Pay attention to mental health as quarantine continues

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Early on, there were some fun aspects to quarantine. Spring break was indefinite. The whole family was together. Rules and schedules were relaxed. Creative solutions were popping up all over the place and keeping us entertained.

But as stay-at-home orders get extended with no end date in sight, the collective feeling seems to be shifting.

Hollie Gonzalez, LMHC, NCC, CCM and Premera case manager offers tips for helping children—and adults for that matter!--through this period of uncertainty.

The Current State

It does seem that quarantine has been getting more difficult for a lot of people, children included. I’ve noticed that for many anxiety has moved into general malaise or even depression.

It’s important to pay attention to children and adolescents and watch for any changes in behavior and mood. Children don’t always show the depressive behaviors we expect like crying, lack of energy, hopelessness, oversleeping. You may find they are increasingly easily irritated, acting out, or becoming more oppositional or defiant. 

If you notice these signs, acknowledge them and reach out to your child. Ask them what’s going on inside so they also may also acknowledge and verbalize those thoughts and feelings.  

 

Talk About Feelings

Research shows that saying what we’re feeling out loud actually integrates right and left hemispheres of the brain and can have a calming effect. Getting them to talk about feelings, events, what they miss makes it real. puts it out there in the open and decreases the chance that those bottled up feelings will start to “come out sideways” in negative and possibly harmful ways. 

Once they’ve verbalized all of this, our role as parents is crucial. How we respond will have an impact and provides connection – feeling that you’re not alone is important.

It’s helpful to acknowledge what’s going on for them and to validate this with phrases such as “it makes sense you’d feel this way…”  

In his book, The Whole Brain Child, neuropsychiatrist Daniel Siegel talks about “riding the wave” with children. That means experiencing the ups and downs and meeting them where they are and sitting there with them–with all of those swirling and often uncomfortable emotions. Spend some time there before moving on to problem solving or next steps. Allow space for they’re feelings. Give them permission to cry, scream (think barbaric yelp), punch the pillow, kick the ball as hard as they can (outside).  

 

Helpful Activities

Getting outside

Take time to be in nature and really pay attention to the things you may not have noticed before, like certain flowers, trees. I try to take a walk with my daughter daily during my lunch break. We check in on the neighborhood animals including frog eggs which have now hatched. We’ve made a game of spotting the frogs in the marsh (they’re hard to spot). 

Mindfulness activities

It doesn’t have to be meditation or yoga to be helpful. Simple doodling, coloring, painting, dancing, mindful walking, or any activity where you can lose yourself and go all in for that moment.

Connect from a distance

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Finding creative ways for no-contact interaction can be fun and bring joy to others as well. My daughter and I have started a Gratitude Garden on the embankment of our yard near the road where everyone in the neighborhood walks. It started as my daughter just wanted to paint some rocks to put on display.  We then realized they symbolize things for which we’re grateful–anything from tacos, and ice cream to family and hope.

Writing messages to friends and neighbors with sidewalk chalk. We even ventured out into the adjacent neighborhood where many schoolmates live and wrote messages and drew pictures to let them know we were there and are thinking of them. With some friends there have been messages back and forth.  I also noticed that some kids (maybe adults?) had a tic-tac-toe game going with the sidewalk chalk.

 

What You Can Do

Hope is important – this won’t last forever, but things may never seem completely back to normal either. Shifting the conversation from what we can’t do to a more creative dialogue about what we can do may bring a sense of hope. 

Finally, nutrition, exercise, and sunshine all help tremendously with mood. It’s important to pay attention to how were feeding ourselves, not just what we’re eating but also what we’re feeding ourselves emotionally. 

Resources

Premera has telehealth services available for adults and children who need medical or mental healthcare during the COVID-19 emergency. 

Talkspace offers therapist-led support groups on Facebook and mental health tips free to everyone.

Anxiety and Depression Association of America has tips on dealing with COVID-related anxiety.

Dr. Dan Siegel offers resources and courses on mindfulness.

COVID-19 Resources from the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance.

Resources for parents from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

The Balanced Mind Parent Network has resources for parents of children with mood disorders.

Psychology Today on maintaining psychological health during quarantine.

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