Expert Tips to Help Families Manage COVID-19 Anxiety
Schools have closed. Employees have been sent home. Stay-at-home orders have been issued. And now families everywhere are adjusting to a new way of living while we attempt to slow and prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced a slower pace of life for many families. But during this unsettling time, concerns about this coronavirus have resulted in heightened levels of anxiety for parents and children alike.
And while the impacts of COVID-19 may feel overwhelming, mental health professionals say there are several simple things families can do to manage and lessen anxiety in the household. If your family is struggling with anxiety, this advice from the experts may help you and your children cope.
Educate Your Family With COVID-19 Facts
“Anxiety is fueled by uncertainty and/or a lack of control,” said Dr. Rebecca Cowan, a core faculty member in the MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling online degree program at Walden University. “And this uncertainty is one of the primary reasons why so many individuals are feeling anxious about the coronavirus.”
Families should turn to the facts to help reduce stress and fear caused by this uncertainty, says Dr. Cowan. For example, some children may be excessively worried about a loved one—or themselves—dying if they contract the coronavirus. In reality, only a small percentage of people who become ill with COVID-19 will die, Dr. Cowan says. Remind your child that about 80% of those who are infected with the coronavirus experience only a mild illness, she says. Some people will contract the illness and not show any symptoms.
But be careful where you get your facts—misinformation is swirling around the coronavirus, in particular through social media. Stick to credible sources to get your facts, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
It’s also important to not inundate your family with too much information. To help your family cope during the COVID-19 pandemic, the CDC recommends that you “limit your family’s exposure to news coverage of the event, including social media. Children may misinterpret what they hear and can be frightened about something they do not understand.”1
Keep a Routine
Mental health professionals across the board agree: A daily routine is critically important for managing stress and anxiety, especially for children.
According to the National Association of School Psychologists, “keeping a regular schedule provides a sense of control, predictability, calm, and well-being. It also helps children and other family members respect others’ need for quiet or uninterrupted time and when they can connect with friends virtually.”2
Here are some ideas to help your family keep a daily schedule while you are all home during the COVID-19 pandemic:3
- Wake up, get dressed and have breakfast at the same time each day. Try to treat the morning as if it’s a normal school day.
- Find a place in your home for each person to concentrate so they can do their work without distractions.
- Create a schedule. Including time for learning, household chores, exercise, and breaks.
- Eat dinner together as a family and discuss the day. While coronavirus might come up, try to keep the conversation positive with topics that aren’t related to COVID-19.
- Enjoy more family time in the evenings. Play, read, watch a movie.
- Stick to a normal bedtime routine as much as possible. Make sure everyone gets enough sleep.
Don’t forget to take breaks throughout the day from your work and school to connect with each other and have a little fun. Play a game, go for a walk around the neighborhood, or do a fun craft. Be creative and find new and interesting ways to have fun together.
“Taking time to engage will help you keep your baseline anxiety low,” Dr. Cowan says.
Stay Calm and Reassuring
If you’re anxious about coronavirus, chances are the rest of your family will be anxious, too. Dr. Cowan says it’s important to stay calm, keep things positive, and reassure your children.
“When anxious, people tend to catastrophize, meaning, they only focus on the worst-case scenarios and ignore the positives,” Dr. Cowan says. “Instead of focusing on the small, yet still significant, risk of mortality—which currently hovers somewhere between 1 and 3.5%—individuals should shift their focus and remember that 80% of people who are infected experience only a mild illness.”
Remember: Your kids are watching you. Children and teens will likely base their reaction to the coronavirus situation on what they see from the adults around them. Do your best to be a good role model by practicing self-care and other strategies for managing your stress and anxiety.
Dr. Cowan has worked in mental health since 2004 and is a licensed professional counselor with clinical experience in inpatient psychiatric, private practice, residential treatment, family medicine, and foster care/child protective services settings. She holds certification as a National Certified Counselor, Board Certified TeleMental Health Provider, and Certified Mental Health Integrative Medicine Provider.
Dr. Cowan joined the Walden faculty in 2019 and teaches in the MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling online degree program in the School of Counseling and Human Services. In the master’s program, students take online courses to learn how to become a professional counselor and gain the training and degree they need to pursue a career as a licensed clinical mental health counselor.
Walden University is an accredited institution offering an MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling degree program online. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient online format that fits your busy life.
Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.
Walden University’s MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), a specialized accrediting body recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). CACREP accreditation is a requirement for licensure in many states.
Note on licensure: The MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program is designed to prepare graduates to qualify to sit for licensing exams and to meet the academic licensure requirements of many state counseling boards. Because no graduate program can guarantee licensure upon graduation, we encourage students to consult the appropriate agency to determine specific requirements. For more information about licensure, students should visit the National Board for Certified Counselors at www.nbcc.org/search/stateboarddirectory and/or the American Association of State Counseling Boards at www.aascb.org, and contact the appropriate licensing body. Learn more about professional licensure.
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