You might be asking, “How do I keep myself or my family afloat, when it feels like the whole world is on a sinking ship?” Let’s be honest — taking care of a family’s physical, emotional and practical needs can be challenging during the best of times. Parents who already juggle busy careers, raise children, run a household and manage adult relationships now face a whole new set of challenges.

With schools and businesses closed, many children and adults are out of their routine, which can result in a lot of anxiety. The challenges of everyone working together from home range from practical concerns, like not having enough internet bandwidth or computers, to psychological and emotional challenges, such as low motivation, feelings of social isolation, feelings of frustration with family members, and the occurrence of more sibling conflicts, marital discord, or increased alcohol or substance use. With many parents now supporting online learning, the pressure continues to mount.

Finally, add into the mix a worldwide pandemic that induces fear and anxiety over illness and an unknown future, with few answers for children’s questions, and even the most resilient of families will be overwhelmed. This is especially true for families with children and adults who suffer from anxiety, PTSD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, autism spectrum disorder or simple germ and illness related phobias, who are feeling especially vulnerable right now.

So, what can we do to manage our new life under quarantine? The good news is there are ways to help our families not only survive, but thrive, during this strange and confusing time. We can take steps to reduce anxiety, create more positive frameworks for this “new normal,” and even set up practices that strengthen family bonds that last after the COVID-19 crisis has long passed.

Here are seven ideas that can help in reducing anxiety during these unprecedented times:

  1. Maintain Evening & Morning Routines: Keeping consistent bedtimes and waking times keeps everyone feeling more balanced and in control. With so much that is out of our control right now, routines are comforting. With no buses to catch or busy traffic to worry about, take the time to enjoy breakfast together and follow a more peaceful morning routine.
  2. Keep a Daily (Flexible) Learning & Work Schedule That Includes the Following:
    1. Independent work time for children and adults working from home, in no more than 90-minute increments, with a snack break halfway through. (Avoid constant grazing.)
    2. Collaborative work time when adults can help children with learning, playing cooperative games, reading together, watching and discussing educational videos, practicing math facts or working together on projects. You can include things like role-playing, writing a play, cooking or baking, completing an art project or working on a puzzle.
  3. A Minimum of 20-30 Minutes of Daily Outdoor or Indoor Movement: You can reduce anxiety by walking, stretching, doing yoga, dancing, playing catch or playing backyard basketball.
  4. Daily Hour of Silence: Set aside one hour when all screens and phones are off and everyone in the home practices silence. You might start a family mindfulness meditation practice. Mindfulness is paying attention, on purpose, to feelings, senses and thoughts that pop into our mind. Relaxation music (like what can be found on YouTube) can help set the mood, especially if silence is hard for young children.
  5. Limit Access to News and Social Media Articles: Depending on the age or maturity level of children, they may not need to know every detail of the current situation, but they should understand the importance of “social distancing.”
  6. Communicate in a Calm and Direct Manner: When discussing the COVID-19 crisis, it is important to be factual and honest, while still reassuring children that you are doing everything you can to keep them safe.
  7. Set Up Skype, FaceTime or Other Video Connections: Allowing you and your children to connect with friends in this manner will help you not feel as socially isolated. Zoom has a free plan and is very user-friendly.

While there are no “one-size-fits-all” solutions to the inevitable emotional, physical and relational challenges families will face during this time of pandemic, it is possible to ease the burden by maintaining familiar routines and creating new, pleasurable ones. If possible, try to embrace and enhance the moments of grace during this time of great pause and uncertainty.  

For more guidance, view information from the National Association of School Psychologists.

Julee Vitello, M.Ed., CAGS  is an adjunct professor of psychology at Medaille College, with a part-time Mindfulness/SEL coaching & consulting practice, Julee Vee Mindfulness/SEL Coaching.  Julee is a school psychologist with 25 years experience practicing in the public schools in the Boston, Massachusetts metropolitan area. She returned “home” to Buffalo in the fall, and in addition to working with private clients in the WNY area, Julee offers workshops on Mindfulness & Social Emotional Learning to public schools. Read more…