This past year-and-a-half has come with so many challenges and so much loss. We’ve all been affected in some way, shape, or form by the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s been hard. Real hard. If you’re a parent trying to navigate pandemic stress and anxiety all while caring for a young family, it can feel overwhelming and scary to be faced with multiple decisions that don’t have any easy, straightforward answers.
questions that Contribute to Pandemic Parenting Stress & Anxiety:
- What do I do about daycare?
- Can I juggle working from home with my baby/child at home too?
- Should I send my kids to school or keep them home?
- Should I get the vaccine?
- Is it okay to see friends and family?
- Can I travel?
- What do I do if friends/family/daycare/school aren’t taking the precautions I am?
- How do I cope if I get sick?
- What if I lose my job?
- Do I have childcare if the schools close again?
- What do I tell my kids about everything?
- How do I meet everyone else’s needs when I feel like I’m drowning?
- How do I take care of myself when the things and people I would normally turn to aren’t currently available, or don’t feel safe?
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but if you’re a parent, odds are you’ve asked yourself at least some of these questions during the pandemic. I know I have!
If there’s one thing I can say with absolute certainty, it’s that we are all trying to figure out a lot of important things, often feeling lost and confused in the process. Basically, if you have parenting anxiety and pandemic stress right now, you’re not alone!
This makes sense when you understand that anxiety is essentially our mind working hard to try and keep us safe. If we are in a situation where we are not safe, a stress response that has us quickly running through all the what ifs and worst-case scenarios is completely appropriate and necessary. The example I use with my clients is if a bear is chasing you right now then you want your nervous system to kick into high gear and initiate a fight/flight/freeze response. It’s a good thing, in that scenario, to have anxiety.
But we are not meant to exist in that heightened state of vigilance long term. Once the bear has moved on and left us alone, we want to be able to settle into our regular, less-anxious life. This is tricky, however, when we’re dealing with a situation that is ongoing and causes chronic stress like, oh, I don’t know, maybe a global pandemic?! How do we start to feel safe again when we’re still “in” the thing that caused us to feel unsafe to begin with??
Well, it’s not easy. But there are some things that can help!
To start with, take some time to really acknowledge within yourself that this IS hard, and you’re doing the best you can with what you’ve got at this moment. So often, we skip this step and jump right into problem solving and then give ourselves a guilt trip when we still struggle. Let yourself off the hook for that! Did you catch what I wrote earlier? EVERYONE is anxious right now. It’s completely normal if you’re having a hard time navigating all the change, adjustment, and stress of the past year. If you’ve been hard on yourself, this is me giving you permission to let that go.
After you’ve given yourself A LOT of grace, take a moment to notice all those fears, questions, worries, what ifs, and catastrophes playing out in your mind. When you do this, notice how you notice them. Do you “hear” them in your mind? See them playing like a movie? Something else or a combination of the above? Take a moment to notice that these are all thoughts. Even if they feel very real and very present, they are thoughts your mind is giving you as it tries to help keep you safe, but not necessarily facts that are guaranteed to happen. When we slow down and take the opportunity to notice our thoughts AS thoughts, we create new opportunities to choose how we want to respond to them.
One of my favorite ways to “check” myself when my anxious thoughts are running wild is to take some time to write down what else I know about the situation. What are the facts? What are the other possibilities? My husband is a software engineer which means he really likes numbers and spreadsheets and he’s a good person to help me with this. In fact, he has a t-shirt that says, “In God we trust. All others must bring data.” It’s funny, but you know what? It’s not a bad motto!
Anxiety and fear typically exist in what can be called our Emotion Mind. But we do have the ability to tap into our Logical/Reasonable Mind as well (that’s what my husband is doing when he wants data). We need both states of mind, so one isn’t better or more important than the other, but if one is really dominating, it can cause us to feel out of balance. In Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) we strive to use both our emotional and logical states of mind together, to create what we call Wise Mind. Wise Mind is a state of mind where we can access our own sense of truth and inner wisdom.
THE EMOTIONAL MIND
The emotional mind is used when feelings dominate and influence what we do or don’t do.
THE rEASONAbLe MIND
The reasonable mind uses facts and logic to plan and make decisions.
THE wise MIND
The wise mind is a place of balance where both emotion and logic are used together to access our inner wisdom.
I like to compare these states of mind to Avengers characters. Emotional mind might be The Hulk, Reasonable mind is Tony Stark, and Wise Mind is Captain America!
To practice using Wise Mind, try the following:
- Write down everything Emotion Mind says. This is all your fears, all your worries, all the unknowns.
- Write down everything your Logical Mind knows about the situation. Think in terms of facts. This is the data!
- Sit with everything you’ve written down and ask yourself, “What does my Wise Mind say?”
Remember that your choices might change as your situation and the information you’re working with (data) changes. That’s part of living and parenting through a pandemic. Lots of moving targets contribute to lots of stress and anxiety! So, give yourself permission to be flexible when and where possible, and to change your mind. Did you hear that?
IT’S OKAY TO CHANGE YOUR MIND.
I’ve gone through that process a time or two (or ten) myself this past year. For example, when the schools shut down during Spring break in 2020, we all thought it would be short term and for a couple of weeks. Looking back, that’s hysterical. We were so innocent back then, weren’t we? Talk about pandemic parenting stress and anxiety!
The reality soon became clear that schools were not going to reopen for the remainder of the 2020 school year, so we made some attempts to get the kids to do their online schooling, but it was a bit of a mess, I will freely admit.
As the new school year loomed closer, so did the need to make decisions about schooling for my kiddos. We had the options of in-person (but everyone would start online until further notice), fully online, a hybrid option with half the week online and half in-person, and scrapping it altogether and fully homeschooling.
I was eventually able to choose an option that I felt good about using the process I shared earlier, but you know what the most helpful thing was? It was the reminder that any schooling decision I made could be un-made. To put it simply, I could change my mind. And you can, too.
So, to summarize:
Acknowledge the hard position you’re in and the hard work you’re doing.
Connect with your Wise Mind.
Give yourself permission to change your mind.
You’ve got this!
If parenting stress and anxiety are stealing the joy from your life because of the pandemic, or for any other reason, try these tips and let me know if they are helpful! You don’t need to suffer with anxiety; reach out to schedule an appointment and get support if you’re ready for professional help. It’s also important to know that anxiety can be heightened during the perinatal time (pregnancy and postpartum period). Knowing the symptoms and getting help can make all the difference!