Emotional Care During Trying Times: A response to COVID-19 health concerns

Written by: Courtney Suddath, LSSP, LPC-S
Cy-Hope Counseling Clinical Director
       As Houstonians and Americans, we have experience in preparation and response to unexpected weather situations, however what we are experiencing with health concerns surrounding COVID-19 likely feels different to many of us. We can draw on what we have learned in response to challenging weather situations such as Hurricane Harvey, while learning new ways to care for ourselves, our loved ones and our community in the midst of these new health concerns.
       During this uncertain time, it is important for us to care for our basic needs of health and safety, including emotional health. As adults, we must find ways to conserve our emotional energy to sustain ourselves so that we can maintain our own emotional health and meet the needs of those depending on us.
       Many of us may experience increased levels of anxiety in the midst of the uncertainty. Self-care is always important and in times of stress this importance grows. I hope that as adults we are able to remain calm and focus on what we have control over and impact on, which for most of us are ourselves and our families. Some tips on self-care for adults include:
1. Remain calm – practice calming techniques that you have used before in times of stress. These are times to depend on how we practice our faith and to be reminded that even in the midst of great concern, most of us will be okay. Increase time doing things at home which you enjoy, take a longer nap, watch that movie you have been meaning to find time to watch.
2. Be prepared and maintain reason – it is important to stay informed of the facts about current health risks and to become prepared to meet your family’s needs, however buying into hysteria could create an elevated response in your mind and body which will illicit more feelings of anxiety. The Center for Disease Control has many resources to keep us informed on the best measures to keep ourselves and families safe and healthy.
3. Maintain consistency – While there will be countless interruptions to our schedules and plans, try to maintain consistency in your daily life. If your place of business has been interrupted, consider working remotely. To continue to take care of yourself, do your best to keep any doctor and counseling appointments you have scheduled. Many clinicians are offering remote telehealth options.
4. When you feel anxiety remember that it will pass, gain factual information, and use that information to determine if you need to make a plan and take action. In times of stress, we can come confused about what we need to be doing in our own lives. It is important for us to ask ourselves what immediate decisions we need to make and actions we need to take ONLY for ourselves and who we are responsible for. There is a lot going on around us, but not all of it directly affects the circumstances we are responsible for or that even will directly affect our families.
5. Remember the Big Five of Self Care – 1. Drink plenty of water; 2. Feed your body good food that also makes you feel happy; 3. Get some exercise every day, even a walk around the block can release endorphins that help with mood; 4. Maintain a consistent sleep schedule and make sure you are getting enough sleep. 5. Get 10 to 15 minutes of sunlight on your skin each day, we love Vitamin D!
6. Be kind to yourself and to others – Please give yourself and those around you grace. These are times that we can be reminded that loved ones and fellow humans are the most important. We don’t feel like ourselves and others don’t either, which means we may not act like ourselves.
       Children recognize that something is different even if they are too young to fully understand what is going on. This is a time when it is important to be honest with our children so that we do not damage their trust. Some basic tips on communicating with your children and managing worries during this uncertain time include:
1. Ensure safety - What children really want to know in uncertain times is that they will be safe. Ensure your children that their safety is your main priority. This is a great time to explain that there are many people working together and our community to make sure that everyone who needs help will get it. Above all, remind your child that they are your top priority, that you know what to do if an emergency arises, and that no matter what you will do everything to keep them safe.
2. Share facts - Explain what is happening in terms that your child can understand it is important to be factual in your description. Without facts, children will come to their own conclusions, which may not be accurate.
3. Limit exposure to the news and grown-up conversations - Consider having the news on in a different room where your child will not have direct access to it. The visuals on news reports are difficult for many of us adults to handle and are in most cases too overwhelming for children to process. Limit grown-up conversations regarding our current situation. Consider checking online news sources and texting updates to family and friends so that children are not hearing all of the details.
4. Share Developmentally Appropriate Facts - Most children will have lots of questions. It is important for us to answer our children's questions regarding the health concerns and what is to come with school and business closures around the city. Children have a way of giving us cues to what information they can handle with the questions that they ask. I recommend simply and factually answering only their question, and only giving them the information that they are requesting. There may be additional information that they are not asking about, that you want them to have and a parent’s intuition is the best source for that decision.
5. Consistency - At home, keep things as consistent as possible when it comes to sleeping and eating schedules. Structure helps with anxiety on any day, especially during extenuating circumstance is. Your expectations for behavior should generally be the same. Recognizing that things aren't “normal”. Is also important, but children will find comfort in a basic schedule and expectations remaining the same.
6. Comfort and distraction - Everyone needs a little bit of extra comfort from loved ones at this time, and that definitely includes our children. Just as adults handle these situations in different ways, children will as well. With the disruption to schedules, your children may seem more emotional or they may be testing the limits a little bit more. Reassurance and extra comfort can go a long way. Being intentional in your time with your children is always positive, but especially in times of uncertainty like these. Try to remain calm as your child will likely take emotional cues from you. Lots of extra hugs, words of encouragement and affirmation will go a long way in times of distress.
7. Stay positive - Point out the positive things when you can. Such as, extra family time, and neighbors checking on one another. This is also a great time to model and teach your children how faith can play a part in how we handle difficult times in life, and how we heal.
       Times of uncertainty are never comfortable. Remember to check on your loved ones and stay connected to friends even while respecting a healthy social distance. The current health concerns in our world will pass and we will be stronger after learning and being reminded how to care for ourselves and each other. If you or a loved one needs additional emotional support in this time, let us at Cy-Hope Counseling and Speech Therapy provide that for you and walk through this time with you.
Courtney Suddath, M.A., LSSP, LPC-S Clinical Director, Cy-Hope Counseling and Speech Therapy www.cy-hopecounseling.org