Parents, Put Your Oxygen Mask on First
Everyone is working through the realities of the current COVID-19 health crisis. Just like families across our community, many of our clients are parents of young children, who are weathering significant life challenges while also providing extensive support for their children’s health and education during these uncertain times.
Marisol Acosta, M.Ed., LPC-S oversees Any Baby Can’s family health care programs including No Estás Solo, CARE, Candlelighters, and Children’s Hearing Aid Texas. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor, and expert on matters of trauma, mental health, and emergency and disaster responses for children and families. She is a member of the Affiliate Advisory Group of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.
We spoke with Marisol about ways that parents can help themselves and their kids cope with the impact of COVID-19, and maintain a sense of well-being for the whole family.
This Is Hard.
Disasters and pandemics like the one we’re experiencing create limited resources and exasperate a feeling of lack of control. Loss and grief are a normal part of this experience, but it isn’t easy on anyone.
What is unique to the Coronavirus/COVID-19 emergency is that it’s creating isolation. Many of us are feeling alone, both physically and emotionally. Uncertainty and isolation breed stress and anxiety.
“What every person is experiencing is very much real, and very normal. This affects everyone of all ages. And it manifests in different ways,” says Marisol Acoasta, Any Baby Can’s Director of Clinical Services
When we feel danger, our brain releases an alarm system. Some people tend to skew their response mechanism in different ways, usually fight (anger, aggression), flight (run away, avoid), or freeze (apathy, numbness). If you see someone reacting in this way, remember that the behavior is a result of the stress. It’s totally normal.
However, experiencing this kind of toxic stress for extended periods can have lasting effects and therefore identifying ways of coping is important.
We’re all in a moment of hardship together and there are concrete ways we can cope with this pandemic.
Reactions and Coping Mechanisms for Adults
We start with adults because like the classic advice that you hear on airplanes — “put your oxygen mask on before assisting your child” — parents cannot support their children if they are not in a stable place themselves.
A constant worry of the unknown is difficult for all adults, and especially parents. The feelings you are having are normal, and you may be experiencing behavior changes as a result. If you are, these are signals that you need to prioritize your self-care and address your underlying anxiety.
Adults exhibit stress in a variety of ways, including a loss of impulse control (binge eating, online shopping, increased alcohol and drug consumption, excessive news consumption, increased gambling), problems sleeping, changes in appetite (increase or decrease), and difficulty concentrating. You may also have physical changes such as headaches, muscle pains and body aches.
If you see these signs, take a break from the exposure to stress, prioritize your own needs, and give yourself the time and space to truly cope. You don’t need to check the news every hour, maybe once or twice a day is enough. Stay informed, but also be aware of your anxiety levels while taking in information.
If nothing else, eat, take breaks and sleep. These three simple things will help you recharge and rejuvenate.
Easy, Free Self-Care Ideas for Adults
- Drink a full glass of water. Toxic stress can cause dehydration, but also be mindful of the few seconds it takes you to drink the water. Try to feel the sensation of the cup in your hand and the taste of the water. Repeat to yourself: I am nourishing my body.
- Take a shower. As you bathe, consider the water washing all the stress away. Close your eyes for a few seconds and just listen to the sound of the shower.
- One-minute meditation. Put your hand on your chest or your heart. Say out loud: “I am safe. I am not stuck at home. I am doing something. I am protecting myself and others. I am safe.”
- Breathe mindfully. You can do this while trying any of the suggestions above. A deep breath or sigh gives your body a physical reaction that temporarily releases stress. A repetition of 3 to 5 deep slow breathes helps the nervous system calm down and restore.
View Marisol Acosta’s webinar presentation on April 9, 2020 called Coping with the Impact of COVID19: A brief introduction for parents and adults.
English: Download slides / Watch the webinar
Español: Descarga la presentación / Ver el seminario
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