At 10 o’clock on Sunday night, I did something I know better than to do: I checked the news headlines on my phone. That’s how I learned the first coronavirus case in my state had been confirmed, in the town whose border lies two blocks away from my house. Needless to say, I didn’t do much sleeping that night. My tiredness the next day only added to my stress and made it more challenging to be a source of strength for my elementary-schooler and middle-schooler.
That’s the double whammy moms are dealing with in the face of the coronavirus outbreak: managing their own anxieties about the news cycle while also modeling resilience and stress management for their kids.
Because let’s face it: Something as big as a global pandemic is bound to trigger stress. And stress lowers immunity all on its own. When you add in lost sleep, that toll rises higher. Plus, stress and bad sleep both impair good decision-making (and when you’re a parent, decision-making is pretty much a daily job requirement).
Since we need as many clear-thinking people as possible to curtail the virus’s spread, and because your kids are looking to you for direction, here are six ways to keep your coronavirus anxiety in check.
Choose when you’ll check in.
There’s a time and a place for everything, including when to consume your coronavirus news. That time is not right before bed (because losing sleep only amps up anxiety), or when the kids are likely to need your attention (getting interrupted while reading something stressful can easily cause an overreaction—and cause you to pass your upset on to your kid). Think about times during the day when you aren’t on Mom duty, like right after drop-off or bedtime. Designating a time to read the news will make it easier to refrain from hovering over your phone all day just in case there’s news.
Give yourself a buffer.
In addition to time to check in, you also need space to digest what you’ve learned. So, try reading the news just before you start cooking dinner (the physical movement and specific objective will help quiet your mind), go on a walk after checking in (movement plus nature equals a mental reboot), or cuddle your pet (get some oxytocin flowing to make it easier to be present with your kids).
Schedule your worry time.
One thing motherhood will teach you is to compartmentalize, and now’s the perfect time to put that superpower to good use by giving yourself permission to worry during a specific and finite period of time a day—say, for 15 minutes right after the kids get off to school, or 15 minutes after they’re down for a nap.
Write down or share out loud with someone you trust everything you’re anxious about—writing and sharing helps get all that stress and anxiety out of your head and onto the page, so that you don’t have to keep re-hashing it in your mind.
Stay connected, but do it judiciously.
Now is not the best time to be in close contact with the Chicken Littles in your life. Whose judgment do you trust? Whose perspective do you value? Reach out to them when you need shoring up. For those folks in your life who are generally more in need of moral support, reach out to them when you’re feeling the most even-keeled so that you have the strength to lend.
Be honest with your kids without telling too much.
Kids can sense fear. If they ask questions or share that they’re scared and you tell them not to worry, it’s likely to backfire. Tell them the truth, which is that you don’t know exactly what’s going to happen, and even that you at times worry about it, but that you and their other care providers are doing all you can to keep them safe. And don’t forget the magic words: that you have lived through intense times before and that by taking good care of each other, together, you can do hard things.
Tough times are when you need the steadiness of self-care the most—now is not the time to toss your self-care methods out the window. If you need additional incentive to do the things that help you feel calmer, remember that kids watch you to learn how they should respond to crises. Let them see you doing a couple of yoga poses, journaling or going for a walk to clear your head (even if it’s just in your yard). Tell them why you’re doing it (“This helps me feel better”) and invite them to join you. That way, you’ll spread calm instead of anxiety.