Since March 2020, families have been thrown into strange and unpredictable new patterns of interacting and working. Clinical psychologist Michelle Nortje has some suggestions about how to manage this change.
This has been a difficult and stressful time for parents and children alike. During lockdown, there were many changes that had families had to adapt to: working or schooling online, social isolation, and financial uncertainties, to name just a few.
Now that the lockdown is gradually shifting levels, there is the ongoing need to remain vigilant for safety and health precautions while also having to navigate new ways of doing business, parenting, and staying connected with loved ones.
If parents are able to remain thoughtful and aware of these constantly changing factors, they will be better equipped to help their children navigate the changes successfully. A parent who is stressed and overwhelmed with worry, however, may find it increasingly difficult to also contain their children’s anxiety.
Here are a few tips for parents to help them manage their own anxieties about the uncertainty of the future, so that they have more emotional resources available to be there for their children and loved ones.
- Understand how uncertainty can create anxiety
Uncertainty, new routines or information, and multiple changes can create anxiety and worry that may get in the way of feeling healthy and productive. With all the changes happening globally and in South Africa, you may be worrying excessively about the future (thoughts like “what if I lose my job?” or “what if I infect my loved one?). These kinds of worst-case scenario worries can leave us feeling helpless, and can also lead to physical symptoms such as fatigue, muscle aches, restlessness or irritability and poor sleep.
- Managing your worry about the future
With all these uncertainties and changes happening each day, it is important to stay active mentally and physically. Self-care is a tool that is frequently spoken about as a part of a healthy lifestyle. Self-care activities help you to refuel and reduce anxiety. Go for a walk, do a chore, set a goal, listen to some music, do someone a favour, write a letter, bake cookies… these are just a few ways to keep balance in your life and keep worries at bay.
- Practise gratitude
Keeping a gratitude journal where you can note down two or three things you feel grateful for each day, can be a helpful tool to shift your focus from the uncertainties and negative news cycles. Positive psychology research highlights that cultivating a sense of gratitude can increase our sense of subjective well-being and coping.
- Ask questions that may help ease the transition
Some of your worries may relate to the safety of going back to school or work. In some instances, it may be helpful to reach out to the school or employer to find out what precautions and safety protocols have been put in place. Having more information about the areas where you can take back a sense of control, can help ease the tensions created by ‘not knowing’.
- Relook your priorities
The lockdown time may have offered you a space to reconsider some old habits that may not have been very healthy or productive. On re-entering the world again, you are now perhaps in a position to ask yourself if the things you were doing before lockdown were helpful and satisfying. If not, are there changes you would like to make? And if you have already made beneficial changes, what are they and how can they be maintained? For example, perhaps in lockdown you realised your love of cooking is something that helps to ease your tension. Finding ways to continue this post-lockdown may prove beneficial.
- Be careful about the quality and quantity of news you watch
Watching the news for long stretches, especially when much of what is shown includes violent or conflictual themes, can increase feelings of panic and anxiety unnecessarily. It is important to stay alert and aware, but when finding information it is imperative to only use reputable news sources and to actively check you are not being pulled into fake news.
- Be patient with yourself and ease back in stages
There is currently a constant state of flux and adjustment. You might feel like you’ve just found your feet, when another change happens. Be compassionate and kind to yourself as you settle into new routines and adapt to losses and changes. Each person will process these changes at a different pace and in a different way.
Take note of the effects of trauma and fear
The consequences of the lockdown and Covid-19 pandemic can be also be long-lasting and serious. This may depend on various factors such as; your previous coping or mental health, access to support from family and friends, financial or job security, dealing with the traumatic effects of isolation, feelings of loneliness, and experiencing hopelessness or helplessness.
If you feel that your mental health has suffered as a result of the lockdown and global pandemic, it is important to reach out for help to friends, family or professionals.