertain life might feel.
Sometimes it’s hard to know the exact words to say but start the conversation. Silence is scary to kids, so they need us to help them to make sense of the chaos. One conversation starter is “I know I’ve been impatient lately. Sometimes I feel afraid about everything that’s quickly changing. What about you?” And end with, “We’ve gotten through so much and I know we will get through this too.”