The pandemic is gaining strength, with states from coast to coast reporting substantial upswings in coronavirus cases. And, as we head into the dreaded wintertime, when temperatures are dropping and epidemic conditions are expected by epidemiologists and public health experts to worsen, it’s likely that we’ll see a correlation between a devolution in health conditions and an ascent in mental health-related maladies.
In addition to being a clinician who specializes in working with adolescents and families, I’m also a mom of two young children, one of whom was born during the pandemic — a rare bright spot in an otherwise incredibly challenging seven months. Sharlow was born during a time when we’ve all been adjusting to this new reality, one in which parents like me have become home-school teachers.
As I sat in the hospital back in March cradling my newborn Sharlow, who was born on March 12 — schools in Florida closed on March 13, just one day later — I wondered how I’d support my three year old Saxon through virtual schooling for the rest of the year. Of course, back then, we couldn’t have known that the pandemic would grow so severe, let alone stretch so late into the year.
I’m not alone in facing the struggle that comes with home-schooling one child, taking care of a newborn, and working a full-time job. But, even with my skills as a mental health counselor to buttress me from the effects of the stress, I’d be remiss if I didn’t admit that sometimes it all feels overwhelming.
As few as one-seventh of parents said they intended to send their kids back to school full time this autumn, according to the results of a survey conducted on behalf of the New York Times in August. Four in five, or 80% of respondents said that they’d have “no in-person help educating and caring for” their children, “whether from relatives, neighbors, nannies, or tutors.” https://www.nytimes.
In other words, the vast majority of parents are going at it alone.
What’s more, the Times reported last month that 63% of parents “felt they had lost emotional support during the pandemic,” and significant numbers also reported feeling “nervous, anxious, or on edge” because of the conditions we’re living through.
So, from my unique vantage point as both a mental health counselor and a mom, I wanted to share a few tips that other parents can deploy to look after your mental well-being, and the mental health of your loved ones, during remote education through the rest of the winter and presumably into next year.
1. Remember you’re not the teacher. So often, we feel like the world is on our shoulders, so, to some extent, alleviate a bit of the burden by leaning on your child’s teachers where possible. Communicate with the teacher, set up an individual phone call on your own if the teacher will be amenable to it, and be honest in telling them that you’re not the expert. You’re leaning on their expertise.
2. Create a routine. While so much of life during the pandemic has been chaotic, it can help to stabilize the situation by creating as much structure as possible. Now, even if you create a family schedule, it’s unlikely you’ll get more than a few weeks in sticking to it. So, find the equilibrium that works for you, which could mean setting aside half an hour a day to go for a walk or jog, establish Taco Tuesday at home with your family every week, or whatever degree of “structure” and stability is realistic for you.
3. Indulge in self care, which can be different for everyone. Reading a book, cooking, going for a walk, or doing a face mask can be extremely therapeutic, depending on what you enjoy the most. Many of us think “self-care” means shelling out hundreds of dollars at a spa or going on a staycation, but in reality, it can be much more straightforward. For me, ideal examples of self-care include going for a run, working out, or spending an outdoor night with friends on our patio.
4. Reach out to a counselor or to a support system. You’re not alone — mental health clinicians and counselors like me are out there to provide support when you need it. Contact your insurance company for a list of providers on your insurance plan if you have a health insurance policy, or use a resource like Psychology Today to identify counselors in your area. Many of us are providing care using telehealth during the pandemic, and there are 24-hour resources like 211 hotlines which you can call during crisis.
5. Don’t compare your journey to anybody else’s. During these times of social distance, one of our few touchstones with others is through social media, and, even while we’re indoors and minimizing travel, many people are still finding creative ways to put their best foot forward online. Remember that that veneer doesn’t accurately reflect reality — it’s a curated set of images, so they should be taken with a grain of salt. Even if you’re frazzled, the rest of us are too — so don’t weigh your journey against anyone else, and know that we’re all moving through this crucible in the way that feels most authentic to us.
Hi, my name is Liza Piekarsky, LMHC, NCC, CAP. I am an Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Certified Addictions Professional, National Certified Counselor, and a Qualified Supervisor in the state of Florida. I specialize in working with teenagers/young adults who are struggling with substance use, behavioral difficulties, depression, and family conflict. I work as a Certified Addictions Professional in Broward County.
For more information about Liza, visit: https://caringtherapistsofbroward.com/staff/liza-piekarsky-lmhc-cap-ncc/