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A Parent Coach's Perspective on Handling Anxiety During School Closures

How can we get through this? As a licensed clinical social worker and a parent coach I am receiving a lot of questions about what to do, how to manage and how in the world will we get through this. There is uncertainty around health, family incomes, the state of the economy, and the social-emotional impact of social distancing and the resulting social isolation. This is uncharted territory and unfortunately we are unlikely to get clear answers about how long this will last and what life will look like when restrictions are lifted.

Uncertainty breeds anxiety and when people feel anxious they often try to control their environment. When controlling our environment is not possible it intensifies the anxiety. Under normal circumstances, anxiety can be a helpful emotion. It alerts us to danger (putting your seatbelt on to reduce the possibility of injury) and motivates us to take action when needed (studying for a test in order to pass). The challenge with anxiety is that if it takes over our rational brain it impairs our functioning and we lose our locus of control, resulting in sleepless nights, yelling at loved ones or keeping us frozen in fear. If anxiety overwhelms us we want to control outcomes that we cannot control.

Instead of trying to control our environment and what others are doing around us (which is impossible even under normal circumstances) we can look inward and try to regain control of our anxiety. I don’t have any magic answers or formula about how to do this. It varies by individuals. However, I do know that if we turn inward and pay attention to what is helping each of us and what is hurting us we will get closer to managing our emotions and regaining our locus of control. I also do have some suggestions of ways you can get closer to that goal.

Tune out the noise. We are being inundated with ideas, suggestions, news, demands on what we should and shouldn’t be doing. No matter how well-intentioned some of this information is, it can be overwhelming and anxiety-provoking. Pay attention to what information and sources are helpful to you and which ones are causing more stress. It will be different for everyone. Focus on tuning into what is working for you and your family and tuning out what is not.

Boundaries. If there is anytime to have boundaries, now is the time. For many people, our families, jobs, community are expecting us to conduct business as usual (meet the same deadlines, maintain the same level of work productivity and manage households while meeting school expectations). We are expected to do all of this from the confines of our homes with fewer resources, space or time to meet those expectations. It is unrealistic and detrimental to our mental health. However we will fare better if we put up some boundaries: set limits with family when you need to work (and distract the children with screens if you need to), set limits with your employer about how often you can log on, be in meetings or take phone calls, limit the number of meals you fix your children and let them get their own snacks in between). Again, it will be different for each person, but I encourage you to pause and think about what you say yes to, be realistic about your time and set those boundaries where you can.

Let Go. These are unprecedented times and nobody knows what will happen. Focus on what is most essential for you and your family (is it prioritizing quality time together because that reduces family stress, is it checking in on loved ones and helping others rather than completing schoolwork, or is it eating healthy and cleaning to reduce chances of getting COVID-19 because you live with someone who falls in the high risk category). Whatever your priorities are, focus on those and try to let go of the rest.

Self-Care. This might be a tough one because of the increased pressures and reduced alone time most of us have, but it is important. Carving out at least a few minutes a day to do something that recharges you, will help manage your stress and increase your productivity. Think about what recharges you the most and add a little of that into each day. Is it sleep, meditating, exercising, journaling, nature walks, music, talking to friends, reading, or watching a show? If you need to get creative to make it happen I have some ideas: hide in the bathroom, go get the mail, take the dog for a walk, go for a drive, or make a phone call outside.

Managing the current uncertainty and fears is difficult and will remain difficult. Turning inward, tuning into your emotions, listening to your gut, setting boundaries where needed and doing what is best for you and your family regardless of what your neighbor is doing will help you maintain some inner strength to handle the challenges that arise.

Kerrie Larosa is a parent coach and social worker and can be reached online at https://www.larosaparentcoach.com/