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  • Writer's pictureAlley Dezenhouse Kelner

Parenting through Anxiety, Covid-19 and Quarantine

We’re one of the wildest times I’ve ever experienced, no doubt a time in history that will go down as one for the books. For better or worse, we’re here—and we’re in it together. If you’re staying socially connected you’re probably relying on online platforms even more than ever; you may even be someone who thought "I'll never be someone who is up for spending THAT much time scrolling, liking and commenting just to feel connected". I bet your tune has changed! Internet usage has gone way up and social media apps are busy!

Other than astronomical use of screen time (anyone else getting those weekly screen time usage reminders and gasping..?), we have another thing in common—globally.

We’re anxious.

Whether we’ve always been anxious people or this pandemic tipped the scale for us, here we are. While I could spend a lot of this post speculating about the connection between how much time we’re spending consuming media and how anxious we are I think that would be a bit misguided; there’s no way we could compare existing research to what we’re experiencing now because this is totally unprecedented.

Those of us who struggle with anxiety regularly, are feeling familiar things right now but we undoubtedly have less distractions; we may be somewhat comfortable in our anxious feelings because in a way there’s a certain nostalgia to them. A lot of things have been new for me in this pandemic, but the anxiety—it’s an old friend. Not one I want to continue a relationship with, but not one I've never met before. For those with long standing relationships with anxiety, you might be thinking “welcome” as you watch a massive percentage of the population drop into a life experience we’ve been living for a long while.

Then there are so many who, for lack of a better way to describe it, have been dropped into our “anxious normal”. These are people who are experiencing anxiety for the first time.

While we've all found various, effective and ineffective, ways to cope with the newness of everything, lack of routine and overall anxiety here are some strategies and points of consideration I have found helpful. The idea of behavioural flexibility is important.

Just like your car's navigation system it's important that we get comfortable being flexible in our behaviour; hearing and accepting the idea of “re-calculating” (like your internal GPS when you hit a roadblock). We tend to default to behaviour patterns that are habitual, so sometimes we get stuck in behaviour patterns even when they aren't serving us; we struggle to pivot without being explicitly told to "recalculate" so to speak.

We often don’t like change. In fact, routines are part of how we keep control to keep anxiety in check.

Ask yourself:

(1)How willing are you to acknowledge that what you’re doing isn’t working—(i.e. maladaptive or unhelpful), and commit to behaviour change?

(2) What do you want? What specific behaviour or outcome are you looking to achieve? Is it reduction in intensity of strong reactive emotions? Is it an increase in gratitude, happiness, or overall positivity? Is it a better balance between the peaks and valleys you're experiencing?

You can’t have behaviour change without knowing where you’re going.

You can’t (always) control what’s going on around you but you can control your responses, how you react. But it’s not simple, as you may have guessed. Your mind has a hard time recognizing its own short comings, like it’s tendency to fill in the gaps where it doesn’t have all the information (i.e. your "worst case scenario thoughts" or your "what if" "jumping to conclusions" or "catastrophic" thoughts). It’s why our thoughts can be powerful and all consuming, especially anxious thoughts. Automatic negative thoughts, obsessive thoughts, overall unhelp at restoring our chill—or our happiness. And while it’s true our mind sort of has a "mind of its own", we can use strategies that help us rewire how we think and at the very least develop new responses to unhelpful or anxious thoughts that pop in and move us closer to our desired outcome.

I think one of the most difficult things bout the experience of anxiety, at least for me, is that it’s not always something you can pinpoint. If I had a dollar for every time someone asked “well what’s wrong, what are you anxious about?” I’d be rich. And the truth is that question is often misguided because it’s not about what it’s about. Well today, I’m obsessing over whether or not I have Covid, yesterday was perseverating on whether or not I’d be able to pay my mortgage and just an hour ago I spiralled into worry over a conflict that happened at work between my boss and I—6 months ago.

When your anxiety is turned on, it’s often not about something—it’s about everything. And the very thing I was obsessing about yesterday doesn’t even phase me today. I can see how I was overcome with automatic negative thoughts, catatrophizing and personalizing. "Well yesterday’s worries about getting Covid were obviously absurd, and it's now clear to me that where I should really focus this energy is the conflict between my boss and I 6 months ago.." When you’re not in it—it might actually seem a little absurd.

But, when you’re in it; it’s real. So real!

It’s your mind’s inability to tell the difference between real and perceived threat—fight or flight mode activate!

Use all of this information when you’re supporting someone else with anxiety like your partner, or your kids. Just like with hindsight some of our worries seem over the top, it can be tempted to cast the worries of others in the same light. It can be tempting to tell others, or yourself to “snap out of it” but that’s about as validating and helpful as telling them to “just relax”. As they say, in the history of existence, no one has ever relaxed from being told “just relax”. In fact, if you’re like me—it just frustrated you leading to the addition of anger to the cocktail of strong emotions and somatic (physical) symptoms you’re experiencing.

A lot of people are surprised to know that there are a lot of somatic, or physical, symptoms of anxiety that extend beyond the obvious panic attacks or spiralling thoughts. And while one amazing way we can take control of our anxiety is by exercising there is surprising overlap between the physical sensations experienced during both. For example, flush face, increased heart rate, perspiration and a dizzy or somewhat "out of body" experience among others.

Research suggests that people who experience panic even may forego work outs because the physical symptoms are triggering or make them worry--panic. Evidence suggests pushing through—staying the course for reduction in overall feelings of stress.

Other strategies I've been loving for coping:

-Meditation (there are amazing apps and even podcasts that can help you learn).

-Daily movement—dance, yoga, walks, running, you get the idea.

-Limiting my news intake

-Breath work

What have you found helpful?

Wishing you calm and a sense of balance!

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