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Covid-19 - My mental health survival guide for parents isolating with children.

Well, what a turbulent time this is for everyone. How are you doing? I hope you are well. Personally I am in a slightly different place to where I was before Covid hit our household really hard, I'm not sure it's a better place, but it's different.

Covid - 19, in case you hadn't noticed, has turned our lives upside-down and has had a devastating impact on many people. Right at the beginning of the pandemic I wrote a blog post about how it was already affecting my own mental health (Click here to read), and we now know that we are also in a serious mental health pandemic.

We know this from the information that is shared repeatedly by many mental health charities, as well as from our own research on the impact of emergency pandemic home schooling. But truly, even without this research, we can see and feel the impacts in ourselves, our family and friends and in our fellow human beings.

The impacts of this time extend far beyond the virus itself, they include huge life changes, grief and loss, realisations, lockdowns, isolation, restrictions, face coverings, excessive hand washing and so much more.

I would like you to take a moment to consider all of the effects that this pandemic has had on you. How has it changed your life? How have you responded during this time of huge uncertainty? If it helps, write it down, every bit of it, take some time to really explore your thoughts and feelings without judgement.

When you are done, I want you to be kind to yourself as you realise just how much you are dealing with. If you feel inclined, give yourself a Mel Robbins High 5 in the mirror! You have got this even on the days when you feel like you are falling apart.

I am writing this post as a parent who currently has three children who have tested positive for Covid. I am also writing this as a person who suffers, at times, with severe, debilitating anxiety, and lord knows that anxiety has been on high alert for a long time now.

With my rational holistic therapist’s hat on, I will do my best to offer you some advice and words of wisdom that have got me through this time, which has not been as bad as I anticipated. This blog post is not intended to downplay the utterly devastating effects that Covid has had for many families, it is simply to share my own advice from my own experience.

I hope these five suggestions bring some calm and normality to what is a highly emotive subject.

1. Anxiety and fear come in waves – Stay in the now

This is my first up close and personal meeting with Covid and when I saw those two pink lines on the lateral flow test, my anxiety opened the champagne and threw a party! It took me racing off through every horrific scenario of “what could go wrong”, always ending badly, usually with certain death. Anxiety was of course spurred on by its pals Fear and The Media and they really did a number on me. I was actually paralysed with fear, I couldn’t move or function at all.

After the first ‘uneventful’ night, I woke up so anxious that I couldn’t get out of bed, this is not helpful when you are a parent of three children, so I had to dig deep to find a way out. This is what I did:

  • I listened to my body and stayed in bed for a few hours.

  • I watched videos that made me laugh until I cried, particularly Greg Davies and Russell Howard getting Pants Drunk!

  • I opened my windows and breathed in the cold, fresh air. I took longer out breaths and felt them calm my nervous system.

  • I watched videos about nature and off grid living, which is my absolute dream life.

  • I remembered the words of my best friend, a Mindfulness Meditation Teacher, who tells me, “Stay in the now. Focus on the breath. Right now, in this moment, you are safe.” I am so grateful for these words.

From my own work in the field of anxiety and fear, I know that anxiety comes in waves which peak and then fall away again. If you struggle with anxiety, you might notice this too.

Children experience the same waves which can present in all sorts of ways from difficult behaviours, withdrawing into themselves, to other behaviours such as OCD. Our job as adults, is to stay with them, listen to them without questioning, and hold the space calmly. Easier said than done if you are struggling as well, I know.

As a side note, some people, particularly those who may be autistic, often already function on a higher level of anxiety, so it might not take much for them to tip into anxiety. This is something we need to be aware of.

Finally on the topic of anxiety, it’s important when we are feeling fragile ourselves, not to take on other people’s anxiety as well. Covid in particular, has huge anxiety associated with it for pretty much everyone, be careful of who you speak to whilst you are feeling anxious, you do not need to add fuel to the fire.

2. Turn off the news in all its forms

Bad news and horrific stories sell. The news and social media companies trade in bad news and it’s very easy to be swept away in a torrent of terrible events and people’s unwarranted opinions. Don’t look at any of it.

Being someone who has a little experience of being in the press, I can tell you that journalists and media companies are often searching out stories that fit the narrative they are being paid to tell. The headline “We all got Covid and not much happened,” is not going to sell.

I have not listened to the news or read any awful posts on social media for almost two weeks now, and I feel a whole lot better for it.

If you are interested in reading some positive stories from the world, I highly recommend reading The Happy News. Schools may be able to access free copies, I believe. Here is the link.

3. Don’t call it Covid.

The word Covid has so many emotive attachments for us all, doesn’t it? We’ve heard so many sad and tragic stories attached to this word. We’ve been terrified and manipulated by this word. We’ve lost sleep over this word. For me, it brings a huge sense of anger, fear, frustration, sadness and hopelessness when I think about the word Covid and none of this is helpful when you are a parent navigating a situation where you are actually dealing with it.

With my practical head on, I am treating this as a virus, just as I would any other virus that we have dealt with over the past 13 years of parenting. Taking away the word Covid and all of that sub-context has helped me a lot.

4. Make sure you look after you.

This is your number one priority. Your health and well-being matter and, as the person “in charge”, it’s important that you do some things to sustain you as well. It doesn’t have to be much, just simple things that don’t require huge amounts of energy.

  • Eat well and drink lots of water. I’ve been drinking smoothies every day and making yummy soups. I would also recommend cutting down on caffeine and alcohol which can affect mood significantly.

  • Rest. Don’t feel that you must take this time to do all the unfinished jobs you haven’t had time for. Maybe do some jobs if you want to, but also make time to watch films, read books, write or do something else you enjoy.

  • Exercise. If you are lucky enough to be allowed outside, go out for short walks, otherwise some gentle exercise indoors such as yoga, stretching, or a slow workout may help. If you are feeling a bit fragile, focus on the resting, come to exercise when your body and mind feel ready.

  • Focus on the things you can do. Isolation is tough. Isolation with poorly children is exceptionally tough, although it can also be a blessing because they certainly keep you busy! If it helps, make a list of the things that you can do in this time, rather than focusing on all that has been temporarily taken away.

5. Look for moments of joy

Look for the moments of joy. They might be snot covered or headache fogged, and they may smell of bleach and eucalyptus, but they are there. Playing a game, watching a film, gazing out of the window, spending all day in your pyjamas, because why not? These are snap shots of joy and life, and they are worthy of note.

So, there you have it, my mental health survival guide for parents who are isolating with poorly children. There is a part two to this story, but I will save that for another day.

Today I would like you to do one thing that's just for you, whether it's reading a book for half an hour, watching a good film or something else, take some time for you and realise just how much you have been through in the last two years. Well done, you made it this far. XX

Keep going on.... a song that a lovely friend sent to me. X

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