In Uncertain Times

Managing stress during a pandemic

At this point of the year, in the “meantime” of this pandemic, we all have had to make some changes in our home life, and work life. Students have had to adjust to an online format of education, and many employers have required continued work at home. Some unfortunately lost their jobs, and some are at high risk of exposure as they are still working around people and can become ill. With all of this, it is not an easy feat to continue to provide mental health services to the individuals and families with whom I work.  

Converting in-person, face to face therapy to telehealth has been an interesting venture.  My clients are children as young as 5, to adults in their 50’s and 60’s who are grandparents caring for their grandchildren.  Surprisingly enough, due to the fact that many of these children have grown up with tablets and laptops, they are able to attend to tasks during these telehealth sessions. There have been some technical difficulties as you can imagine, and parents as well as grandparents having to adjust to more technology than normal, can increase stress levels.

Common themes that continue to come up in sessions are, how to manage new behaviors of children who are quarantined, how to ease parents’ stress and also how to decrease anxiety of those in the medical profession who are exposed to the virus on the job.  Within these commonalities, the focus of reducing anxiety and stress is key to tackling the other issues that need to be addressed during these sessions.

The three following ideas have been helpful for my clients, but even more, I practice them myself to manage my sanity in the midst of being quarantined with my school aged children, while working at home.  These ideas are ways to enjoy the moments in the middle of the “meantime” of this time of uncertainty.

  1. 5,4,3,2,1– Where I cannot take credit for this great mindfulness activity, I use it, teach it and engage with clients utilizing this in sessions. The idea is focusing on your 5 senses. List five things that you can see, list 5 things you can smell, list 5 things that you can touch/feel, list 5 things you can hear, and then 5 things you can taste.  Once you have gone through your 5 senses listing 5 things for each, you then go through the same process listing 4 different things you see, 4 new things you can touch/feel, etc. You keep going until you get to 1. 1 thing you see, 1 thing you can touch, one thing you can smell, 1 thing you can hear, and if available 1 thing you can taste. It helps to have different things you can taste, or if it is not available to eliminate the taste part of the activity. Doing this outside adds to the senses as you can feel the wind, the sun, smell nature and see many things you may not have noticed prior to the activity.
  2. Finding a new normal– Whether working with adults who are adjusting to losing their jobs, working under stressful and dangerous conditions or working at home with children, the routine that used to be is gone.  Even those living alone and feeling lonely because of the quarantine poses stress and anxiety. Establishing a new routine helps bring a sense of calm and normalcy. A few parents bought desks for their kids and established a new place and time for work. They also had to create a workable home office. Setting the time for the school work helped parents schedule time for their work, meetings and themselves. Establishing “quiet/nap” times helps with the noise factor and allows alone time for adults as well as kids. For those living alone, reconnecting with the things once enjoyed that otherwise there would be no time for has rekindled a spark in their lives. Resuming workouts, creating art, tackling projects that would otherwise not get done, gardening and reading books have been helpful for my adults. There is a need for independent time to reset for day ahead, for the night, or the next day. The hope is that when things change and we are no longer quarantined, the things that were helpful in these times are not forgotten. 
  3. Get outside-Although this last one was briefly mentioned in the first two ideas, we fortunately are ordered to “stay at home” during the springtime. Going on walks, riding bikes, running, or even walking the dog, this is a great time to get outside for a walk. If the area where you live is not conducive for walking and you have transportation, going to an outdoor track has been beneficial for many people who do not have sidewalks or live in an area where they cannot maintain social distancing.  Springtime also lends itself to gardening and planting seeds that will grow and bloom in the next few weeks. Gardening is rewarding as some enjoy weeding to release frustration, and planting to feel accomplishment. Either way, any of these activities are worthwhile breaks to help with the cabin fever many are experiencing. 

These activities can decrease stress and anxiety, allow for better sleep and when practiced daily, or a few days a week, can serve as a way to balance the uncertainty of each day. Enjoying the moment in the “meantime” of this pandemic can be difficult but help maximize daily efforts to be productive and minimize the chaos that many are experiencing.