The Covid-19 pandemic is exacerbating the already existing mental health crisis in America. It has an effect on all of us but can be particularly troublesome for those that suffer from anxiety and depression – especially our children.
As parents we are dealing with our own challenges: out of work, working from home, pay cuts, uncertainty and fear. Our kid’s problems may seem minor in comparison but to them, their worlds may feel like they are collapsing. They have no control or understanding of what comes next.
They can’t go to school. Even though they used to complain about going, this is actually where their friends were, this was their escape. They lost their routine. Even though you had to fight them to do their homework, classes and homework were a routine they needed.
They can’t go see their friends. Even if they spent all their time in their rooms, the idea of not being able to go out makes them feel trapped.
Graduations around the world have been cancelled. This is the culmination of their young lives and it has been taken away.
I get it: in the grand scheme of things, none of these issues are as big as what other people deal with, maybe even what you are dealing with. It is easy enough to shrug it off and say, “go read Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning and you will see what true suffering is.” But what we need to remember is to some – not all but some – this is the worst thing that can happen to them.
During this time, it is critical that we don’t diminish problems others are facing – no matter how big or small – and support the mental health of our children and friends. Here are 11 tips (because every great list should go to 11) for taking care of your kids and your mental health during these times.
Get the blood flowing! Even in a small space, you can run in place, do burpees, pushups, jumping jacks, etc… Breaking a sweat for 30 minutes a day will change your mindset.
2) Get Creative
Challenge yourself and your family to find something creative to do: draw, paint, color, write a song, write an article, play an instrument, it doesn’t have to be perfect! Creativity breeds positive thinking, keeping lonely minds active and focused.
3) Eat Right
Limit the amount of sugar and processed foods you and your family are eating. There is a scientific connection between our gut health and our mental health.
4) Find a Routine
We have all lost our routines, so we need to create new ones. Whether you have conversations every day over your morning coffee or tea, established family meals at the same time each day, or activities like family yoga, walks, game or movie nights, they all work and are important for your mental health. We all need something to look forward to each day!
5) Educate Yourself
With so many educational tools and materials available online right now, the world of academia is your oyster. Challenge yourself and your kids to learn something new. How about starting with Yale University’s happiness course? It’s free!
Bring back your inner child and just play. Build a fort out of blankets or grab that old bucket of Legos, walk into your teen’s room, empty it on the floor and challenge them to build something cool with you. You may be amazed at what happens.
Laughter is the best medicine. Whether it’s watching a funny movie, telling a joke or reading memes together on Facebook – laughter changes your mood and outlook on life.
8) Cook a Meal Together
The key to a good honest conversation is to sometimes let yourself be distracted by an activity. Cooking a meal together is a great way to spend some quality time together and still have a great talk.
9) The Half Hour of Venting
We are all living inside of a pressure cooker; occasionally you need to let off a little steam. According to Dr. Mark Ghoulston, many families are creating a half hour of venting from 5:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Everyone is allowed to yell at the top of their lungs (not at each other) about how much they dislike their current situation. It’s amazing how much better everyone feels and how much they laugh afterwards!
10) Use Video Conferencing Technology
Encourage your kids to organize group social events via Zoom or other technologies so that they can see their friends and family face to face. It’s not perfect but it’s so much more personable than a text or phone call.
11) Hug The Ones You Are With
The proper amount of hugs for kids is 12 a day. That’s right, TWELVE hugs a day. The longer the better, the ideal time is 20 seconds. A nice long consensual hug releases oxytocin which relaxes us and lowers anxiety.
Hug the ones you are quarantined with.
Jason Reid is the founder of Chooselife.org, an organization focused on ending teen suicide by 2030.