Change. It’s something we’ve come to expect in our lives, but rarely is it easy on us!
As adults, we can probably admit we don’t really love change. There’s a reason for that. When things are stable and we know what to expect, we feel safe.
How do we calm a fussing baby? We rock him or shush him in a repeated pattern. That way the child’s brain knows what is coming next and what is expected. It creates calm and safety for the child. He knows what is coming next and, in turn, feels safe.
As our children grow we have schedules and routines. We keep things in place that work well for them. Our lives often follow similar patterns each week. There’s calm and safety associated with having those plans. So, when an adjustment or change happens in the life of a child it can be very difficult. Things like moving to a new town, the loss of a loved one, the start of a new school year, are all times we know our children are going to need some extra support.
With COVID-19, things are much further complicated as it seems no part of our world has been left untouched. We are all adjusting to changes in schedules, school, church, social life, finances, work.
So the challenge becomes, how do we create a sense of safety in this new world where everything feels different and chaotic?
Keep our relationships stable. First and foremost, we want our relationships to remain stable, supportive, and strong during this time. Kids, probably now more than ever, need to feel the support of their loved ones. Even when life seems uncertain, may our children never feel uncertain that the adults in their life are doing everything to keep them safe and supported. Do the same types of family bonding things you did before, even if that needs to look a bit different. Facetime family members, have a family game night, go camping in your living room. The world of social media can be wonderful when it comes the creative sharing of ideas.
Give children space to talk things out. Let them ask the scary questions and share their difficult thoughts and feelings. Maybe this is a simple “daily check in” after supper with each member of the family. What was the best part of your day? What was the worst part of you day?
In therapy we use a phrase called, “name it to tame it”. Rather than running from our feelings and trying not to feel them, we decide to simply acknowledge a feeling instead. Ask your kids how they’re feeling. Name the feeling. “You’re feeling worried today. Tell me about that.” When we name an emotion, it often begins to feel less powerful. We name it to tame it.
Consider technology free time. Because children are getting an extra dose of technology with their schooling, considering making unstructured time technology-free. Think back to your own childhood and some of the things you did. Getting outside, writing with chalk, playing hide and seek, building blanket forts, painting/drawing, helping mom and dad cook in the kitchen, etc. All of these activities can help maintain the loving and supportive relationships within your home, while giving kids a break from technology.
Find the good. It might seem simple, but make a habit of looking for the good. Although the “feel good” news articles usually fall on the back page, they are out there. Start a family gratitude or joy journal. Keep track of the things you see each day, within your own home, in the news, on social media, that make you smile. Individuals who report highest levels of happiness are those who make daily gratitude a priority.
Give yourself some extra grace. We are all living in a new and chaotic time. Take a deep breath and continue to do your best. You know better than anyone else what your child needs from you right now.
With great change comes a great opportunity for us to build resiliency in our children. We know all too well it’s impossible to protect our children from the ups and downs of this life completely. Resiliency, the ability to recover quickly from difficulty, is built during times like these. We know there will be more obstacles for children to overcome in this life. We want to teach them how to anchor themselves to get through the storms. What were difficulty times you had to overcome in life? What got you through them? What are the things you leaned on? What helped you remain positive?
“Life is not about how fast you run or how high you climb but how well you bounce.” – Vivian Komori
Katie Vander Zwaag, NCC, LPC, LMHC, RPT
“RESPOND vs REACT” to Anxiety Surrounding COVID-19
By Dr. Shawn R. Scholten, Co-Director of Creative Living Center, Sioux & Lyon Counties’ Designated Mental Health Provider
Being anxious is one of many, natural human emotions. Yet, surrounding COVID-19, a large number of people are in an anxious state, experiencing heavy anxiety most of the time. There are also individuals who have more anxious personalities in general. God has wired these folks in this way, and that’s how they enter the world. In this Corona Virus situation, their anxiety has intensified.
Whether you’re reading this and have had some extra anxiety related to COVID-19, are in more of an on-going anxiety state, or were born with an anxious personality which has magnified in this time, there’s knowledge and tips to help you cope.
Certainly, it’s a time of rampant change for all. My favorite quote about change is, “Everyone’s in favor of change, as long as it doesn’t affect them!” That’s often change they’ve possibly voted for or helped to implement, and it can still be difficult. The changes seen in our world, country, state, and communities in the past couple of weeks, days, and even hours are huge and looming. Truly, it feels like a paradigm shift with much being surreal. Most everything in our daily lives and existence seems off its natural axis.
As human beings, we crave structure and certainty inside ourselves, which breeds security. As psychologist, Dr. Doreen Marshall, shares, “We are hard-wired to want to know what is happening when…” so we feel more solid and safe. Being prepared reduces anxiety as does a sense of power. In the ever-changing effects, impact, and realizations with COVID-19, we’ve had none of that. Not a lot is known about the Virus, how some of it’s popping up in places with seemingly no connection to pinpoint, no advanced preparation, no definitive cure, serious illness in some folks, and high fatality rates. Combined, this situation produces a bundle of anxiety.
It’s an unprecedented time, in terms of recent history, to draw upon to help us in this type of event of such a large magnitude. Then, add on some of the voluminous ripple effects that prompt more anxiety:
-Many whole or parts of stores, restaurants, businesses, and services closing at least temporarily, with the others doing a rapid switch to working from home or in some other technology-based way.
-Many schools, college, and universities suddenly moving to on-line learning for a sustained time.
-The big learning curve and little time with shifting to technology-based work, instruction, and learning.
-Loss of hours and jobs in cases.
-Financial and economic impact.
-Graduation requirements needing to be met for high school and college.
-Questions if proms; graduations; weddings; dream vacations; and special, long-planned-for events can occur in the future or need to be radically modified, postponed, or canceled.
Indeed, anxiety and stress are abundant. Anxiety is rooted in the future – what’s to come, what may or may not happen, anticipation, and the unknown. It’s much broader and deeper in this time with COVID-19.
Given the changes, unknowns, and resulting impact, coping ideas and skills are needed. The following are some thoughts and tools that may be useful:
-Consider what one has control over vs. what one does not have control over. There’s much related to this pandemic out of one’s control. Instead, concentrate on what one can control. For instance, follow practices of safe health standards like washing one’s hands often for 20 seconds with warm, soapy water; sneezing and coughing into a tissue and then throwing it away; eat nutritiously; stay hydrated; take vitamins; socially distance; practice good self-care; and place limits on how much news one watches or reads and only from reputable sources.
-“Knowledge reduces Anxiety.” Do some reading on COVID-10 from sound sources to decrease fear. Suggestions are the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
-Do what give you a sense of safety, which looks different for each person. For instance, one individual may be comfortable dashing in and out of a grocery store, while another may want to call in their order and drive up curbside to have it placed in their vehicle, where that’s available.
-Exercise some deep breathing to become more calm and centered.
-Go into nature and the outdoors. Fresh air is a natural disinfectant and sunshine has disinfecting qualities as well as being a source of Vitamin D. Walks, hikes, and exercise produce serotonin in the brain, known to positively aid one’s mood.
-Stay in the present. Focus on what is immediate and now. Engage all the senses. Use some grounding exercises, stemming from DBT’s Mindfulness Skill Set (Dialectical Behavior Therapy). Healthline.com also offers numerous grounding techniques for anxiety.
-Acknowledge and give oneself permission to feel anxious. Author, Dr. Brene Brown, has stated, “Try to be Scared without being Scary.” Being scared is honest and legitimate, yet one doesn’t need to excessively panicked and overrun with constant fret. Share your feelings, safely, with others; therein, you’ll receive some validation and identification, because, undoubtedly, others are feeling similarly in this trying time. This also reduces a sense of anxious aloneness.
-Stay connected with others. Fear and anxiety make one self-focused. Rather, seek to be other-focused in safe ways. Use electronics like computers, tablets, phones, messaging, texting, and other options to interact with others while at a distance.
-Prayer, Bible-reading, devotions, and meditation are very helpful. Ephesians 5:19, states, “Speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs…” My husband noted he’s been reflecting recently on the comforting words of the classic hymn, by Fanny Crosby, “All the Way my Savior Leads Me.” Personally, I’ve meditated on the Heidelberg Catechism’s Question and Answer 1: “What is your only comfort in life and death?” “That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ…”
-Use repetitive slogans or mantras. I often tell people, “RESPOND vs. REACT.” This phrase is so important when one is anxious. Take a step back, a deep breath, evaluate, and respond appropriately vs. offer a sudden, often impulsive, reaction, that usually isn’t grounded. The high-level hoarding that is displayed in some is an example of reacting. Other valuable phrases are: “ Faith over Fear;” “Prayer instead of Panic;” ” Peace” vs. Panic;” ”Worship (not corporate) vs. Worry”; and “Calmness can be Contagious.”
-Distraction through hobbies, interests, and activities that fit this season is valuable.
-Draw upon creativity to aid oneself and reach out to others. As this social distancing time lengthens, I’m seeing more and more creative endeavors, from folks ‘creating’ through new recipes in cooking/baking; wood-working; sewing and needlework; art; music; teacher parades; drive-by Easter egg hunts; and making contact with the elderly and home-bound through signs, pictures, and messages.
-Focus on simpler and old-fashioned activities to stay involved. Try puzzles, board games, cards, home-made bird feeding ventures, and ask grandparents and great-grandparents for activities they did when they were young, funds were low, and means were more limited.
As a whole and individually, people are resilient. The capacity for resiliency is already blooming forth in the midst of the changes, uncertainty, and anxiety. Recall what Corona Can’t Cancel:
-Corona Can’t Cancel Music
-Corona Can’t Cancel Reading
-Corona Can’t Cancel Art
-Corona Can’t Cancel Nature
-Corona Can’t Cancel Humor & Laughter
-Corona Can’t Cancel Conversation
-Corona Can’t Cancel Relationships
-Corona Can’t Cancel Self-Care
-Corona Can’t Cancel Faith & Hope
PANDEMIC HAS PRODUCED GRIEVERS OF ALL AGES
In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly descended on the United States, and curtains closed on many activities and much routine functioning. During that month, I was asked by host Piet Westerbeek to speak about the escalating anxiety in conjunction with the Coronavirus on the “Daily Grind” radio talk show on KSOU, which led to other radio and newsprint commentary throughout the spring. As a seasoned psychotherapist, prior to that program, I noted there would be many other mental health issues, including grief, depression, and social isolation, that would arise. Now, it’s August, and while there’s still anxiety associated with COVID-19, with variances on the population and personality spectrum, other mental health issues have dramatically increased.
As a grief expert, I’ve been struck, as never before, in how the COVID-19 pandemic has produced loss and grief across a far-reaching breadth and at a slicing depth for countless people of all ages. In teaching classes on grief, I often talk about how, generally, before one encounters the loss and grief connect to the death of a loved one or person of closeness, one may experience other losses, whether it be of a pet; those affiliated with a move such as loss of a house, business community, and school; job change and loss; loss with a divorce; and loss of possessions as with a natural disaster, including area flooding in recent years. Certainly, COVID-19 has expanded many of these ‘other’ losses, and children today, as well as adults, are all affected.
There are several specific types of grief, including anticipatory, delayed, inhibited, disenfranchised, and complicated, which could each be the focus of a future article. However, the latter two were the topics of only a couple seminars I virtually attended, related to grief and crises, in this pandemic.
Disenfranchised grief is a loss that may not be openly acknowledged or publicly mourned. There are many disenfranchised losses affiliated with the COVID-19 pandemic. One example is the loss of an assumptive world that is reasonably safe, predictable, and orderly. The Coronavirus has robbed these features from everyone and therein is loss. Non-death disenfranchised loss includes the loss of employment, under-employment, and changed employment as with home and virtual work. As a mental health therapist, and others who work with folks in a relational manner, we’ve had to move from being a ‘presence’ with people in their hurt to learning to be a ‘virtual presence.’
Further disenfranchised grief is the loss of the educational experience, as it was widely known, for students from pre-school to grade school to high school to college to graduate school and for the teachers and professors. There have been missed or altered activities from concerts, to sporting events, to state and higher-level opportunities for competition and honors, to proms, to class trips, and to graduations. Other losses related to collective gatherings have included church and worship services, special celebrations, and notable events. Weddings have been postponed, down-sized, or changed in many cases. Long-anticipated, once-in-a-lifetime vacations and annual ones to certain locales have been canceled or postponed. Grandparents haven’t been able to meet and hold precious and newborn grandchildren for an extended time. The elderly and those in group-living situations have generally been barred from in-person visitors, including family members, or the conditions have been restricted, which is highly difficult. The list could go on ad infinitum.
Complicated grief involves more time or intensity in grief symptoms or with possible impairment in important areas of functioning. During the pandemic, complicated grief is more likely in the deaths due to the Coronavirus, as they are often unexpected, sudden, and with little or no visits due to the contagious nature. Survivor guilt and wonderment about death causation guilt, again, related to the contagious nature of the disease, also are part of grief complications.
Grief also becomes complicated in Non-COVID-19 deaths. Similarly, the lack of personal presence with the dying is a factor. The lack of or changed nature of funerals and funeral-related rituals are also factors in both kinds of deaths. I’ve termed this the ‘loss embedded in loss;’ it’s very challenging. Anger, including cosmic, can be a grief complication. Prolific grief author and speaker, Rev. Dr. Ken Doka noted this kind of complicated grief is similar to that which occurred during 9-11. In his own experience, his aunt died in that timeframe, and during the service the priest stated that ‘at least it was not one of those tragic deaths,’ with Rev. Dr. Doka presiding over the graveside, correcting it, by stating, ‘it was tragic for our family,’ which was greatly appreciated by the members. Further, medical workers, in both kinds of deaths, can experience their own complicated grief as they’ve often bonded more closely with the patients due to the circumstances of little to no visiting by outside family members or friends. Additionally, the non-death losses are often disenfranchised and can be factors in complicated grief.
What can be done to enfranchise the COVID-19 griefs? The first point is to make it real, whether by oneself or others; acknowledge it for the difficulty it holds. Name it. Give validation. Become educated about the grief, as in reading this article, as well as viewing pertinent videos. Be sensitive to the loss, whether it’s your own or that of another. Offer and receive virtual support, including mental health and spiritual. Rev. Dr. Doka speak of ‘meaning making’ in loss and grief, which is significant with the COVID-19 pandemic. An example may be the greater intimacy and personalization of some special events that have had to be pared down.
The COVID-19 pandemic is revealing wide and deep grief, yet strengthening is occurring by reaching outward and inward. As author, Ernest Hemingway, stated, in A Farewell to Arms, “The world breaks everyone and afterward, many are stronger at these broken places.”
Dr. Shawn Scholten is a seasoned, Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Co-Director of Creative Living Center, Lyon & Sioux County’s Designated Mental Health Provider.