Mothers carry an incredibly heavy mental load during the best of times and during this pandemic, we are facing unprecedented psychological challenges. And a new Pew Research Center survey found women are reporting higher rates of psychological distress right now, compared to men.
According to Pew, people financially affected by COVID-19 and those juggling childcare after school and day care closures are more likely to be psychologically impacted by this crisis. Women in America are both more likely to be living paycheck-to-paycheck and more likely to be responsible for children when schools close, so it makes sense that we are more distressed right now.
But COVID-19 cannot be an excuse for society to abandon mothers—we will need to support each other in the coming months more than ever.
Marisa Young is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at McMaster University. According to Young, during the pandemic parents may "endure more than what might be psychologically manageable," even if they have the privilege of working from home. "During this outbreak, parents are suffering," Young writes for The Conversation.
She continues: "They are dealing with one of the most consequential impacts on the psychological health of the modern-day workforce: work-family conflict. This conflict has to do with the competing demands of paid work and family obligations. Additional workplace closures and social distancing practices will make it even harder for working parents over the next few months."
If you're not flourishing in this new world, mama, don't worry. No one is.
"The situation feels impossible for two-parent homes where both partners can work from home—and gets exponentially harder for single parents, kids with special needs, families experiencing homelessness, and parents who have to work outside of the home. Add financial worries, lack of proper technology for online distance learning, and logistical challenges like grocery shopping and managing outside time while social distancing, and it can feel downright paralyzing," Cheryl Wischhover writes for Vox.
It's not you, mama. It really is this hard
Single mom Devonne Moise of Charlotte, North Carolina was already struggling financially before the pandemic hit, and how she's trying to homeschool her children, she told Christina Bolling of the Charlotte Observer. "I just feel like, God, I'm trying," she told Boiling from the front porch of her home where her children were trying to do schoolwork but barriers like missing Chromebook cables and WIFi disconnection were slowing their progress.
"My kids say, 'Mom, as long as you stay positive, we'll know it's okay.' So I don't let them see me frustrated," she said. "But I'm just so tired." Moise said.
She's not just physically tired, she's emotionally spent. Extreme fatigue is a symptom of depression and psychologists say the pandemic is increasing our stress levels, anxiety, depression and panic attacks.
Even parents have panic attacks
According to Pew, almost 20% of U.S. adults say they've had a physical reaction to pandemic news in recent weeks, and this is especially true for people who are facing financial hardship. For many, these physical reactions come in the form of panic attacks.
Google's data shows that searches for "panic attack symptoms" are up 100% since the pandemic started and there has been a surge in calls to mental health hotlines.
If you are suffering from panic attacks know that you are not alone. "The piece that gets people going in a classic panic attack is often that they feel as though they can't breathe," Sheila Addison, a licensed marriage and family therapist in California, tells Popular Science.
Addison recommends those in the midst of a panic attack attempt to slow their breathing, and focus on counting to four while inhaling, take a pause, and then exhale to four. Repeating that process doesn't instantly end a panic attack but it does diminish it, she explains.
Ask for help when you need it
If fear and panic attacks are taking over your life, ask for help, mama. In a piece for The Washington Post, single mom and writer Pooja Makhijani explained how her anxiety was exacerbated as COVID-19 cases in her home state of New Jersey skyrocketed. When she found herself panicking she reached out.
"I'm asking for help, which for now comes mostly in the form of phone calls for me and virtual play dates for my daughter," she writes.
"And I'm making myself available to others—as a resource for recipes or home schooling activities and as a listening ear to those whose challenges are different from mine. Being open and vulnerable has served me well in past difficult situations, and now while we are social distancing, I'm reaching into that well of giving often."
We mothers can support each other, but we must also demand companies, employers and lawmakers support us.
There are several well-researched ways companies can support workers' mental health if they are working remotely, and flexibility is a big one.
Government support for those who cannot work from home is important, too, and lawmakers may need to consider innovative ways to help America's stressed mothers. Dr. Eric J. Brandt, a National Clinician Scholar at the Yale University School of Medicine is calling on the government to expand SNAP and WIC to allow users to order groceries online using Instacart or other services.
But right now, even mothers who don't need SNAP or WIC are having difficulty ordering groceries online, something that is certainly contributing to mothers' psychological distress and the stress of delivery workers.
Bottom line: Mothers need support to keep working, support if they can't work, and support to feed their families during this challenging time. And when the curve flattens and we are able to leave our homes, affordable childcare and maternal mental health support will be key to rebuilding a post-pandemic America.