This column is the tenth in a series providing information and suggestions about parenting through the COVID-19 pandemic. Therapists, authors and child experts Jim Wellborn, Ph.D. and Stacy Jagger, LMFT will be helping parents explain to their kids what is happening as well as how to deal with the various challenges of having kids home for the next month or more. They will be giving you suggestions and advice about setting up schedules, dealing with bored and irritable kids, continuing their schoolwork from home, keeping them occupied, maintaining friendships and social connections, managing and monitoring screen time and taking care of yourself so you can take care of your kids.
Self-care is not an act of indulgence — though you should indulge. While this has always been true, it becomes even more important in times of high stress and social disruption.
When everything is thrown into the air, it is easy to neglect taking care of yourself. But, you will need to be good at it if you are going to have the emotional and physical energy to get you and your family through this time of crisis.
To rest and recover you have to actually make time for rest and recovery. Scheduling time for self-care should be as important as any other part of your official, dedicated work day. The stress you are experiencing is not just because the children are with you 24/7. The natural rhythm of your work day has been disrupted with work from home (or not having work to do at home). The natural breaks that occurred at your work place are not happening at home. The minute you get up to take a break, a swarm of demanding, whining (precious?) children descends on you, desperate for the love and nurturing you have so selfishly deprived them of for the last 30 minutes.
Scheduling helps you plan and helps insure that you actually follow through with self-care time. There should be blocks of time during the work from home hours (at least 10 minutes per hour) that provide a break. There should be a block of time (at least 30 minutes) during the day that is dedicated personal self-care time.
If you don’t have a spouse or partner to trade off with, you may have to find a way to keep your kids occupied (see Lock Out strategy below) while you are relaxing. Remember when we said in our previous columns that screens are not all that bad? Well, this would be one of those times. Plug their little brains into that device and take some time for yourself. You are not allowed to “get a few things done” during this time unless those things are relaxing!
Try some of these relaxing, self-care activities.
Meditation. Let’s start with the classics. There are quite a few different forms of meditation that are very effective in relieving stress and rejuvenating. Try them all. Find one that works for you. Meditation makes the most out of time you set aside to recharge and relax. And, it can work with as little as 20 minutes a day.
Self-soothing. Pay attention to your need for soothing, comforting and calming experiences. Think about the things that make you feel relaxed and feel pampered, especially things you can do at home, inexpensively and that don’t require an extensive coordination of schedules. Here is a checklist that can get you started. Taking time out to put your feet up while sipping a cup of herbal tea would also fit in this category.
Exercise. Movement and exercise are natural stress relievers. Make sure you have some built into your day. Your exercise can be informal like walking or a more formal, structured exercise program. Activities like yoga, Tai chi and other low-impact activities are also very beneficial for physical health as well as stress management.
Humor. Playfulness and looking on the funny side of difficulties can help keep you from taking serious things so seriously (like this mom’s work from home rating system). And, kids are funny. Make an effort to keep an eye on the internet for humorous takes on the shut down. Read things that make you laugh out loud.
Make a playlist. Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast. (We know, We know. We thought it was “beast” too but it’s “breast.” We looked it up.) Make a playlist of the songs that calm you, soothe you and comfort you. Keep them handy and play them as needed, especially if it isn’t possible to take an actual break. For example, THIS makes a great theme song. Here are some random songs about relaxation from the teen page of Jim’s website.
Get out of the house. Removing yourself from a stressful environment is a very effective stress relief strategy (though the temptation to just keep going and not return can be overwhelming). Going for a walk, driving down the Natchez Trace or star gazing are some of the ways you can put a bit of healthy distance between you and your home, family and work from home space.
Go Green. Being in nature is soothing and stress relieving for humans. There are wonderful greenways and parks in all of our surrounding counties. You also may have a back yard with grass or a sky and clouds. Get outside and wiggle some grass between your toes.
Hobbies. Activities that allow you to develop skills and be creative just for its own sake are a wonderful stress reliever for many people. Now is the time to try one of those hobbies you thought about but never got around to. Just make sure your hobby doesn’t become yet another competitive, perfectionistic source of stress for you. It’s supposed to be RELAXING.
Lock Out. One significant problem with getting some rest and recovery time is children. They are an antidote to calm. They are a source of stress. And they won’t leave you alone FOR JUST ONE MINUTE! So, you might have to resort to the lock out technique. Find a door that has a lock (one your children can’t pick). For this stress management technique to work you have to put yourself on one side of the door that locks and your kids on the other side.
This can be done indoors, like locking yourself in your bedroom or a closet. But, it can be even more effective when the outside doors are used (because the locks are stronger and the walls are thicker). One effective technique is to wave some popsicles in front of your kids. Then run to the back door and throw them (the popsicles, not the kids) into the back yard. (For teens, a cell phone can be substituted.) As your kids charge outside to fight for the red one like hyenas over a zebra carcass, quickly close the door and lock it behind them. You will also need to check that the other doors and windows are locked as well. This stress relief strategy has to be used with discretion and for very limited periods of time. (Though, I distinctly remember having been locked out of my house for the whole afternoon when I was growing up. Ah, the good old days.) And, yes, you DO have to keep an eye on them. Through glass. From a safe distance. While you are chillin’.
3 Blessings. There is a quick and remarkably effective technique psychology researchers discovered for improving your mood. Each day (maybe as part of your bedtime routine) take 5 minutes to jot down three things you are grateful for that happened that day or is a part of your life. It really can change your mindset (and thus your stress level).
Stay connected. Humans are social beings. The isolation and social distancing required to keep your communities safe has put a tremendous strain on getting social needs met. The natural ways we maintain our relationships have been disrupted by this shut down requiring intentional efforts to keep those connections active and secure. Make sure you keep in touch with friends and family. You will feel the difference.
Daily devotional. Setting aside a dedicated time for contemplation and reflection can be crucial during busy, stressful times. Poetry, religious texts, prayer, journaling during a quiet time; these are all tried and true ways to soothe your troubled mind and take a brief mental vacation.
Spiritual practices. Faith traditions and spiritual practices are essential during stressful and difficult times. As you will have learned in others times of trouble, our faith sustains us. The spiritual practices of your faith keep you connected to the eternal and transcendent. Prayer, reading scripture and participating in religious study groups can provide spiritual sustenance during times like these. Pay special attention to maintaining connections to your faith community. The disruption of connections to your faith is another way this shut down has interfered with a crucial aspect of balance and perspective in our lives.
Experiment. Try different techniques. Combine them. But if you don’t make it a priority, it won’t happen. If it doesn’t happen, you are a prime candidate for burnout and then you won’t be any good for anyone.
James G. Wellborn, Ph.D.
Dr. James G. Wellborn is a clinical psychologist with a private practice in Brentwood focusing on adolescents and families. He is an expert on motivation, coping in childhood and adolescence, academic engagement, parenting and adolescent development. An invited speaker to groups, agencies and churches on parenting and teenage issues, he conducts workshops for parents, teens, teachers and counselors on parenting teens, teenage issues, adolescent development, motivating teens, mental health issues and intervention strategies. Dr. Wellborn is the author of Raising Teens in the 21st Century: A Practical Guide to Effective Parenting. Dr. Wellborn and his wife live in Nashville, Tennessee and are the parents of two grown children and, now, of two adorable grandchildren. You can learn more about Dr. Wellborn by visiting his website at www.DrJamesWellborn.com.
Stacy Jagger is a mother of four and a therapist to many. She is on a mission to restore wonder to childhood, connection to families, and intimacy to relationships. She is the architect of the 30 Day Blackout, a break from technology designed to bring parents and children closer together and unleash the natural creativity in all of us. A musician at heart, she designed Music with Mommie, a parent-child bonding class that utilizes instruments and play to facilitate connection. Stacy has spent the last several years of her career building Music City Family Therapy, her practice in Brentwood. She lives on a small farm outside the city with her husband of 20 years, a pony named Mister Rogers, a few dozen chickens and a gaggle of ducks.