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Cyberbullying has been a hot topic for years. But when all of us, young and old, were thrust in front of our screens due to COVID-19, the experts warned we could see an uptick in this behavior—especially among young people. 

Sure enough, we are six months into the pandemic and Google Trends is seeing an 80% increase in parents searching for help in dealing with cyberbullying. According to a Digital Trends piece that came out in April about Cyberbullying and Distance Learning, research indicated a 70% increase in cyberbullying among kids in the first weeks of social distancing. Statistics indicate that roughly 50%-60% of kids have been cyberbullied. 

Just so we are clear about what we are talking about, let’s define it. Cyberbullying is using any type of digital platform to scare, harass, shame, embarrass, hurt or threaten another person.

With everyone online right now, there are lots of easy targets and the stakes are high. Some kids are taking their own lives because of it, and many others are dealing with anxiety and depression as a result. If you know what to look for and have some precautions in place, you have a much better chance of intervening before the situation takes a tragic turn.

The big question is, what can parents do to address this problem?

If you notice a change in your child’s behavior or disposition, pay attention. Here is a list of 10 signs your child might be the victim of cyberbullying:

  • Appears nervous when receiving a text, instant message or email.
  • Seems uneasy about going to school or pretends to be ill
  • Unwillingness to share information about online activity
  • Abruptly shutting off or walking away from the computer mid-use
  • Withdrawing from friends and family in real life
  • Unexplained stomach aches or headaches
  • Trouble sleeping at night
  • Unexplained weight loss or gain
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts 

Now that summer is here, your kids don’t need to be on their screens as much. Deciding how much time you allow your children to use their screens and standing by it can be benefit the entire family. Screen Strong has a 7 Day ScreenStrong Challenge you might find helpful. Think of it as a seven-day cleanse for your entire family to help them kick off the summer.

Once you have completed the cleanse, set the tone for the rest of the summer. Have a family meeting about expectations moving forward when it comes to screen time. Parents say they struggle with this the most because it causes such a huge uproar in the home. 

Think of it like this. When you tell your child to hold your hand to cross the street and they throw themselves on the ground and pitch a fit because they don’t want to hold your hand, you don’t respond by saying, “Ok, you don’t have to hold my hand. Just be careful.” You get your child off the ground and tell them, “You are holding my hand. Period.” It doesn’t matter how big a tantrum they throw, you aren’t going to give in. Why? Because you know the street could be very dangerous. For older teens, it would be like putting them behind the steering wheel with no training and telling them to be careful.

Limits Are Important

Screens have a great place in this world. However, without limits or set expectations, they can negatively impact your children and the entire family for that matter. To create structure around screen usage, be very clear about what appropriate online behavior looks like and define cyberbullying for them. The goal is to create an environment where it is abundantly clear that cyberbullying will not be tolerated. It’s vital that you let them know what to do if they think they are being cyberbullied. Working through this together can strengthen your relationship, too.

Create a schedule of things your kids can do instead of being on their screens. For example, reading is one of the best things they can do to increase their vocabulary and build their imagination. Exercise, getting outside or even doing things inside to get their heart rate up and create some sweat can do wonders for decreasing stress and anxiety along with elevating their mood. Look for activities you can do together as a family. Find ways for your kids to meaningfully contribute to your family and the lives of others who may need help with things like mowing their lawn, weeding their gardens, walking the dog and such. First Things First has a 30 Day Family Activity Challenge you might find helpful.

It’s OK to Ask for Help.

If you do not see change in a positive direction, you may want to seek professional help to deal with this situation. Also, encourage your kids to talk with other trusted adults in their life besides you. Honestly, sometimes it’s just hard to talk with your parents about certain things.*

These are complicated times for sure. As parents, our role is to lead—even when our children don’t appreciate the direction and structure we are giving them. A child or teen’s ability to assess their wellbeing is extremely limited due to their prefrontal cortex not being developed. Instead of being intimidated when it comes to doing what you know is in your child’s best interest to help them thrive, let them know that you get how hard this time is and that you are for them. While they may act like they don’t care about being in relationship with you, don’t be fooled. Knowing that you care, love them unconditionally and are there to listen is powerful—and although they may not acknowledge it—rest assured, they notice.

*Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Hotline: 800-662-HELP (4357); National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255)

Something shifted overnight for me. At first, I scoffed at how absurd people were being about a silly virus. Then I began to feel a looming sense of dread, realizing that this was not something to take lightly. It was 3 months into my third pregnancy. I started questioning if that meant I was an immunocompromised at-risk person who would be more susceptible to COVID-19. And although I suddenly went from an apathetic state to a concerned and informed citizen, I still had no clue what it all meant. Or how it would actually affect all of our lives in such a drastic way. If I’m being honest, I still didn’t worry too much about being pregnant during a pandemic. That’s because I thought it would blow over in a month, or, at the most, by the time I gave birth. 

But being in the middle of a pandemic rapidly changed the landscape in which I conducted my life and consequently my third pregnancy. Ya know, they say each pregnancy is different, but now that I’m 6 months pregnant and COVID-19 isn’t going away anytime soon… I’d say this one is taking the cake. But just because this pregnancy is DIFFERENT, doesn’t mean it has to be DISASTROUS. I am realizing that finding the positives in pregnancy during a pandemic is ALL about shifting my perspective.

My prenatal workout class went from an amazing escape every Monday night, connecting with other pregnant mamas and getting an hour break from all the responsibilities of having two kids and a full-time job to a virtual Zoom session from home. And it’s quite the struggle to find a quiet space to exercise without my kids literally jumping on my back or bumping into me. attempting to do the moves alongside me.

UPSIDE: The kids are kinda cute when they try to do the workout moves. I still get to check in with other mamas, and working up a sweat contributes to a healthy pregnancy! (Also having my girls see me working out models good healthy habits for them!) 

Prenatal doctor appointments (specifically the 20-week Anatomy Scan) changed drastically. It went from a much-anticipated appointment where my husband would attend and we’d find out the gender together to an extremely lonely experience. I wore a mask, sat in an almost empty waiting room, and saw a skeleton crew of healthcare employees. I recorded the ultrasound to show my husband when I got home since spouses were (and currently are) not allowed to attend any appointments.

UPSIDE: I have a video of the ultrasound, which would otherwise not be allowed. And really, I’m thankful for the healthcare workers taking extra precautions to ensure the safety of their patients… even if it means I had to be alone for such a significant moment. 

Big announcements like gender reveals changed, too (because yes, gender reveal parties are still a thing)! We went from all our friends and family gathering around a big box filled with balloons that we would let free at just the right moment to yet another virtual Zoom session. Among only our closest friends and family, I let Jackie, my 4-year-old daughter, do the honors of announcing we’d be adding ANOTHER girl to the mix! 

UPSIDE: Having a special intimate announcement that I was able to record was priceless. And I saved a ton of money on balloons, food, and decorations. Just sayin’.  

Documenting my pregnancy went from a variety of social events where we would naturally take photos to trying to remember what day of quarantine it was and finding a split-second where the stars aligned (aka the weather was good, makeup and outfit were put on and I had my fancy camera on hand) to get a good picture to document my growing baby bump. 

UPSIDE: The photos that I do get will be that much more precious. And, the captions I write with them will give tremendous insight into this unprecedented time in history for future generations.  

The pregnancy attention went from the normal socially appropriate, “You’re glowing!” or “You don’t even look pregnant from behind, it’s all belly!” to crickets. Honestly, some days I think people forget I’m pregnant. They usually only see me from my shoulders up on video calls or FaceTime. If not for my intentional picture-taking that gets posted on social media, I probably would surprise everyone when I resurface from this quarantine to reveal a brand new baby! 

UPSIDE: The socially inappropriate comments have stopped, too! I don’t have strangers trying to touch my belly. I don’t have awkward co-worker conversations about whether I will be breastfeeding, either. And people don’t exclaim, “Are you SURE you’re not having twins?!” (All these things have most definitely happened in previous pregnancies.) 

These are but a handful of ways this pandemic has reshaped this pregnancy. I could choose to dwell on the overarching climate of fear, anxiety, worry, and confusion that only increases my stress. OR, I can focus on finding the upside in every situation. It’s not easy, but it’s necessary for the health of me and my baby girl. So, today, I’m choosing to be thankful. Yes, I recognize the downsides, the difficulties, and the disasters happening around me. However, I’m choosing to be positive, no matter what. 

First, the world shut down. It was inevitable as COVID-19 was spreading. But you weren’t sure how you’d handle it. Work, school, health, friends, jobs, money. There was so much uncertainty.

Then, at some point, you settled. You recognized what you could control. You started making the best of it and even realized that it wasn’t so bad. Who are we kidding? You were surprised at how much you were enjoying it. Slower pace. Family time has been fun time. Meaningful conversations with friends. You found your routine

You noticed the anxiety level in your home decrease. Not because of the absence of issues. Jobs aren’t all steady. Health concerns are everywhere. There’s lots of unrest in America right now. But the slower pace, the presence of the people you care most about, the ability to connect with family and friends, even if they are virtual connections, has helped you to live and process life in real time. 

During pre-quarantine days, many of us were moving so fast that we were simply going through the motions of life, but weren’t processing all that we were experiencing.  We had become accustomed to our way of doing life and never considered alternatives. And now the world is ready to open up and you’re not sure you’re ready to give up the benefits of this new lifestyle. So what do you do?

If You Aren’t Ready, Try These Things

  1. Accept: Just like we accepted the shelter-in-place orders and the fact that COVID-19 was spreading. We must accept that the world can’t stay shut down forever.
  2. Identify your fears: This could be anything from COVID-19 to busyness. You may be scared of losing the deep connections you’ve formed. The return of stress, anxiety, perpetual activity. Loneliness
  3. Name what you don’t want to lose: Family time, slower pace, meaningful conversations, quiet time, game/movie nights, time for mindfulness, and self-care.
  4. Be intentional: Just because the world is opening up doesn’t mean you have to dive in headfirst and resume everything you were doing before. Identify the things you have to do. Think through the things that are optional.
  5. Practice Using One of the Most Powerful Words in the English Dictionary: NO. Be willing to say “no” to those things that compromise the very things you’ve said you don’t want to lose. You WILL say NO to a lot of good things. Good will often keep you from BEST.

You may not be ready for the world to reopen for many reasons. Taking control of what you CAN will help you to re-enter the world with purpose.

For me, it often happens in the evening (though not always). It feels like a sudden Visitor at your door who comes in unannounced and spreads an uncomfortable, heavy, warm, wet blanket over you, gradually but quickly covering your whole body, and I feel it mainly in my chest. As soon as I feel myself covered, I’m very aware of the sense of unexplained dread that’s overcome me. Often my vision narrows and it’s difficult to concentrate on what people are saying. I can feel my heart pounding. My breathing is shallow. And it’s hard not to just sit there, paralyzed, and feel intense fear for something that I don’t know how to define. 

Sometimes it takes a long while for the feeling to gradually dissipate. Other times, it just sort of leaves quickly, like it wanted to slip quietly out the back door without anyone noticing. It’s exhausting. And the most frustrating part, every time, is the nonsensical, illogical way the Visitor just comes and goes, without any sort of reason, at least none that I can think of. 

Anxiety attacks are a beast, and I’ve experienced them for years. Every time I’ve had to deal with anxiety, my wife, Kristin, has been there right beside me, walking the road. She can tell when the Visitor is at the door because she can hear me trying to catch my breath. 

Feeling anxious? 

She’ll gently ask me this, and I never find it threatening nor snarky. This is in large part due to the fact that we’ve had some very open and real discussions about what I experience. What I appreciate the most is her understanding, even though she hasn’t felt what I feel when I have these attacks. 

If you are married to someone who struggles with anxiety, you may feel powerless to help them. Kristin and I want to offer you some tools and concepts to help you be a support for the one you love most when anxiety comes bursting through the door. 

What Is Anxiety Exactly?

It helps to have a basic understanding of anxiety itself. Anxiety is actually a natural, normal process the brain goes through to help a person cope with stress. It causes an apprehension or fear of something to come, and this typically serves to protect a person from harm and danger. 

However, this process is only made to come and go as needed. It’s not meant to pop up without warning and interfere with everyday life. 

This unhealthy anxiety is ambiguous; it can feel differently depending on the person feeling it, and it reveals itself in a variety of ways. Many (like myself) feel panic attacks with no apparent reason. Others may experience a phobia of certain objects or activities. Some have an irrational fear of social situations or worry about their health. 

Researchers can’t pinpoint an exact cause of this kind of anxiety. A mix of genetics, environmental factors, and brain chemistry seems to be likely, but this doesn’t exactly narrow it down. Therefore, there are a variety of ways professionals treat anxiety, from coping exercises such as deep breathing and other lifestyle changes to therapy and medication. (The Gottman Institute offers a great article here about using mindfulness to deal with difficult emotions like anxiety.) 

This all can seem very complex to you, the spouse, who sees how anxiety is plaguing the one you love. And you might be wondering, what in the world could I ever do to help? 

What Spouses Can Do

In fact, you are not powerless to help your spouse who has anxiety. Anxiety isn’t exactly something you can “fix,” but it can be managed. And as someone dealing with anxiety, a supportive spouse is the most important person to have in your corner. 

Here are some thoughts on how to help your spouse deal with anxiety:

  • Understand that your spouse doesn’t know why they struggle with anxiety. Even if they know what triggers it, such as work deadlines or having to engage with a particular person, the feeling itself just seems irrational. Even more elusive is how to get rid of that feeling. It’d be easy to put the blame of the anxiety on the person feeling it or to say, just stop feeling that way, but this is no help. As a person who experiences this, I can tell you that if I knew what it was I was doing that caused a panic attack, I’d immediately change course. And I appreciate my wife understanding this. 
  • Be present. One of the worst feelings—over and above the anxiety itself—is watching a person leave the room because they don’t know how to help. My wife’s presence is comforting and reassuring, even if neither one of us knows how to “stop the feeling.” Sometimes Kristin, if she is doubting what she should do, will say, I’m going to stay here with you until you tell me you want to be alone. And I can honestly say I have never asked to be alone during a panic attack. 
  • Gently direct toward some healthy coping strategies (and away from unhealthy ones). Again, my wife is good at this (she’s had lots of practice). When I feel an attack coming on, she will gently and respectfully steer me in another direction, maybe to watch a TV show with her or to take a walk. She understands the need to redirect my focus. Other good coping strategies include self-care, meditation, deep breathing exercises, physical exercise, eating a healthy diet, aromatherapy (such as using candles, oil, or incense), and spending time outdoors in nature. 
  • Talking it out helps. When I feel the pressure of anxiety coming on, Kristin will often ask me if I know where it might be stemming from. Sometimes, as we talk, we can identify some possible triggers, such as an impending work deadline or an inevitable difficult conversation I need to have with another person. My wife is really good at helping me think out what’s the worst that can come out of this situation? When I verbalize with her that the worst-case scenario isn’t all that bad, it helps to alleviate the anxiety. At other times, Kristin is also very good at reading when talking may not be very productive. This is usually when I’m in full-on panic mode and I can’t think straight enough to make conversation. In this case, she helps me with other coping strategies. 
  • Encourage rest. Exhaustion and fatigue are bullies to anxiety management. Getting to bed early or taking a short power nap in the afternoon helps me (I avoid long naps because it interferes with my sleep at night). I appreciate it when Kristin guides me to make rest a priority. 
  • If anxiety persists despite using coping strategies, it might be good to encourage your spouse to seek professional help through their physician or a counselor. 

There are times when I have felt very inadequate because I didn’t know how to fix what I was experiencing. It’s easy to feel that something is “wrong” with you. And even more so, I’ve wondered just when my wife was finally going to be over me and this “problem.” 

Kristin is very quick to put me in my place (in a good way). She assures me that nothing is “wrong” with me, that she doesn’t judge or think negatively of me because of my anxiety, and that she’ll be there no matter what to help me however she can. Without that, no coping exercise, medication, or therapy session would be nearly as effective.

You are in the prime position to be the main support for your spouse struggling with anxiety. You don’t have to “do” anything about it. Simply walk the road with them. Be in their corner. Encourage them. Be understanding. And be assured that your support means the world.  

***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 your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship click here.***

Amber questioned how she would balance everything and if her business, something she loves that also feeds her soul, would end up taking a backseat to everything else. Would she end up losing her identity as a mom in the midst of quarantine?

“When the shelter-in-place orders first came out, I was really scared,” says Amber. “My husband works on total commission and I run my business out of our home. Trying to fulfill orders, help with school work and keep up with the household, everything felt overwhelming, especially at a time of year when my business picks up dramatically.”

Amber Brown is an entrepreneur, wife and mom of three children who are 11, 8 and 4. Before COVID-19 hit, she described her life as busy, full and satisfying.

“I can tell that the balance is off quite a bit,” Amber says. “I don’t really feel like I am doing anything well at the moment and that can really mess with your outlook on life for sure. Sometimes, I feel like I am failing at everything.” 

Routines are Important

Fortunately, Amber and her husband were able to have a conversation about their work situations. They also discussed what their girls needed from them and what they both needed in order to stay sane during this crazy period of time. It helped them figure out some semblance of a routine that was reasonable.

One thing Amber noticed about her girls is they were quick to pick up on and react to her emotional state, even if she thought she hid it well.

“I recognized that if I was filled with anxiety about this situation, my kids would be too,” Amber says. “I’m trying to be cool and relaxed so they will feed off of that. I am trying to keep all the balls up in the air and hold on to who I am at the same time.”

The Browns decided it was important to still have routines to help them get through the day.

“I can tell you that just about every day, if it’s past 8:30 and they are not winding down, I tell them, ‘Mommy is done. I love you, but I need time for me.’ In fact, last night at the dinner table, when we had finished eating, I told everyone, ‘This has been fun, but I have a necklace I have to make today. I love you, and I am heading to my office.’”

Amber says it has been helpful that she and her husband came up with a plan. That plan allowed both of them to still get in some exercise and some “time out” moments in order to stay sane.

“I think the biggest thing I have realized is so much of who I am involves activities outside our home. I love my husband and children and I also love being part of the praise and worship team at our church, immersing myself in my work and being around other people. Right now, I just feel disconnected from a lot of what I love that makes me who I am. I have worked hard not to be resentful in the midst of the quarantine. There are definitely moments of sadness, but honestly, this slower time has been lovely for us as a family.”

The Browns have worked hard to keep things fresh while living on a tighter budget. They have spent a lot of time outside. Plus, they have learned new games together and enjoyed just hanging out.

“Our oldest has learned to cook, which I guarantee you is something that would not have happened previously. We would have been running around to dance class, Scouts and everything else she had on her plate.”

Comparisons Aren’t Always Helpful

Amber has tried to guard against comparing herself to other moms and what they are doing right now.

“When I feel comparison creeping in, I realize I have to let it go,” Amber says. “We have figured out what is working for our family right now and that is what really matters. I do have moments of mommy guilt when I think about all the things I should be doing or that I want to be doing that I’m not doing because I just don’t have the energy to do it. At that moment, I try to remind myself that I have been a mom long enough to know it’s going to be okay. We will catch up. Beating myself up is not helpful.

“Our oldest seems to be handling this pretty well. Our second grader needs my attention most right now with school. My goal is to help her stay confident. School is not fun with me, it’s fun with her friends. Normally, right now I would be focused on helping our 4-year-old learn her ABCs, but at the moment, my goal is to focus on her social and emotional well-being.”

What You Can Do When You Feel Like You’ve Lost Your Identity as a Mom

Maybe you’re reading this and realize that you’ve lost your identity as a mom during this crisis. If so, here are four things you can do:

  • Acknowledge when you have reached your limit and need a time out. Create space for that to happen. It’s good for everybody to be apart for a period of time to hit the reset button.
  • Give yourself some grace if you feel like you are not measuring up. Nobody is at their best at this moment. More than likely, however, we are all trying and that for sure counts for something!
  • Do what works for you. Consider what is best for you and your family at this moment. Don’t worry about not looking like everybody else. As Amber said, comparisons aren’t helpful.
  • Be willing to adapt and adjust on the fly. Walking in unknown territory requires some agility to bend and flex depending on the situation. Sometimes it doesn’t look very pretty, but who cares if it’s what works for your family.

Things are starting to open up and many are no longer sheltering in place. When asked about getting back to normal, Amber says she really believes life will look different for them.

“Even though I was a bit panicked when this whole thing started, wondering what we were going to do, we have really enjoyed being together as a family and the slower pace,” she says. “We will all enjoy having the freedom to go and do things and I will appreciate getting back to the things that fulfill me and help me to be a better mom, but I think we will work to keep the slower pace. It just feels good.”

“So first let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself… nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” —Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first inaugural address

So there I was… hanging off the edge, behind-first, staring down into a hole in the ground about as wide as my house. My heels dug into the earthen ledge as I felt the tension of the rope pulling at my waist and holding me in place. We were on a spelunking (caving) adventure. Ropes were strategically fastened to trees, harnesses fastened to ropes, and my body strapped in a harness. I had been rappelling since my high school years, but never into a 150-foot vertical cave in the middle of the Tennessee wilderness. 

All facts pointed to the assurance of safety, security and success: the friends I was with were trained to do this in the military; all knots, harnesses and other gear were checked and rechecked; and my buddy was at the bottom of the cave below me hanging on to my rope, ready to cinch it down and “catch” me should I slip. (And besides—he made it down safely; certainly I would, too… right?)

And yet, there were still the nagging what ifs in my mind. What if that rope snaps? What if a knot comes undone? And even, what if a squirrel leapt from out of nowhere, landed on my harness and chewed the straps away, causing me to fall into nothingness? 

And it was the what ifs that kept me stuck, paralyzed, on the edge of that cave for what seemed like hours (really, it was a few minutes), petrified to take that first step to descend into the cave. 

Fear has a funny way of making a person think the most irrational thoughts. And as the COVID-19 pandemic has caused life to slam on its brakes, fear has certainly done a real number for many people. What happens when the pandemic has you so afraid that you can’t seem to leave the house? 

Good Fear and Bad Fear

Fear isn’t always bad. There is a good kind of fear. Good fear protects us; it’s rational, valuable, and tells us how to accurately assess a risk. Good fear says, “Hey, that’s a deep hole in the ground. Better be sure your rope is tied correctly, your gear is checked, and your buddy down there has your back (er… rather, your rope).” 

Bad fear does not help us. It jumps straight to the worse-case scenario based on irrational conclusions. Bad fear says, “Hey, that’s a deep hole in the ground. Your rope will probably snap and your buddy below has probably taken off to grab a burger. It’s best if you go home, lock the door, hide in your room and never ever think about caves again…

Bad fear started out as good fear, but quickly turned irrational, dysfunctional, petrifying and therefore valueless. It’s junk fear—good fear gone bad, like a mild-mannered comic book scientist turned supervillain. 

And just like any true villain, bad fear doesn’t help us at all. It hinders us from a more fulfilling life. And at its worst, fear can be so irrational that it can cause us to react in ways that are actually harmful to us. 

Irrational Is the Key Word

★ The difference between good fear and bad fear is the weight of the information each is based on. ★

Good fear is based on good, solid facts from credible sources. It seeks the right amount of precautions to take while still being able to function. And so you have to know who you’re listening to. Health and safety precautions taken from the CDC are much weightier than from fake-news outlets or crazy Uncle Joe who’s stockpiled ammo and canned beans in his backyard bunker. 

Bad fear is based on the irrational, the sensational and the worst-case scenario (refer to Uncle Joe above). Bad fear makes us believe we have all the information we need in order to anticipate a future full of dread and terror. 

What Bad Fear Does to Us

Fear works in a way that, when we sense a threat, our body releases hormones that shut down the functions not needed for survival. It sharpens the functions that might help us survive, such as increased heart rate and more blood flow to the muscles (so that we can, for example, heighten our awareness or run faster). 

This is great for single, isolated incidents of threat, such as seeing a snake or standing on a high ledge. However, prolonged, chronic fear wreaks havoc on our body and brain.  

Research has shown us that it weakens our immune system, leaving us more susceptible to sickness. (Think about the irony here: Irrational anxiety and fear of the COVID-19 virus could actually increase our chances of catching it.) Bad fear can cause cardiovascular damage, gastrointestinal problems, and can lead to accelerated aging and even premature death. 

Bad fear also hijacks our brain processes that help us regulate our emotions, read non-verbal cues and think before we act. Therefore, it can have a very negative impact on our relationships. 

When fear is based on irrational assumptions, it tends to keep churning out the dread. It can also have some nasty consequences for our health. 

Fear Gone Bad Back to Good 

Knowing the dangers of bad fear is a good start to turning bad fear around. Here are some other tips: 

  • Listen to credible sources for information. Be picky about who you listen to. There is a lot of sensationalism, and armchair COVID-19 experts abound out there. Ignore these voices and pay attention to the advice of experts such as the CDC, physicians and scientists. Be careful how much time you spend immersing yourself in information-digging. An unhealthy preoccupation in fact-finding can feed fear rather than alleviate it. 
  • Carefully assess what you see, experience and feel. Irrational fear can make us question every little sniffle, sneeze or cough we notice in ourselves and others, sending us down a spiral of unneeded worry. Pay attention to the symptoms and warning signs given by the experts, as well as the level of risk for your age group. And if you have a logical concern, refer to your physician
  • Practice self-care. Be sure you are doing intentional things to keep your mind and body healthy. Being physically active, practicing mindfulness and getting enough rest helps alleviate anxiety and boost the feel-good hormones in our brains. This helps us to think more clearly when weighing reason against irrationality. 
  • Know that this is a process. Overcoming any kind of fear takes time, and it’s often done in small steps. Give yourself patience and grace. Over time, reason will trump the irrational.
  • If you find that your fear is causing you to move toward harmful behaviors such as drinking or using drugs, or that it’s moving you away from basic necessary functions such as eating, personal hygiene or getting basic work done, consider seeking help. There are many professionals who are offering remote counseling services. 

By the way… I made it down into the cave safe and sound. Knots stayed tied and no strap-gnawing squirrels appeared. Why? Because that was just unreasonable. Bad fear does not have to prevent you from diving into a fulfilling life, even in the midst of a pandemic. 

I’ll admit that I’m kind of a news junkie. I want to hear the latest about COVID-19 as well as everything else that is going on. I hear the numbers, listen to interviews with Dr. Fauci, Dr. Birx and others. I see the never-ending lines of cars waiting to pick up food at food banks, I hear about job loss, farmers throwing out crops because they have nowhere to send them, people who are quarantining by themselves and are lonely, marriages and families struggling because they are spending so much time together and more.

Day after day I am filling my mind with all of this and I realize, the intensity of this is impacting me in so many ways and we are nowhere near the end. Honestly, it’s straight-up depressing and I am mentally feeling the impact of it all.

Honestly, it’s hard for any of us to go through the level of emotional, social and financial trauma we are experiencing and not be impacted. The environmental and adjustment stress we are all feeling can be overwhelming, so much so that some of us may find ourselves in a place we’ve never been before when it comes to our mental health. 

You may also be feeling a bit different these days and wondering what in the heck is going on. Maybe it’s hard to get out of bed in the morning, your energy level is non-existent, you aren’t hungry or you eat all the time, your nerves seem frazzled or it’s hard to think clearly because your brain feels like it’s in a fog. Believe it or not, all of these things are normal responses to a severe crisis, which is what we are in the middle of. The thing we have to ask ourselves is, what can I do to feel better? 

How about trying these things out?

9 Tips to Improve Your Well-Being

  • Go for a walk or get some other type of exercise for self-care. Doing some sort of physical activity on a daily basis can make a major difference in the way you feel and function. There are lots of free workout apps and online options.
  • Spend time in the sun soaking in vitamin D. This is one of the most powerful ways to boost your mood. The fresh air will be good for you, too.
  • Get yourself on a schedule. Even though you may not be working or leaving the house, staying on your normal sleep schedule, getting up in the morning, taking a shower, getting dressed, eating at consistent times and then doing something constructive can help your brain function better. 
  • Phone a friend. While we need to physically distance ourselves from others, socially isolating ourselves is not a good thing. Technology allows us to connect with the ones we love face to face. Talking with neighbors across the fence or street can also be helpful. We are made for relationships and need them to thrive.
  • Watch movies or shows that are funny and make you laugh. Believe it or not, laughter can actually protect you from the damaging effects of stress and help you feel better. Humor helps us release anger, have hope, and be more focused and alert.
  • Watch what you eat and drink. Do your best to eat balanced meals. Try to avoid overeating or not eating enough. That can be difficult given the circumstances, but fresh/frozen fruit and vegetables are great choices if you can buy them. Drinking water has tons of health benefits, too.
  • Limit your alcohol, sugar, caffeine, and news intake. If you are struggling with feelings of depression and anxiety, these things can make you feel worse.
  • Make time to journal. Writing down your feelings, fears, thoughts and emotions can help you take control of all that is running through your head. Sometimes what appears overwhelming in your mind, doesn’t seem so much so when you actually look at it on paper.
  • Ask for help.* Don’t let pride or fear keep you from seeking help to get past this moment in time. What we are going through is hard. If you are having trouble navigating through this time, ask for what you need. Plenty of doctors and counselors are seeing people through Zoom and other ways. 

This Is Not Easy! It’s normal for all of us to be feeling some ways about this COVID-19 thing. It is highly likely that none of us will come through this unscathed in some way. If you get to a place or you are already in a place where how you are feeling is impacting your ability to function and accomplish simple daily tasks, that’s when you know it’s time to get some help. 

*Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Hotline: 800-662-HELP (4357); National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255)

It’s week five and you are trying to hold things together, but you feel like your spouse isn’t handling the shelter-in-place thing very well.

Honestly, it’s hard for any of us to go through the level of emotional, social and financial trauma we are experiencing and not be impacted. The environmental and adjustment stress we all feel can be overwhelming, so much so that some of us may find ourselves in a place we’ve never been before when it comes to our mental health. 

Both of you may also be feeling a bit different these days and wondering what in the heck is going on. Maybe it’s hard to get out of bed in the morning, your energy level is non-existent, you aren’t hungry or you eat all the time. Perhaps your nerves seem frazzled or it’s hard to think clearly because your brain feels like it’s in a fog. 

Believe it or not, all of these things are normal responses to a severe crisis, which is what we are in the middle of. The thing we have to ask ourselves is, what can I do to feel better? Or perhaps it’s your spouse who doesn’t seem to be handling things well. Because even if you are ok, it doesn’t mean everyone else is. What can you do to help them? 

How about encouraging them to try the following or actually trying them together? 

Practical Tips You Can Use Right Now

  • Go for a walk or get some other type of exercise. Doing some sort of physical activity on a daily basis can make a major difference in the way you feel and function. There are lots of free workout apps and online options in addition to getting outside and walking, biking or playing active games with your children.
  • Spend time in the sun soaking in vitamin D. This is one of the most powerful ways to boost your mood. The fresh air will be good for you, too.
  • Get on a schedule. Even though one or both of you may not be working or leaving the house, staying on your normal sleep schedule, getting up in the morning, taking a shower, getting dressed, eating at consistent times and then doing something constructive can help your brain function better. 
  • Phone a friend. While we need to physically distance ourselves from others, socially isolating ourselves is not a good thing. Technology allows us to connect with the ones we love face to face. Talking with neighbors across the fence or street can also be helpful. We are made for relationships and we need them to thrive.
  • Watch movies or shows that are funny and make you laugh. Believe it or not, laughter can actually protect you from the damaging effects of stress and help you feel better. Humor helps us release anger, have hope, and be more focused and alert.
  • Watch what you eat and drink. Do your best to eat balanced meals. Try to avoid overeating or not eating enough. That can be difficult given the circumstances, but fresh/frozen fruit and vegetables are great choices if you can buy them. Drinking water has tons of health benefits, too.
  • Limit your alcohol, sugar, caffeine and news intake. If you or your spouse are struggling with feelings of depression and anxiety, these things can make you feel worse.
  • Make time to journal. Writing down your feelings, fears, thoughts and emotions can help you take control of all that is running through your head. Sometimes what appears overwhelming in your mind, doesn’t seem so much so when you actually look at it on paper.
  • Ask for help.* Don’t let pride or fear keep you or the one you love from seeking help to get past this moment in time. What we are going through is hard. If either of you is having trouble navigating through this time, ask for what you need. Plenty of doctors and counselors are seeing people through Zoom and other ways. 

This Is Not Easy! It’s normal for all of us to be feeling some ways about this COVID-19 thing. It is highly likely that none of us will come through this unscathed in one way or another. If you get to a place or you are already in a place where how you are feeling is impacting your ability to function and accomplish simple daily tasks, that’s when you know it’s time to get some help. 

*Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Hotline: 800-662-HELP (4357); National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255)

***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 your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

They told us we had a moderate chance of severe weather Easter night and to be weather aware. How many times have we heard that and the weather amounted to nothing to write home about?

Many went to sleep thinking if there was severe weather in the area, storm alerts would go off on phones and weather radios. Sadly, between 11 p.m. and midnight, a severe storm turning into an EF3 tornado ravaged our community. Thousands were left without power and hundreds with homes that were either destroyed or uninhabitable until repairs are made.

While we can see the physical devastation from the storm, there is an invisible aftermath. That aftermath is taking its toll on those who lived through the event, especially the children. It reveals itself in different ways depending on the age of the person. 

I have spoken to a number of parents who shared with me that their children are struggling to go to sleep at night. Some say their teenager, who has been totally independent, is now clinging to them and won’t leave their side. Others just seem lost and afraid. I thought it might be helpful to talk about some ways parents can provide comfort for their children as they try and deal with the trauma.

As children try to cope with what they experienced they might feel increased fear and/or anxiety that shows itself in different ways. It may be in the form of tantrums, crying for no apparent reason, acting in ways that seem defiant, not wanting to go to bed by themselves or not wanting to be alone, period. They could become especially clingy, not wanting to leave a parent’s side. 

As parents try to manage repairs and create some sense of “normal” for their family, this behavior could create additional angst for parents.

Here are some things you might find helpful as you seek to help your child process what happened.

Even though you are juggling a lot of things, be intentional about spending focused time with your children. Although their clinginess may get on your nerves, know that sitting in your lap, holding your hand, snuggling up next to you on the couch or in bed are all comforting to children who have experienced trauma.

For your older children, you may see them somewhat withdraw as they try to process what happened. Provide opportunities for open, honest conversation. Answer their questions as best you can. If your teen asks you if you think this could happen again, tell them the truth: It’s possible, but not likely. Consider how old you are and whether or not you have been in the path of a storm like this before. I have lived through a lot of storms, but nothing like the tornado. This helps give perspective to them as they process their experience. 

If you don’t know an answer to a question, say so. You might be able to find the answer together. Or it may just be a question that nobody really knows the answer to.

Where possible, create routines and structure. These two things can help restore a sense of normalcy for your family. People in general thrive on this because it helps them feel more in control (at least to some degree). 

Acknowledge the grieving that is going on and the loss of innocence for young children. In reality, they will never NOT remember this moment in time. Take care in how you talk with them, and assure them of your protective presence. Giving them the opportunity to write, talk and/or draw about what they are feeling and then explain it to you will help them process their emotions.

Playtime is important. Even in the midst of trying to get things done, take time out to do something fun. This can help to decrease anxiety and stress and help the healing process – even for the adults.

Adapting to change in general is often hard for people. It can be unsettling for everyone, especially children, when you are uprooted from your home and have to live somewhere else permanently or until repairs are complete. Don’t assume they grasp what is going on. Talk them through it by explaining it clearly. You might say, “Because of the damage to our home we are going to have to live in another place for a while, or we are going to have to look for a new place to live.”

If this is the only home your children have known, there will probably be some sadness and anxious feelings that you can actually talk about. However, don’t underestimate the calm that this can bring even to a 4-year-old who may not understand everything. Keep it simple and age appropriate. It helps decrease surprises which tend to increase anxiety in children. You might have to have the same conversation a number of times and that’s honestly to be expected. Be patient.

There are some things that are adult topics such as money constraints that children don’t need to know the details about. You can always say, “We can’t do that right now, but I will remember that you asked about that and when things settle down we will talk about it.”

Limit the amount of exposure your children have to the ongoing news, photos on social media and even conversations that you have around them. It is challenging as adults – triple that for children. All of the ongoing exposure keeps them from being able to recalibrate and settle down.

Take care of yourself. You’re probably really tired of hearing that phrase, but let people cook for you, help you clean up, provide food. Let others do anything that will allow you to conserve energy and be there for your children.

As you move forward, remember that every family is different. It’s normal to feel traumatized, have some flashbacks and feel on edge (hyper-vigilant) after something like this. These symptoms usually will subside or at least decrease over the next few weeks. There really is no easy fix. Things will not get better immediately. But paying attention to how you engage with your children, what you allow them to be exposed to and being intentional about talking with them and being physically close to them will bring comfort.

If they are still struggling to adjust over time, don’t be afraid to seek professional help for them. These things are scary, frustrating and hard to manage for us even as adults. Asking for what you need from others can help you get through the challenges you face. At the same time, it will help you be a healthier parent for your kids.

We were about a month into our COVID-19 quarantine when it finally happened. There had been some ups and downs, of course, but I was feeling pretty good and able to stay positive as an individual, husband, and father. My family was handling it all surprisingly well. I was getting tons of work done. I felt like I was leading the family well. Then I finally snapped.

During the month or so of quarantine, I had been straining, working from home, fearful about my wife working in the medical field, stressed about a son doing middle school online, anxious about a son doing college online, sad for two adult children out of work, worried about one adult child still working in “essential services,” and totally uneasy about my at-risk mother-in-law. ALL of this under ONE roof. (You catch all the emotions in there? I didn’t.) But we were actually navigating it fairly well and trying to stay positive—movie nights, game nights, lots of good conversations. We got this! 

Then it all started to unravel. Then I unraveled. Big time.

In the span of a few days:

  • My wife was filing for unemployment. 
  • We had a brush with a tornado that left us with a yard full of fallen trees.
  • We had no power to our house for days. 
  • My car broke down while I was getting ice to keep food from spoiling. (It all spoiled anyway.)
  • We had friends who completely lost their homes and we were heartbroken. 
  • We had all-new financial pressures.

Things were starting to pile up. Stress and worry were at all new levels. 

I ignored it—too much to get done!

After about four days of trying to adjust to Generator Life and a bunch of new problems and expenses, I was soon trying to stay positive and hold my world together with threads and patches.

Then, in a single moment, life came undone. (Of course, it did.) The reality is, I came undone. Ironically, it was actually a relatively small thing that did it. Something so small that it would have been no big deal in any other context. Straw. Camel. Back. You know the saying.

I’ll admit it—I was lying in bed crying with the door locked, feeling fragile and helpless. 

How did it get to this? I’m stronger than this! What if anyone in my family sees me like this?

If we can allow ourselves to be honest, vulnerable, transparent humans for just a second, you might be feeling it, too. You might be close to snapping. Maybe you are on the edge of being overwhelmed. You may have already broken down. Your story and circumstances might have some major things going on in them that make my little pity party look pitiful. 

What do you do to stay positive when it all seems to fall apart?

Here’s what I learned after I snapped back from my snap: 

  1. Acknowledge your emotions and share them with people that you trust. For a while, I had been suppressing or burying emotions and needs deep down, trying to play it cool, but making myself a ticking timebomb. 
  2. Be real with your kids, your spouse, and your friends, because they have their “moments” too. Kids don’t need their parents to be perfect; they need them to be real. It’s good for them to see you work through imperfection and real-world problems. 
  3. Guard your mindset! Be careful what you look for in life, because you’ll find it. If you look for everything that is wrong, you’ll find it and focus on it. If you look for what is going right, that’s there, too. Find it and focus on it. You can acknowledge what’s wrong and still practice gratitude for what’s right. Remember what is really important—people
  4. Practice self-care. I was afraid to be honest with myself and the people around me—people that I know would help me, let me blow off steam, and help me process my emotions. It’s okay to ask for help. It’s more than okay to take care of yourself! Practice self-care. You may not be able to change your circumstances, but you can take care of yourself—physically and emotionally.
  5. Breathe. Think. Act. Take a moment to take some deep breaths, think about what you can and can’t control, and then respond appropriately—don’t react. Don’t make important decisions when you aren’t your best self or you’ve gone to pieces.
  6. Focus on helping others. This may sound counter-intuitive, but nothing feels better than helping someone with their problems. It actually makes our brain release happy chemicals and it may take your mind off your problems or even put them in perspective.

It’s okay to have a “moment”; it’s not okay to stay there. We’ve all been at a place where we felt like it was just one bad thing after the other and we’ve felt overcome by stress, anxiety, anger, or sadness. Give yourself permission to be real, but also develop a plan to stay positive the next time you feel overwhelmed and about to break down.