2020 will be a year to remember for sure. Nothing about it seems normal. Many people have commented, “I just keep pinching myself thinking I’ll wake up and this nightmare will be over.” Living through a pandemic can take its toll on everyone, impacting you physically and mentally. As you continue to navigate through these times, there are ways you can be intentional about protecting your family’s mental health.

For starters, it’s important to continually remind ourselves that we’re going through something that’s very unusual. We’re all living in a heightened state of anxiety and stress that impacts our mental and physical health. Life as we once knew it has been disrupted.

Just when families felt like they were gaining the upper hand on a sense of normalcy, schools reopened. Now families are having to regain their footing when it comes to routines, rituals, and structure, too. In times of high anxiety and stress, the consistency of routines and structure are soothing to everyone. 

Make your home a peaceful place—a refuge from all the craziness going on in the world. Spend some time thinking about things you can do to create calm. Play calming music, light a lavender candle and let the sunlight in. Encourage your children to find a comfy spot where they can read or play with their toys.

Be self-aware. Your children are like sponges. Whether you notice it or not, they’re watching your every move, your facial expressions and even listening to your conversations that don’t include them. They’re quick to pick up and take on your stress and anxiety. Have adult conversations out of the hearing range of your children. Be proactive in dealing with your emotions.

Be open and intentional about having conversations about Coronavirus and other things that are going on in the world. Ask your children to tell you what they know or have heard. Use their information as a platform to affirm accurate information and correct inaccurate details. Assure them that your job is to make sure they are cared for and protected and you are doing that.

Exercise, getting enough rest and eating right are three essentials for protecting your family’s mental health. This is like the trifecta right here! Walk as a family and insist that people getting the rest they need. Involve everyone in creating fun, healthy meals.

Limit the amount of time you and your family members watch the news. This one action can dramatically decrease the anxiety, stress, anger, fear and drama in your home. Mentally and emotionally, our brains and bodies aren’t meant to live in a constant state of stress, but that’s exactly what happens when we watch news nonstop.

Think of ways you can be helpful to others. During difficult times, it’s easy to become focused on yourself and all that’s wrong with the world. A great way to combat this as a family is to look for ways to help others. Deliver food, do yard work, run errands, bake bread or cookies and share them with your neighbors. (Let your kids do a ring and run when they deliver. It can be your secret!)

Make play a priority. Seriously. Play releases all the feel-good hormones that promote an overall sense of well-being. Heaven knows we could all use a triple dose of that right now. Ride bikes, go for a hike, play hide and seek, tag, kick the can, four square, hopscotch, double dutch jump rope or any other active game you can think of. Just get moving!

Remind yourself and your family members: there is light at the end of the tunnel. This is hard and there are parts of dealing with life right now that are not fun, but together as a family, you can do hard things. When one person’s having a hard day, other family members can be encouraging and affirming to help them get through it. Being in healthy relationship with each other is one of the best ways to protect your family’s mental health.

When parents model and lead out using these strategies, it teaches children how to navigate through hard times in healthy ways. It shows you believe they have what it takes to keep going even when things get really challenging. This builds self-confidence and helps them learn how to think and be creative in the midst of change. 

A side note: if you feel like members of your family aren’t handling all that is going on well, don’t hesitate to seek help. Talk with their pediatrician and/or a counselor to seek guidance on other ways you can help them.

If you or someone you know is struggling and you need immediate assistance, you can find 24-hour help here:

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Hotline: 800-662-HELP (4357)

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255)

Photo by Elly Fairytale from Pexels

Nobody would or could have predicted in January what all of us have experienced the last six months. For many of us, the past six months have been an unpredictable time. The government mandates to quarantine in our homes stopped our lives right in their tracks. We were unable to go to work, to school, or to attend events. In the beginning, we didn’t know what to do or how to react. We were juggling work and school and family and everything… at home. Eventually, we created a new normal; we slowed down due to a mandated lifestyle change. We didn’t have the pressure to go everywhere and to say “yes” to every invitation because no one was going anywhere or extending invitations.

Many of us discovered that our marriages and families actually benefited from the forced break in the chaos. We ate meals together. We had movie nights and game nights. And we sat and talked. We also discovered that we didn’t miss the hectic schedules we’d been keeping—always in a rush to get to the next thing.

Now things have opened back up, including schools, restaurants, amusement parks, and entertainment centers. Our kids have school events, practices, and games for little league football or soccer. We now find ourselves back on the hamster wheel of busyness. Why? 

Why are we…

Choosing to say yes when we really want to say no?

Overloading our schedules and those of our children?

No longer having family dinner nights, family movie nights, and participating in fun family activities?

What is driving us back to the busyness? 

Getting back to “Normal”

For many of us, continuing to deal with the pandemic into the fall was not on our minds. We naively said, “When things get back to normal,” and never took the time to look at what our “normal’” was. We just wanted out of quarantine and wanted “our lives back.” Now, you have the opportunity to choose what “normal” looks like for your family. You can prioritize what is most important to your family. Yes, your children can participate in sporting, community, or artistic activities. But do they have to do them ALL AT THE SAME TIME? Maybe your normal can incorporate some of the family activities you did during the shutdown like family meals together or family movie night.

Opportunities For Children 

Your child being involved in activities does teach them skills like accountability, responsibility, teamwork, and patience. I’ve experienced the pressure of making sure my children are exposed to and experience a variety of opportunities to assist them with their future. However, you get to decide how much is enough and what is too much for your family. Additionally, you can discuss with your child the activities that hold the most importance to them. In our case, my sons chose to focus on music rather than athletics. As a result, we were able to be more intentional in how we invested our time, energy, and resources. Having that conversation and respecting their decision has served them and our family well

Full Schedule Means Value

You have heard that old saying, “Idle hands are…” For many, the desire to prevent idleness has created an environment of busyness. We may feel important when we have a busy schedule. Internally, we feel valued as a resource for our community. However, the trade-off for saying “yes” may include: disconnecting from family, exhaustion from keeping up with the schedule, or even a lackluster job because you really didn’t want to do it. Is it worth it?

Let Go And Move Forward

It may seem to many that we’ve missed out on a lot during this pandemic. Birthday celebrations, summer trips, family gatherings are just a few examples. Now that things have opened up, you and your family are making an effort to make up for what you all missed. Unfortunately, you can’t get that time back. What you can do is make a conscious choice to do what’s in the best interest of your family. You can move forward and think strategically about your family and the activities that best serve you.

Before you get all the way back to the ultra-busyness that was your life pre-COVID, now’s the time for you to have a family meeting so you can create a plan that reflects your family’s priorities

Photo by Caleb Oquendo from Pexels

It’s day 195ish, but it feels like forever since COVID-19 and quarantine first rocked everybody’s world. Instead of things clearing up and people going on about their lives, life seems to be getting harder. For many, most days feel like slogging through thick fog and it’s really hard to see the road ahead. 

Perhaps you or someone you know is really struggling at the moment, wondering if the sadness is due to all that has happened or if something bigger is going on like depression or some other mental health issue.

First, let me just say, you’re not alone! We’re living in a moment in time where everything—marriage, parenting, work, socializing with friends, even the most normal things—seem more difficult than they should be for many people.

Second, regardless of whether you or someone you care about is sad or dealing with something else, the good news is, help is available.

Sad? Depressed? How do you know the difference?

Glad you asked!

Feeling sad and down about things like job loss, finances, marital issues, a child giving you a run for your money, or a breakup is normal for a period of time. But, when you:

  • Can’t seem to shake those feelings and you begin to feel hopeless and desperate; 
  • It feels impossible to think clearly; 
  • Making a decision seems out of your reach;
  • Work is consistently challenging;
  • Things that used to bring you joy in life don’t anymore; 
  • Food doesn’t interest you or you are eating way more than normal; and 
  • You’re either not sleeping enough or you are sleeping all the time and still feel like you don’t get enough rest.

These are like blinking caution lights warning you something is not right. There are some things you might be able to do to help move you to a different place, though.

Here Are 5 Ways to Work Through Depression

1. Surround yourself with a supportive group of friends.

Not necessarily people who are experiencing the same thing you are, but people who seem to be mentally and emotionally healthy right now. Ask them to walk this road with you and help hold you accountable for changes you’re trying to make.

2. Create a new bedtime routine.

Lying in bed watching television or scrolling through social media doesn’t count as rest. Stop all screen time at least an hour before you plan to get some shut-eye. If silence makes it hard for you to sleep, download a white noise app or purchase a white noise machine. Maybe you could try a simple fan in your room. Don’t use your bed for anything other than sleeping… and well, those things that you typically do in bed (like sex). Otherwise, keep your bedroom as kind of a safe place where your body knows it’s time to relax and rest. 

3. Get moving.

Exercise has been shown to be one of the BEST ways to combat depression. According to the Mayo Clinic, regular exercise releases feel-good hormones that can make you feel better about yourself. It also can help you get out of the negative thought cycle that feeds depression. Exercising on the regular can give you more confidence, it’s something you can do with others and it is a super positive way to cope with and manage depression. Don’t forget, being outside, getting enough vitamin D, drinking plenty of water, and fueling your body with healthy foods are all powerful weapons for fighting depression. 

4. Pay attention to how much news and negative information you take in every day. 

Remember, the motto for the newsroom is, “If it leads, it bleeds.” Their whole goal is to be sensational to draw you in. The more you are drawn in, the more it will affect you. It’s a vicious cycle. Your brain doesn’t know it’s the fifth time you’ve seen information about the plane crash, murder, latest political blunder, or car wreck. All of this impacts you mentally and physically whether you realize it or not. Put a time limit on how much news you watch. The same applies to social media.

5. Eliminate as much stress as possible.

Think through all you have on your plate. Is there anything you can let go of for a while to reduce the stress in your life? If you can’t let go of certain activities, can you ask others to help you? 

In addition to doing all of these things, be bold and ask for professional help. Plenty of counselors are providing telecounseling and Zoom sessions right now. If you don’t know where to look for help, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration hotline is 1-800-662-4357. 

If you’re worried about someone you care about, don’t be afraid to step up and say, “I see you. How can I help?” Guiding them through all the above is a great place to start if they’re open to your support. 

Photo by Inzmam Khan from Pexels

The nip of fall is in the air, which means Halloween and fall festivals should be right around the corner. Sadly though, this year may look very different. Some festivals have been put on hold and many parents are uncomfortable with trick or treating. If you’re looking for fun ways to celebrate Halloween that don’t involve trick or treating, you’ve come to the right place!

Here are seven ways you and your family can celebrate Halloween without feeling like you’re missing out.

  • Make your own costumes and take family photos. Have some fun prizes for the most creative, out-of-this-world, colorful, funniest, scariest, and judge’s choice. Let the entire family vote on the costumes.
  • Create a Halloween-themed scavenger or treasure hunt that involves candy in all the places where they actually find the “treasured item.” This can involve making fun clues. They could do the hunt individually or as a team.
  • Host a neighborhood Halloween Costume Parade for adults and kids. Families can walk or bike together while social distancing. You could even pool your candy and make bags ahead of time to hand out at the end of the parade. (The upside to this is you don’t have too much of a sugar high for the kids. The downside is there isn’t enough candy for the parents to steal. Just sayin’…) 
  • Have a pumpkin-painting contest. Let everybody choose their own pumpkin and give them a set amount of time to decorate it. You may or may not want to limit the materials they use. Categories could include: scariest, silliest, most unusual, most original, best use of materials, best traditional, most unique shape and most adorable. Winners could get candy, gift cards or some other fun prize.
  • Build a fire and roast S’mores. No fall celebration is complete without a bonfire and roasting marshmallows for S’mores. While you’re eating S’mores, play Build a Story. Here’s how: one family member starts the story with a sentence and the next person adds a sentence to build onto the first one. See how long you can keep it going. If you want to get really creative, build the story around a theme like Halloween, fall or some other topic.
  • Plan a Halloween menu and be creative. Let your kids help you come up with Halloweenish goodies. Think eyeball cookies, deviled egg spiders, gummy worm ice cubes, pumpkin-face cuties, “finger” foods, etc. (You get the picture.) Then have a Halloween/Fall party or meal with your family.
  • Play Minute to Win It or other friendly “competition” games. We all know trick or treating involves getting the “good” candy you love (YES, please). But, you also get the “blah” kind you’ll still have to hand out next Halloween. Buy everybody’s favorite candies instead! Then give them as prizes to the winners from the different Minute to Win It games.

No doubt this year will be different in a number of ways. Although many are choosing not to have corn mazes, fall festivals, trunk or treats and trick or treating, it doesn’t have to be disappointing for you and the kids. Launching off of these ideas and some of your own family traditions, there’s lots of fun to be had for sure!

Thanks to Frank Luca for sharing their work on Unsplash.

B.C. (Before COVID) plenty of us lived life at a frenetic pace and had resigned ourselves that it would always be that way. Fast forward to COVID lockdown and a forced stop. We actually had room to breathe in our lives whether we liked it or not. Being forced to taste the simple life for a few months reminded a lot of us how much we actually longed for a less frenzied existence. With things opening back up, some folks are trying to figure out how to keep a little bit of that margin in their life.

Maybe right now you’re already missing your quarantine life. Perhaps you’re finding that, once again, you don’t have time to do the things you want to do. If this is true for you, you don’t have to settle. 

Here are five simple things that can help you reclaim or keep margin in your life moving forward.

1. Decide what you don’t want to pick back up.

Make a list of all the things you and your family were participating in B.C. Decide now what you’re not willing to add back into your schedule. Making the decision ahead of time will make it easier to say no as opportunities arise. Think of it as being proactive instead of reactive when it comes to knowing what your priorities are and sticking to them even under pressure. This will require you to keep your guard up so you can recognize when something is encroaching on the boundaries you’ve set.

2. Schedule quiet time just like you would schedule any other appointment.

It’s that important. Living life in a whirlwind leaves you feeling empty and exhausted, not to mention a hot mess when it comes to relating with the ones you love. Whether it’s early in the morning, the middle of your day or right before you go to bed, taking a few minutes to reflect can make a world of difference in how you go through your day. It can also impact how you rest at night. 

3. Intentionally insert 15-30 minute breaks throughout the day to breathe and be mindful.

Avoid the temptation to schedule yourself back to back in order to make the most of every waking minute. Take a walk, do some deep breathing or light a candle. Enjoy a cup of tea or coffee, listen to calming music, read, or do something else that will allow you to take a break from the chaos. Inserting buffer zones into your day will actually give you energy and help you be more creative. Plus, it’ll make you more effective and present with the ones you love. 

You might find it helpful to literally block out times on your schedule for this. Blocking the time off can lessen the temptation to put something in that time period because it isn’t available. If you are a high energy person who likes to be productive, this may feel like time wasted. Here’s a challenge for you, though. Try this for a whole month. Then assess your energy level, what you have been able to accomplish and the state of your relationships. You might be pleasantly surprised at the results. Just sayin’.

4. Limit your social media intake.

This is a time vacuum and we all know it. It robs us of time with our kids, spouse and friends. If you don’t believe it, the next time you jump on social media “for just a minute,” time yourself. See how long you end up scrolling to see what everybody else is doing. Limiting your time on social media will give you some margin to live your own life and pay attention to the ones you love and your own needs. (And if others have your full attention, you won’t be distracted and miss something important!)

5. Create transitions and hard stops.

There is something to be said for the impact of routines and rituals when it comes to incorporating margin into our lives. Intentional transitions help your brain know the difference between work, play and rest. If possible, have set start and stop times for work, time with family and friends, and time to take care of yourself. 

It can be helpful to prepare for the next day before you go to bed each night, too. Go over your to-do list, decide what you will wear for work (even if you are working from home) and other activities, take a look at the schedule, plan meals, etc. For example, the act of preparing to be in work mode helps your brain know you are making a transition. At the end of your work day, changing into “play” clothes is another transition that tells your brain it is doing something different. It’s a physical exercise that mentally prepares you for being fully present.

As one who has struggled with margin in life, I can tell you it’s very easy to fall back into old habits. Don’t beat yourself up. It happens. The best way forward is to remind yourself of your goal, identify where the breach happened and keep moving ahead.

Photo by Thought Catalog from Pexels

Do you feel like you’re at your wit’s end?

Are you tired of juggling home, work, and school?

Do you look at others and they seem to have it all together while you can’t figure it out?

If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, you’re not alone. You may have finally gotten your schedules synchronized for the summer. Now it’s time for a “new normal” back to school. There are so many different scenarios around going to school this year. Nevertheless, having a plan containing structure as well as flexibility can keep you from jumping off the deep end.

Here are some strategies to help you keep your head above water as you handle virtual school while working.  

1. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate.

Over-communicate with the people in your life. Be clear and concise in your communication. Find out what is the best way to reach out to your child’s school/teacher (phone call, text, email, Class Dojo, etc.). Talk with your children. See how they are feeling about going back to school or having to attend school virtually. Have an honest conversation with your supervisor in order for them to be aware of your situation. With your spouse, articulate what you need and how you need them to assist the family during this time. For example: I need your help with the shopping or I need you to handle homework with the kids. In order to stay on track, have a weekly family meeting to plan for and discuss your schedules, activities, and meals for the upcoming week. 

2. Have Realistic Expectations.

The word, “unprecedented,” has been used many, many times to describe what we are experiencing. Our lives are not the way they were in the past. As a result, having realistic expectations of yourself and your family can minimize stress. Your spouse may not wash dishes or clothes the way you do, and that’s okay. Recognize the tasks of washing the dishes and/or clothes that are done. Even better, you didn’t have to do them

3. It’s Okay To Ask For Help.

Now is the time to lean on friends and family. Right now, families, in conjunction with friends, are creating educational co-ops. (Especially if the children are doing school virtually.) It allows families to rotate where the kids are week by week. You may have them this week, and they are with another family next week. Some families are enlisting grandparents to help with transportation to and from school or activities. You may consider hiring a family helper who will watch the kids after school, help with homework, and/or take them to afternoon activities. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength

4. Create A Schedule.

It is important to plan and prepare while also being open and flexible. Items you should consider including in your planning: child’s daily drop off and pick up times, time to sign in to class virtually, virtual daily class schedule, your work hours (any mandatory and/or scheduled meetings), lunch break, as well as your spouse’s work schedule (including meetings), meals planned for the week, extracurricular activities, and family time.

5. Be Mindful Of Your Stress Level.

Recognize the importance of managing your stress levels. Stress, whether it comes from work, parenting, or everyday life, can have negative effects on your mood and immune system. Seek ways to moderate your stress. These may include finding time for you to exercise (a walk in the park, a bike ride), getting the right amount of sleep, and eating a well-balanced diet. Utilizing your friends and family as support for you and your family also can minimize stress

In your wildest dreams, you probably never considered you would have to handle virtual school while being a working parent. Being productive during this season means using all the tools you have at your disposal (friends, family, co-workers, any additional resources). If this time has taught us anything, it is “we are better together.

Image from AdobeStock.com

Managing virtual school in addition to being a working parent feels overwhelming on the best days and insurmountable on the worst days. But what if merging the two can strengthen your family and provide other benefits, too?

Many parents find themselves in a position they didn’t actually apply for and never anticipated. Now they are struggling to figure out how they’ll handle all the job requirements. It’s a new position morphing parenting, teaching and employee all into one. Talk about a varied job description that for sure includes all other duties as assigned!

Believe it or not, you can not only make this work, but you also have the opportunity to strengthen your family in the process. And, part of what will help you is putting your work skills to good use at home. 

Ditching the guilt and giving family members permission to make mistakes can be empowering to everyone.

As you begin this process, it will be important to let go of any guilt you may feel as you navigate all you have to do. It’s not your friend and won’t help you accomplish anything at all. These are uncharted waters. You’re giving it your best shot. It’s highly likely you’ll need to make adjustments as you get further down the road. This will decrease your anxiety and stress level, which will likely help you have more patience and strengthen your relationship with each other. 

Putting together a schedule decreases chaos, increases communication and fosters cooperation among family members.

Families do better when they have a general idea of what’s coming next. In this age of total uncertainty outside our homes, you can create some certainty in your home by setting a schedule based on your work requirements, your spouse’s work requirements (if you’re married) and your child’s school schedule. Knowing what is coming next and what to expect can help reduce drama and tension in your family. It doesn’t have to be the exact same schedule every day, but there does need to be some consistency because children thrive on that. Write your weekly schedule on poster board and put it where everybody can see it. Take time at the beginning of each week to go over the schedule. It might also help to review it each day over breakfast so everybody remembers the plan for the day and can speak into changes that need to take place. 

If your children are younger, color code the schedule and talk about what the colors mean. Maybe Red means don’t interrupt mom/dad unless it’s an emergency. Orange could mean exercise for everybody. Green may mean you will be with them to help with whatever. You may want to give older kids a notepad to write down questions that come up when you aren’t available. This will help them remember what they needed help with and allow them to keep going or work on something else until you are free.

By doing this, you’re helping your child build confidence, learn self-discipline, and figure out how to work independently. You’re also providing security by making sure they have what they need, setting boundaries and being available.

Controlling your mindset when things aren’t going the way you expect them to teaches your children resilience and that together, families can do hard things.

Your children will follow your lead. If you’re looking at these days as an adventure and an opportunity to work together as a family to figure it out, just the process of working together and being positive about it will help strengthen your family bond. It isn’t that you don’t have concerns or don’t grasp the significance of all that’s happening, it’s that you manage the concerns together and don’t let them take up residence in your head.

Putting your support system to work teaches children it is okay to ask for help.

Even in the midst of COVID-19, it’s possible and quite frankly necessary to deploy your support system. This is one of the most powerful ways you can strengthen your family in the midst of virtual school and work. Knowing that family members and friends are there for each other and that others are willing to help share the load gives you time to catch your breath, sit in silence or do whatever you need to do to refresh and replenish your energy. When our kids see us taking care of ourselves, they experience us being less irritable and tense. We’re also better able to handle whatever comes our way. Families function better when they don’t feel like they have to walk around on egg shells for fear someone might explode. There is a peace and calm that brings security to the relationship. 

If you don’t currently have a support system, work to put one together. Some parents are dividing up responsibilities at home and working with other families who are in the same situation to make things work. If that’s completely out of the question, try to include times in your new schedule where everybody does a chore or goes to their room/favorite nook in your house for quiet time to read, nap or play quietly.

Celebrating the little things acknowledges what you can do when you work together as a team.

In the midst of all we are dealing with, getting through a single day is reason to celebrate. Turn on your favorite music and dance or create a family cheer that you do to signal the end of your work and school day and transition into the evening. In addition to celebrating as a family, find ways to celebrate as a couple and individually. You might be surprised at how energizing it is to acknowledge what is going right versus focusing on failures and missed opportunities.

If you’ve ever been through anything hard before, individually or as a couple, you know in the midst of it, it feels daunting and exhausting. You work together to come up with a plan. You continue to put one foot in front of the other while holding on tightly to ensure nobody gets left behind. Before you realize it, months will have gone by and you won’t be hanging on for dear life, but there will be a certain resolve and strength about you. The very thing you believed might do you in made you stronger and brought out the best in you.

With all of the negatives associated with COVID-19, there are some potential positives, too. One for sure could be that virtual school and working from home made your family stronger.

Should I take a gap year or go off to college during a pandemic? That’s the question for many students during COVID-19.

A recent survey found that 16% of high school seniors planned to take a gap year instead of heading off to college or taking classes online this fall. In a pandemic-free world, less than 3% of graduating seniors planned to take a gap year off.

Many parents may be experiencing mixed emotions at this moment. Some are relieved their teen decided to take some time off and are thankful that tuition isn’t due for the time being. Others have significant anxiety about what exactly will happen over the next 365 days. For some, it’s a little bit of both. It isn’t like normal job or volunteer opportunities students would typically do in a gap year are readily available. Plus, travel is certainly out of the question. 

It has been said that the best defense is a good offense. Taking a proactive approach to having your teen under your roof for an additional year (or just a semester) can help prevent unnecessary drama and tension in your home. You’ll definitely want to have clear discussions about boundaries and expectations if you want to avoid constant disagreements and resentment. Here are some thoughts to get you going.

Make time to talk about how they are doing.

A lot of young people are experiencing a ton of emotions about so many rites of passage not going as planned. Not going away to school is just one more thing to add to the list. Being supportive and allowing them to process their thoughts and feelings can help make space to move forward. Having those conversations can also help you see if they might be struggling. They may even need help managing anxiety or depression during this uncertain time.

Ask your son/daughter to come up with a plan for the year.

They should be able to clearly articulate their goals as well as how they plan to accomplish them. And, if their plan is going to require financial support or other resources from you, they need to be able to show you what those are.

The Edge Foundation encourages students taking a “COVID-constrained” gap year to consider incorporating some of the following suggestions from College Transitions and others into their plans:

Volunteer for a political cause or candidate.

2020 is an election year with many important national, state and local races. Students taking a gap year during the pandemic could make calls/assist with a candidate’s social media outreach from the safety of home. They could also volunteer to work the polls. Since so many older poll workers are needing to take a break due to COVID-19, the timing is perfect.

Get help from a mentor.

If students are unable to attend college in person, this could be a good time to tap into networks of those who can advise them about college and career goals. Global Citizen Year is one organization that helps students tap their parents’ networks or send emails asking leaders in fields of interest if they’re available for a 15-minute Zoom chat.

Take online, college-level courses.

There are plenty of good (and sometimes FREE) courses in virtually every area of study. These courses can help students explore and deepen their knowledge in their area of interest.

Do work for a community nonprofit.

Many local charities and nonprofits are facing staffing shortages to help serve community needs during this time of crisis. If this work involves working directly with people, students will need to follow public health guidelines about protecting themselves from exposure to the COVID-19 virus.

Work locally for an essential business.

Over 60% of American families have already experienced a reduction in income. Working while following CDC guidelines can help students earn and save money to help with future college expenses. 

Learn a foreign language online.

Using an online platform like Duolingo can help your young adult sharpen their foreign language skills. Learning another language can be useful in college and beyond! Bilingual individuals enjoy a greater array of opportunities. Plus, they make more money, on average, than their monolingual peers.

Make sure you’re on the same page when it comes to rules and expectations.

It’s not helpful to leave it to their imagination what you expect of them during this time away from school. Be clear about what treating your home with respect and observing your rules looks like. Especially in light of COVID-19, discuss your thoughts on having friends over, socializing with others and then coming back home. You’ll also want to talk about helping with chores and laundry, helping themselves to food whenever, any limitations on nighttime hours or activities, etc.

Do you have expectations of them financially?

Will they pay rent? Do you expect them to do certain things in exchange for living under your roof? This is particularly important for the development of their sense of responsibility and independence. It is also practical, as household expenses will certainly climb.

While your teen may not have actually transitioned out of the house yet, he/she most likely believes that in a non-COVID-19 world they would be out on their own and functioning more like an adult. This is totally normal. Their expectations for living at home during a gap year or semester may be very different from what you have in mind, though. Since they are still progressing through their transition to adulthood they may not consider how their actions impact everybody else. As their parent, you have a unique opportunity to help them navigate all of these things while they find their way. 

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2020 might be the year everyone wants to escape from and/or forget for so many reasons. This means we shouldn’t be surprised to learn that many of us are looking for ways to escape the pain and fear. One of the escapes that has seen a dramatic increase in use during the coronavirus pandemic is porn. 

A variety of sources report a 16 to 30% increase in use in the U.S. since March. India reports a 95% increase. Pornhub, the world’s largest pornography website, reported an 18% increase in users after making its premium content free for 30 days. 

To give you some perspective, check out these porn usage statistics from 2018 tabulated by Webroot Cybersecurity:

  • Every second, 28,258 users are watching pornography.
  • $3,075.64 is spent on porn every second on the internet.
  • 40 million Americans regularly visit porn sites.

Let those stats sink in for a second. Staggering to say the least.

Coronavirus and Porn

In a Psychology Today article, Dr. Justin Lehmiller explains that the coronavirus pandemic is affecting not just the amount and type of porn being produced. It’s also affecting how much porn people are consuming and what they’re searching for on major sites. According to Lehmiller, people are not just searching for porn, either. In one month’s time there were more than 9 million searches for coronavirus-related or pandemic porn, as in people wearing masks, surgical gloves and gowns engaging in sex.

He explains that porn searches are up, in part, because a lot of people are at home with more time on their hands than usual. But, he and other experts say there are other potential reasons for increased porn site visits. Some of those reasons include using sex as a coping mechanism for dealing with fear of disease and death, plus loneliness and the dramatic increase in experiencing anxiety, stress and negative emotions.

The Impact of Porn Addiction

So what about this “gift” that Pornhub has given to people, married, single or even teens, in the midst of COVID-19? The truth about porn is, most people don’t realize how pornography reaches out and grabs people. Research shows that when a person sees pornography, the brain releases endorphins that are 200 times more potent than morphine and more addictive than cocaine. They also give you an enormous false sense of well-being. Fight the New Drug likens it to eating junk food. It seems like it is really good and satisfies you in the moment. However, it actually leaves you wanting more and never feeling full.

Additionally, research consistently indicates that pornography use can hurt a couple’s relationship. This is especially true when one person is frequently viewing pornographic images online.

In an open letter discussing the dangers of porn, Drs. Julie and John Gottman argue that intimacy for couples is a source of connection and communication between two people. But when one person becomes accustomed to getting pleasure from porn, they are actually turning away from intimate interaction. Second, when watching pornography the user is in total control of the sexual experience, in contrast to normal sex in which people are sharing control. Thus a porn user may form the unrealistic expectation that sex will be under only one person’s control. Third, the porn user may expect that their partner will always be immediately ready for intercourse. Pornography can also lead to a decrease in relationship trust and a higher likelihood of affairs outside the relationship. 

Here are some red flags that may indicate your spouse is involved in this highly addictive activity.

  • Is their body language open and does he/she respond appropriately when you ask questions? Does your spouse look you in the eyes when he/she talks to you? One lie often leads to another. You may ask a simple question and get a very complicated answer or an answer that was different than the day before.
  • Does your spouse have appropriate boundaries? They seem to live in drama and chaos all the time. They may ask you to record yourself or take pictures of you getting out of the shower or at intimate moments. 
  • Does your spouse use lots of sexual humor and innuendos, even when the conversation has nothing to do with that subject?
  • Is your spouse preoccupied with sexual behaviors? Is he/she constantly wanting to push the boundaries and experiment sexually in ways that make you wonder where they got the idea from? 
  • Does he/she exhibit inappropriate anger? This anger appears to come from nowhere. For example, if you ask about household cash flow or what time they will be home, he/she explodes. 
  • Have they lost interest in you sexually? Or has their demand for sexual activity increased, although they seem to be “elsewhere” in the midst of sex? If so, sex at this point is not about intimacy. Instead, it’s about control and power and what he/she can get you to do. 
  • Do you seem to constantly have money problems? No matter how much money you have coming in, there just is never enough to cover the expenses.   

As a result of the coronavirus pandemic and people being quarantined, many have commented on how they really didn’t realize how much they really needed in-person, face-to-face experiences for their emotional wellbeing. The research is clear: while a person may be using porn as a coping mechanism, the thirst for it is insatiable. And it still leaves them feeling empty, unfulfilled and needing more.  

Helpful Resources

If you or someone you love is struggling with porn addiction, the Fight the New Drug and The Addiction Center sites may help you determine best next steps.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Weddings are time consuming, expensive, and stressful.

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During this class, you’ll cover topics like…

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Family. Have you ever wondered how you can share the same parents, grandparents, or even great-grandparents, a common bloodline, yet see things so differently and have so many different opinions? COVID-19 has highlighted the differences in belief systems, political views, economic status, and so many other issues that can lie within a single-family.

These differences can become polarizing, causing serious divisions and potentially irreparable damage to your family unit. You’re probably reading this because you’re aware that your family is at risk of ripping apart. And of course, you want to do everything you can to keep it together.

How can you keep COVID-19 opinions from tearing your family apart?

Call it Out. You may be the one who has to say, “I’m afraid that we’re going to allow this virus and our opinions on this virus to tear us apart.” You may have to ask, “All of the memories, experiences, love, and connectedness that we’ve shared as a family over the years, are we willing to throw it away because of our opinions about the virus? How do we make sure that doesn’t happen?

The awareness of the virus is infiltrating so many of our thoughts, plans, behaviors, and lifestyles. You may have to be the one who is intentional about shifting the focus to what it means to be a family. Family is the one place that you remain a part of despite the differences. So you learn how to thrive in the midst of difference. Bringing to everyone’s attention the need to be intentional about staying connected as a family in the midst of the virus can be powerful.

The family is bigger than one person. Don’t carry the weight of trying to control how others may or may not prioritize the family. No one person can carry the full weight of keeping the family together. Family means different things to different people even within the same family. Recognize what you can control. Leverage your influence to help your family see the bigger picture. 

Understand your need to be emotionally and mentally healthy. A healthy and secure you will have more influence than an unstable, insecure you. Your family may have helped you develop a sense of self. However, do not depend on your family for your entire sense of self. You can’t depend on your family’s acceptance and agreement to feel validated and complete. If you do, you can run the risk of trying to keep the family together out of fear or a personal need for fulfillment. 

Don’t invest energy trying to change the mind of others. A person convinced against their will is still of the same opinion. Let that sink in. Rarely do I see arguments and debates where someone actually changes their mind. I still haven’t heard of someone changing someone’s mind using social media. Often, the more we try, the more we can slip into trying to control others or lose control of ourselves.

Respect. Leading a conversation about what it means to respect one another can help the family set boundaries and be intentional about respecting one another’s thoughts, ideas, and opinions. Sometimes we can become so passionate about our position that we totally disrespect the position of others without even realizing it. As a family, having a clear understanding of what it means to respect one another’s differences can help family members coexist with the differing opinions.

Model healthy behavior. Be the one to talk less and listen more. Recognize that people are motivated by different things. Some have good motivations, and others not so good. Manage your emotions and be willing to try and understand your family. If you can help people feel heard, valued, and understood, then you’ve helped your family members know that they matter even if their opinions are different.

Acceptance of choices. Some family members are going to be extremely cautious and follow all of the CDC guidelines. Other family members may believe the virus isn’t a big deal and act accordingly. Some may feel like family members don’t care and are putting others at risk. Others may believe some are acting totally out of fear. A family is made up of individuals who have the freedom to think and feel whatever they choose. Give individuals the freedom to be who they are and you do what you need to do.

Make decisions based on what you know about the virus and your family members. This can be difficult because it may mean we don’t get to see certain people. When a person shows you who they are, believe them. There are conversations you may not need to have with family members because it always sparks animosity. Remember, everyone is learning how to live with COVID-19 in our world. Learning to live with differing opinions can take time.

Look for ways to show that you care about one another. Host virtual family game nights and Zoom family calls. Send one another care packages. Send messages of love and support. COVID-19 can have you so focused on what we can’t do that we forget what we can do

Set aside time to be intentional about spending time with one another and talk about other topics. This helps to remind you that the family is stronger and has more history than COVID-19. For example, celebrating birthdays. This has been a wild year! Instead of letting a birthday go by with just a card or phone call, consider celebrating virtually and making it a big deal because this year will be one for the books for sure! 

✭ Beliefs, opinions, and thoughts regarding COVID-19 dominate social media and news outlets. It hasn’t escaped family dinner tables and Zoom calls and it’s affecting everyone’s ability to show love and care to the ones we care the most about—family. This can cause fear, stress, loneliness, and anxiety. People develop their own expectations—some reasonable and some unrealistic. Family members will respond to change in different ways

You CAN’T control what family members say and do. You CAN focus on being your best self while at the same time working to care for and understand your family. As you model respect and value for each person, you can hope that the love and care you have for your family will help others see that the family is bigger than the virus.

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