Tips to Cope with these Uncertain Times

August 20, 2020

With the start of any new school year, students are often weighed down with many big emotions.  This year tips the scales when you throw on attending school during a pandemic and all of the new social and physical norms we find ourselves suddenly having to navigate.

To help shed some light and lift the heavy load students and parents are shouldering, Parker School counselor Whitney Hughes shares five tips for how to cope with these uncertain times.

1.  How can one cope with anxiety and stress during these uncertain times, especially at the beginning of the school year?

Normalize, normalize, normalize. We have all heard or seen posts that state, “we are in this together” over the past several months. This is true, but only to a certain extent. While we are all experiencing collective waves of increased stress, fear, anxiety, and worry about what is to come, we also navigate these challenges in our own little boats. It is important to be mindful and considerate around the fact that everyone handles stress, adjustments, trauma, and grief in different ways.

 2.  Can you share any tips or strategies for managing stress and anxious feelings especially relating to social distancing, being back on campus, and distance learning?

When asked this question I think a lot about our “circle of control”. Especially during these unprecedented times, it may feel as though you have lost control of many aspects of your life. I encourage you to draw a circle. Inside that circle, make a list of everything you or your child can actually control. Outside the circle, write all the things you can think of that you cannot control. We may not be able to control how a friend wears their face covering at school, but we can gently remind them to wear it correctly and we can wear our own correctly. Ultimately, we can only control ourselves. Teaching this to our children will increase their sense of empowerment.

One helpful reminder is “when under stress, we regress.” Anxious and/or depressive symptoms will look different for everyone. Be an observer. Get curious. Look for patterns. Are the negative feelings more frequent after an argument, a fitful night of sleep, after consuming alcohol or unhealthy foods? How much time is your child spending on homework? Is tomorrow’s Zoom meeting adding to your child’s stress levels? Reminder: you are your child’s advocate. If something isn’t working at home, if having the camera on is causing anxiety, if being called on in class increases your child’s nervousness, speak up on their behalf. Our children need to know that we have their backs. We can help them talk about the hard things.

It is also important to take the time to check in with our bodies and bring awareness to where we are feeling our stressful thoughts, so we can begin to manage them so much easier. Creating a flow in our homes that includes routine, movement, mindful breathing, and space to be creative and play is essential during these uncertain times. Laugh, see the beauty in the little things, express gratitude, and appreciation, check in with your support system. Schedule Zoom calls, Facetime gatherings, immediate family dinners, time to lay in the grass and watch the clouds float by. There is magic in the stillness if we allow it.

3.  How can adults (parents, grandparents, faculty, aunties, and uncles) support children during this time of uncertainty?

The most important thing we can all do to support one another right now is to listen. Create a kind, calm, validating space for one another. Reminding ourselves and our children that it’s okay and normal to experience all different types of emotions. There are no good or bad feelings. The more we can learn to observe our thoughts and feelings without holding on too tightly to them, the more self-agency we gain.

It is perfectly normal to feel excited about seeing peers and classmates again, but also feel great hesitation and worry about walking onto campus or going back into the workplace. It is also vital that we check in with ourselves. As adults it’s important to remember that our children are watching, listening, and soaking in so much more than we think they are. Our children need to see us appropriately modeling physical distancing, washing our hands often, and wearing our face coverings correctly.

 4. What are some signs to look for in children who may be struggling with symptoms of anxiety and/or depression?

Anxiety and depression often cycle together. They can be hard to differentiate between, especially in younger children who do not have the language to describe how they are feeling. A good way to conceptualize the two is to understand the patterns. Anxiety is when the mind gets stuck in the future, cycling through fear of the unknown. Whereas depression tends to be about the past and the fact that no matter how much we think about it, we can’t change it. Along with all the mental damage that these adverse thought patterns inflict, there are also physical sensations that anxious and depressive thoughts can cause. Some of these include tension, back, and headaches, upset stomach, feelings of confusion, lack of concentration, feeling foggy, exhausted, quick to anger, irritation. Intense feelings of sadness, crying often, lack of motivation, being fearful of new things, lost interest in things that used to bring one joy. Any of these could be an indicator that our current stress levels have become too much for our bodies to process in a healthy way. Self-care is a must. Put yourself on your calendar. Make a list and carve out time for the things that fill you up.

 5. What are some resources to help bring awareness and support mental wellness?

There are so many valuable mental health resources online today. One benefit of this pandemic and being physically distanced for safety is that telehealth and teletherapy is now a new norm. There are many wonderful HIPAA compliant platforms that professionals are using.

Psychology Today is a great place to start if you are in search of a local therapist (in any state). 

Websites including the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the State of Hawai’i’s Department of Health, and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration each offer lots of information and have free call/text helplines.

6.  Is there anything else you would like to share?

I cannot stress the importance of our mental health enough. Today’s families are under tremendous pressure, especially now. We need to end the stigma that can be associated with seeking mental health services. When a child is suffering from mental health issues, their academics also suffer; therefore, if your child finds academics exceedingly difficult during these times, remind yourself that their happiness and mental tranquility are the top priorities. The truth is that our kids may not be able to soak in too much of the academic piece right now and that is ok. Providing love, support, trust, flexibility, and safety is crucial. Our children, no matter their age, need extra time to rest and play (yes, play, even teenagers can be found spending hours immersed in LEGO building if they can silence Snapchat for a while). We need to allow time to do the things that light us up and bring joy. Don’t we all need a little more joy in our lives?

 


Whitney Hughes, MA, LPC, NCC is available to provide support for Parker students and parents regarding stress, sadness or depression, anger, relationships, happiness and excitement, fear and uncertainty, and more.  Please click here to make an appointment for yourself, your child, or another school ‘ohana member.  Whitney can also be contacted via email at whughes@parkerschoolhawaii.org.