Let’s face it. Most moms had enough on our plates already, without the added stress and worry of a global pandemic and trying to figure out how to cope with the coronavirus. Many moms feel anxious and overwhelmed by the demands of motherhood, trying to find time for self care, maintaining connections with friends and partners and keeping up with the demands of a career or other commitments outside of our families and homes.
Now, thanks to COVID-19, we have flipped a switch that required us to make sweeping changes overnight. We’re facing job loss, worrying about us or someone we know getting critically ill and figuring out logistics of working jobs remotely that were never intended to be done from home. Our existing support systems are strained if not non-existent. We’re relying on technology to maintain connection with our medical providers, friends and extended families.
It can feel like we’re constantly negotiating with partners about whose job is more important and needs to take priority. Suddenly schools and daycares are closed. And as if all of that weren’t enough, we’re not tasked with either managing distance learning for school aged children, or trying to care for, occupy and entertain younger children- or in some cases maybe both all at once. Many employers have been understanding and accommodating. Unfortunately, others have been harsh, and critical and created obstacles and policies that are making it impossible for parents to maintain their jobs, let alone their sanity. I’ve heard some employers are forcing their employees to sign contracts affirming that they will not be caring for children while trying to work remotely. What on Earth are we supposed to do when we have no other options!?
Transitioning from crisis response to crisis management
While many of these changes happened over night, at least here in Texas, we’ve been living this way for about a month. Over the past week or so, it seems we are moving from a state of crisis response to crisis management. We’re shifting beyond triaging of basic needs, into some other kind of state that doesn’t quite feel “normal,” but for many of us feels slightly less like our hair is on fire. It’s beginning to sink in that we may be living with some degree of social distancing for many more weeks, if not months. The Texas governor announced yesterday that public schools will not be resuming on site learning through the end of this year. The 2019-2020 school year as we knew it has abruptly ended.
In the spirit of trying to evaluate what’s working, and maybe what’s not I’ve compiled some observations and thoughts about how to cope with the coronavirus at this point. These coping skills and strategies are based on both my personal experiences and my work as a therapist who works with a lot of anxious moms.
Establish and Communicate Boundaries to Cope with Coronavirus
Boundaries are especially hard for moms who deal with anxiety. People who struggle with anxiety often worry about how they’ll be perceived if they speak up. Will my boss think I don’t care if I say no to the optional virtual happy hour? Will my husband think I’m complaining too much if I ask for help with our kids or the chores? What will happen if I don’t constantly check the news and miss something really important?
Often times the anxiety we feel about setting the boundary is worse than however it actually plays out. Generally, people are receptive to feedback and the people who love and care about us typically want us to have what we need. If someone has a poor reaction to you setting a boundary, it’s likely more about them than it is about you. They’re reacting to something your setting of a boundary is stirring up in them. While setting boundaries may come with a cost, not setting them does too.
Boundaries Around Work
Figure out how many hours you need to be working/managing distance learning/doing household tasks. Do you and your partner need to reassess and renegotiate schedules? Are your expectations for yourself and others realistic and attainable? If not, what needs to change? Try to focus on the parts you can control, rather than trying to control other people around you. Do you need to have a conversation with your boss, your child’s teacher, your partner in order to get clarification or renegotiate an expectation or a boundary? Compromise may be more possible than you think. Just remember that compromise requires both parties giving and adjusting too- if either side feels like they’re a clear winner then it’s probably not a fair compromise.
Boundaries Around Media
Now is a great time to consider how your media consumption is affecting you. Are you satisfied with the amount of time you’re spending consuming information, news and social media? If not, consider adjusting the boundaries you have around the time you’re willing to give media. Maybe your boundaries have felt too rigid, and you’re feeling socially isolated and disconnected- consider loosening up a bit on the boundaries you set initially so you can connect with others throughout the day. Or maybe you’re feeling like you’re spending way too much time binging on news updates, case counts or in the endless abyss of Instagram or Facebook. Maybe it’s time to try limiting yourself to only opening those apps during certain times of day where you feel more confident in your ability to set limits and stick to them.
Boundaries Around Physical space
Most of us are now spending the majority of our time at home with our families. How’s your space working for you and your family? Is there anywhere in your house that feels like it’s just for you even if only during certain times? Are you hiding in your closet, pantry or garage for 5 minutes of peace and quiet? Is that helping you cope with the coronavirus stress?
If not, maybe it’s time to have a conversation with your children if they’re old enough, your partner if you have one or even just with yourself about what you need and how to get it. Negotiating alone time, and together time may be helpful in terms of clarifying expectations and establishing and communicating boundaries. Maybe you and your partner can trade “alone time” where the other one assumes primary childcare provider status for 30 minutes to an hour each day. Perhaps you each claim one night sleeping alone each week- or even just on occasion (we call this checking into “hotel Russey” in our house).
Figuring out where you can be flexible
While establishing and communicating boundaries can be helpful, it’s probably also important to try and hold them (and everything else) loosely right now. Remaining flexible with our plans and expectations of ourselves and others is going to help us roll with the unexpected.
Since most of us haven’t lived through a pandemic before, we really don’t have any idea what to expect. We don’t know how long any of this will last for or what exactly lies ahead. If having a routine helps you find a rhythm that works for you and your family right now, great. If trying to keep a schedule feels too rigid and is adding anxiety and stress to your life, then give yourself a break and try something else. What feels right for each family right now, is going to look different and that’s okay. What worked for the past 4 weeks may or may not continue to work for the next 4, so try and remember it’s okay to make changes as we go.
Prioritize Self Care to Cope with Coronavirus
Prioritizing self care in the midst of a pandemic may look and feel a lot different than self care under “normal” circumstances. And if we’re maintaining flexibility, that can be okay. It’s important to prioritize self care somewhere near the top of your list, even if it feels hard. Taking care of yourself will help you cope with the coronavirus. You have to take care of yourself, in order to continue taking care of those around you. Let’s assume for now that life is going to feel pretty different for a while. We can’t put self care on the back burner and expect not to burn out.
Self care during COVID-19 might include:
- Taking a daily walk (by yourself if possible)
- Listening to a podcast
- Reading a book just for fun
- Watching a trashy TV show
- Taking a bath
- Painting your own nails
- Scheduling a virtual meet up with a friend(s)
- Checking yourself into your spare room “hotel” for the night (see above under physical space)
Ask for Help when You Need It
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, panicked or anxious, and unsure how to cope with the coronavirus please ask for help. Talk to a trusted friend, partner, faith or community leader or family member about how you’re feeling. If it feels like no amount of boundary setting, flexibility, self care or asking friends or family members for help is enough, consider seeking out anxiety treatment. Effective anxiety treatment includes some talk therapy, medication or some combination of both. In light of COVID-19, most counselors in Texas, and throughout the world, have moved their practices online. Therapists are primarily using telehealth models of care.
Looking for online anxiety treatment in Texas?
Anne Russey Counseling can provide online anxiety counseling in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Midland, El Paso and anywhere in between. Online therapy for anxiety is available to anyone who is currently located within the state of Texas. Anne Russey Counseling also offers online counseling for postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety treatment, counseling for moms and LGBT affirming therapy in Texas.
The content provided in this post is for informational purposes only and is not meant to be a substitute for professional therapy or medical treatment. If you need professional support, please find it.