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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

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

“If we want to live a wholehearted life, we have to become intentional about cultivating rest and play, and we must work to let go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth.”

Brené Brown

I’m so exhausted and stressed out!” Is that a cry for help or a badge of honor?

Sadly, we live in a culture that not only normalizes burnout as a way of life but also kinda glorifies it. If you are perpetually busy and exhausted—You. Must. Be. Important! 

But at what cost?

Maybe we need to worry more about being healthy people. 

Ah, but insights like that usually only come to us when we slow down, find some quiet, and get alone with ourselves. Alone. Solitude. Introspection. “Sorry, ain’t got time for that!” (I think a lot of people intentionally stay busy because they don’t want to have to think about life and look at themselves.) Make time. Being alone is a healthy skill to be cultivated. Being alone is when some cool stuff happens: Inspiration. Reflection. Insight. Wonder. Clarity. Rest and Restoration. Whatever ambition has you so busy chasing, you’re going to need all this stuff along the way. Plus, the people you care about need you to care about you and take care of you.

Here are five signs you need some alone time, stat!

1. Your body is trying to get your attention.

Do you wake up and not feel rested and rejuvenated? Does your body “hit a wall” during the day that sends you to the coffee-maker? Do you catch every cold and flu bug that’s going around? Do you collapse into bed like you just finished a marathon? 

Your body might be trying to get your attention. It’s trying to tell you that your batteries are low and need recharging. Some time alone doing something restful and reenergizing might be just the ticket. Make sure it’s something you genuinely find soothing and medicinal—not work-related and stress-inducing.

2. Little things just wreck you.

Things you normally would take in stride or wouldn’t bother you at all now get an exaggerated response from you. It could be a short delay, a slight change of plans, an annoying freeway driver, or someone’s tone of voice, and you’re fuming or crumbling. You know that’s not you.

You’re fragile. You’ve become so busy and stressed you don’t have the margin or emotional resources left to handle life’s little annoyances. Alone-time is anti-fragile time. It strengthens you on the inside. Getting alone in a meaningful, healthy way can give you the focus to regain some perspective, as well as the fortitude to handle bumps along the way.

3. The people in your life are dropping hints… 

Learn to put the clues together. That look on your spouse’s face means you snapped at them. That eye-roll from your kid means, “What’s. Up. With. You?

Your friend or co-worker asking, “Are you okay?” or “How have you been lately?” means “Someone has their Cranky Pants on today!

Sometimes we are the last person to recognize how we’ve changed and are not acting like ourselves. Learn to pick up on the hints before the hints become arguments, outbursts, or resentment. You don’t want to hurt the people you love even a little bit, but when you’re tired and stressed out, or feeling frustrated and overwhelmed, you tend to take it out on the people closest to you. We all do.

Don’t be afraid to tell the people in your life you need a little alone time. It’s mature and self-aware to say, “Sorry I’ve been a little extra lately. I need to go for a walk and clear my head.” Go to a movie by yourself or send yourself to your room and watch one. Take a book to a coffee shop. Go for that run. Reassure the family that it’s not them, it’s you. (They know.)

4. You’re bored, not interested in anything, and just feel… blah.

You’ve been rushing through your hectic schedule so fast for so long, you don’t remember what to do with some downtime. You’re so burned out, you just don’t feel like doing anything—even the things you normally enjoy. You are listless and lethargic. You aren’t up or down—you’re just there. 

Sometimes you need some unproductive, unfocused vegging out alone time. Grab your favorite snack and watch some reruns of your favorite show. Go to a park or out on your deck and just sit. Soak up some sun. To the untrained eye, you look like you’re doing nothing, and that’s exactly what you need. This afternoon’s plan is not to have plans. Feel what it feels like to have no deadlines and no demands on your time. Give yourself permission to clock out for a little while. Feel that? Feels good. (If you feel “blah” for weeks at a time, that’s not good. Get that checked out.)

5. Sometimes, you just know. 

Sometimes you do. Listen to that little voice. Quit ignoring it. Stop thinking you don’t really need some alone time or don’t deserve it or it’s a sign of weakness or will disappoint someone if you take it. The world won’t stop spinning if you don’t get to everything on your To-Do list. That’s vanity. Give yourself a break. The reality is, alone time helps bring clarity, creativity, and energy to every part of your life. Your life-goals won’t suffer if you take some time for you; your life-goals will suffer if you don’t.

You got this!

Image from Unsplash.com

What would it look like to be completely stress-free in your marriage? Wouldn’t it be outright, utter marital bliss to wake up next to your spouse, depart for the day, rejoin together, and go to bed at night with the one you love the most without an ounce of stress pervading your relationship? 

Well, unfortunately, you can’t completely eliminate stress from your life. But you can manage stress and become a stronger couple as a result of it. The idea is to manage stress so that it does not manage you… and do harm to your health, your emotions, and most important of all, your relationship. 

What’s a Stressed-Out Couple to Do? 

Here are five ways you and the one you love the most can manage stress well… and grow stronger in your marriage at the same time! 

Come Together.

Perhaps the Beatles knew something about stress management in marriage. Stress research tells us that one of the best tools to manage stress (if not the best tool) is a strong support system. And you have no better support system than each other. Make spending regular time with each other a priority (without the kids). Talk. Do the fun things you love doing together. Reconnect

The Big 3: Sleep, Diet, Activity.

The research also tells us that if you want to manage stress and not have it manage you, you’ve got to get plenty of sleep at night (7-8 hours), eat clean and healthy, and get out and work the bod, whether it’s a heavy-duty workout or simply taking a walk. And hey, the Big 3 can be done together! Why is this good? Because you’re each other’s strong support system (see bullet #1). 

Be Physically Intimate.

Loving touch lowers the brain chemicals at work when stress builds, and increases those that bring joy, euphoria, and the ability to work yourself down the ladder of high stress. Cuddle on the couch. Hug each other daily. Give (and receive) back rubs. Hold hands. Lay your hand on their leg or shoulder. Yes, even those seemingly small non-sexual touches can make a tremendous difference in how well you handle stress. And sex? Yeah, that works, too. Let’s just say that having a strong support system has never been so much fun (see bullet #1)

Ease Up On The Schedule.

If your calendar is filled up from dawn to the wee hours of the night with work, projects, responsibilities, and demands, you probably aren’t leaving much margin for your brain to snap out of fight/flight/freeze. Give yourself space in your schedule just to be, especially at night when you’re winding down. Practice the fine art of saying “NO.” Find joy in writing in your calendar times to connect with your spouse. Or to nap. Or to have sex. Seriously

Make Self-Care a Priority.

The idea of “self-care” has been getting a lot of airplay in blogs, videos, and self-help books, but for good reason: it’s good to take care of yourself. Because here’s the thing: how can you take care of your marriage (and your spouse) if you don’t have anything to give? Self-care includes deliberate actions you take with the express purpose of taking care of your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. So… get some sunshine. Journal. Meditate. Do yoga. Fish. Take a nap. Pray. Read. Cuddle with your pet. Practice positive self-talk (I tell my college students to think about what they would love for people to say to them to lift them up, and then just say it to themselves). Enjoy a piece of chocolate cake (in moderation, of course). The bottom line: do what works for you to rejuvenate and care for yourself. 

One more interesting thing about stress that you and your spouse really need to know

*(Fair warning: this gets a little psycho-babble, but bear with me here!)*

There’s a chemical in your brain called oxytocin. It’s gained popularity, becoming known as the “cuddle hormone.” It’s released when moms give birth, when dads look on their newborn for the first time, when a couple is on a first date, and when two people have sex. It makes you want to get closer to another person, to bond, connect, be intimate. 

Kate McGonigal, a Stanford health psychologist and author of The Upside of Stress, shares the real low-down on oxytocin: it’s a stress hormone. That’s right: it’s released when you experience something that stresses you out. Why? (And this is really cool…) This is your brain’s way of letting you know that you need to connect with someone (like, um, your spouse maybe?) to best manage the stress. 

You may not like stress, but it’s not going anywhere. But stress can be managed to where it doesn’t wreak havoc on your marriage. And you and your spouse have the power to use stress, and the brain with all its many wonderful processes, to draw closer to each other and strengthen your marriage. 

***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.***

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COMMUNICATING WITH YOUR SPOUSE SHOULD BE FULFILLING, NOT FRUSTRATING.

With the right tools, you and your spouse can have the best communication ever!

This easy-to-use virtual 5-day course guides you and your spouse to have the best communication you’ve ever had! Through this course, you will learn:

  • How to establish healthy communication habits
  • The secrets to creating a deep connection through communication
  • Skills to help you (and your spouse) be a better speaker and listener
  • How to celebrate and understand your different communication styles
  • And so much more!

Walk into a crowded room and ask for a show of hands from anyone who has not felt stressed-out in the past six months. If you find a hand-raiser, pull them aside, and ask their secret. My bet is not one hand will be raised. Truth is, we all experience stress at varying degrees, and many times it overwhelms and overtakes us. As parents, we have to ask the question, “Is my stress level affecting my child?” 

The short answer is, yesbut there’s more to the story than that. Bear with me here. 

LET’S EXPLORE STRESS

Most people think stress is bad, and we should do everything we can to eliminate it from our lives. The less stress, the better. I admit: I’ve thought this for many years. However, that’s not entirely true. 

Let’s flip the script somewhat: Stress actually plays an important role in our lives. By definition, stress is the normal reaction the brain and body has when change occurs. You know about change: the boss assigns another project, the overdue bill arrives in the mail, the in-laws announce they’re coming for dinner (not that this would ever stress me out personally… in case anyone asks).  

And we experience responses to stress in different ways: increased heart rate, heavier breathing, cloudy thinking, jitteriness, headaches, stomachaches… the list goes on.  

Nevertheless, stress is vital. Without it, we couldn’t avoid dangerous situations, meet deadlines, or have a competitive edge. 

  • Our eyes wouldn’t dilate for a wider sight range to look for danger. 
  • Your breathing wouldn’t speed up, carrying oxygen to the brain for sharper mental acuity. 
  • And your heart rate wouldn’t increase, giving you a boost of energy to meet a particular challenge. 

These are all good things. But here’s the kicker: our brains and bodies are only meant to experience these bouts of “good” stress for short periods of time, enough to work through whatever change is going on. Stress turns “bad” when we camp out in these responses for a prolonged period of time. 

Our brains and bodies aren’t designed to handle this well. Matter of fact, our brain can actually restructure itself and function in a chronic state of stress. (Doesn’t that sound wonderful?) Have you ever met someone who seems on edge, stressed out, ready to snap? More than likely their brain has trained itself to stay in that “fight or flight” mode. And this has some terrible effects on body, mind, emotions, and relationships. 

What this all boils down to is not whether or not you have stress (nor necessarily the level of stress, although that plays a part of it), but what you’re doing with your stress. 

So back to the kids. Is your stress level affecting your child? Of course it does—and how it affects them depends on what you’re doing with the stress. 

THE EFFECT OF PARENTAL STRESS ON CHILDREN

Ellen Galinsky, author of Mind In the Making and researcher at the Families and Work Institute, has shown that parental stress (or more accurately, parental distress) spills over onto our children. Galinsky’s research indicates children almost have a sixth sense when it comes to detecting parental distress. Maybe you’ve experienced this with your own kiddos. They pick up on the tension in your facial expressions and the worrisome tone of your voice. And the worst part is, children mimic your tension and behavior. If you are freaking out, even just on the inside, they are more prone to play monkey-see-monkey-do. 

To further the point, University of Maryland researcher Nathan Fox and his colleagues looked into how parenting styles affect how children regulate emotions and deal with stress. An interesting finding of his showed that one of the least helpful characteristics were parents who are alarmists. These are parents who see danger everywhere and predict the worst-case scenarios in their minds. They make regular use of the phrases “You are going to hurt yourself” or “Be careful!” or “Please don’t fall!” These parents have worry written all over their faces and wear their distress like a bright orange caution vest for their children to see. 

The big takeaway point here for parents is not Don’t Get Stressed; rather, parents need to model how to handle stress in healthy ways. In Galinsky’s words, “…you matter—and that includes how you convey stressful situations to your child.”  

SO WHAT’S A (STRESSED) PARENT TO DO?

  • Keep in the forefront of your parenting mind that the idea is not to eliminate stress, either from our own lives or that of our kids, but to learn to deal with distress in a healthy way. It’s very tempting to want to shield our children from the stressors of the world, but those stressors serve to bolster your child’s development. Megan Gunnar, researcher at the University of Minnesota and considered to be the foremost authority on stress and coping in children, says, A childhood that had no stress in it would not prepare you for adulthood. If you never allow your child[ren] to exceed what they can do, how are they going to learn to manage adult life—where a lot of it is managing more than you thought you could manage?” 
  • Model healthy ways to cope with your own distress. One of Nathan Fox’s latest studies found that when parents have someone to turn to for support during stressful times, it has a positive effect on their children’s social development. The big lesson is, have a healthy support system available for you. And be sure to practice self-care. When you regularly do intentional acts of taking care of your mental, physical, and emotional health, not only are you mounting fortifications to guard against distress, you are also showing your kids how to build those same guardrails. 
  • When you are having a bad day when distress might be getting the best of you, use this as a learning opportunity for your children. Say something to your kids like, “Today doesn’t feel like a good day for me. Sometimes mommies and daddies have bad days when they feel worried about certain things. That’s okay—I know that everything is going to work out and that I don’t have to feel this way all the time. Here’s how I’m going to help myself feel better today…” And then, share with them how you’re going to work through the stress you’re feeling. Voila!—a stellar teachable moment. 
  • On stressful days, let your kids know that it isn’t their fault. Since children often do have that “sixth sense” to indicate when you’re feeling stressed out, it can be easy for them to feel responsible for it. Ensure them that sometimes bad days happen to both children and adults, it’s nothing they said or did, and we all have the power to overcome the feeling of being fearful, worried, or anxious. 

One final thought:

If you’re married, do everything you can to handle marital conflict in a healthy, respectful way. We know from research that when handled poorly, parental conflict, is emotionally and physiologically traumatic for kids. John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist and researcher, tells us that even kids as young as six months can detect when unhealthy conflict is happening, and it has a negative impact on development. For some great information on how to handle marital conflict in healthy ways, take a look at this blog, this one, and this one, too

So, does your stress level affect your child or not? Well, yes. But maybe the real question is, does how you handle stress have an effect on your kids? It certainly does, and the effect can be either positive or negative depending on how you’re handling it. Times of stress, those inevitable changes you experience that cause your brains and bodies to respond in certain ways present opportunities to teach your children valuable lessons for adulthood. Show your children the power they have to control stress rather than have stress control them. And it begins with you.

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COVID-19 has most likely contributed to the longest ongoing uncertainty people have dealt with in, well, maybe ever.

Should I send my children to school?

Will I have a job tomorrow?

Is the economy going to make it?

Are we going to lose our home?

If I get COVID-19, will I survive?

Will things ever be normal again?

These are just some of the questions we are wrestling with as we try to create a sense of normalcy for ourselves and others.

The hard truth is, even when we are living our best lives, there’s a great deal of uncertainty. Anything could happen in the next moment that could throw our lives into complete chaos. The difference is, it’s not as in your face as COVID-19.

So, short of throwing in the towel, how do you deal with the ongoing uncertainty?

In Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl describes being separated from his wife in the concentration camps. Everything he owned was taken from him, including the manuscript for his book. As he shared what it was like living one day to the next with no idea whether his wife was still alive or whether that day would be his last day, he says he realized that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms—to choose one’s own attitude in any given set of circumstances—to choose one’s own way.

Frankl says, “In order to live a meaningful life, we have to identify what is meaningful to us in every moment. There is a kind of mindfulness to meaning—a level of focused attention where we must focus on identifying what we find meaningful.” 

Straight out of the gates, it seems like we all have the opportunity to deal with uncertainty. It starts with two things. We can decide what is most meaningful to us. AND we can choose the attitude with which we will engage the days ahead. Making decisions about both of these things will anchor us in our journey and give us a mindset for everything else we need to do.

Other strategies for dealing with uncertainty include:

  • Making plans, but holding them loosely. Everybody would like to be able to make a decision about school and be done with it. In this particular moment though, that is probably not how things will roll. So, making a plan, but including a couple of alternatives can help decrease the out of control feelings uncertainty often brings. 
  • Doing what you will wish you had done. Sounds a bit crazy, but these are difficult times. Often when we look back on a time when we struggled, we will say, “I wish I had just gone with my gut and…” It is easy to second guess yourself, but seriously, looking back 10 years from now, what will you wish you had done?
  • Paying attention to your mental health and the mental health of those around you. Back to the attitude thing. Our brains have a natural tendency to go negative, especially when the going gets tough. You or the ones you love may really be struggling at the moment. Surround yourself with supportive people. Seek help if you just can’t seem to shake feeling down and depressed all the time.
  • Giving yourself permission to feel what you feel. Write down your emotions: frustrated, tired, irritable, abandoned, isolated, anxious, lonely, bored, confused, inadequate, jealous. None of these are bad in and of themselves. How you choose to respond to these feelings can either help you move forward or make your life more complicated. 
  • Making a list of all the things you actually have control over. Even if you did this early on, do it again. It’s a good and helpful brain exercise. Remember, your brain believes what you tell it. If you are constantly talking about everything being out of control, your brain believes you and acts accordingly. Feeling out of control creates fear, and our body responds to fear by creating adrenaline and cortisol. Research shows that the long-term activation of the stress-response system and overexposure to stress hormones can disrupt almost all of your body’s processes. It affects your ability to think clearly, make decisions, sleep and  literally function on a daily basis.
  • Considering things you can do to create some consistency in your daily living. Routines, rituals, consistency and structure help us feel more secure, especially in times of extreme uncertainty. Little things like going to bed and getting up at the same time every day or planning your meals can make a major impact on your well-being.
  • Enlisting the help of others. Once you have given some thought to your mindset and the attitude with which you want to engage life right now, ask friends, family members and/or co-workers to encourage you in your efforts. Ask them to help you be accountable for how you have decided to embrace the uncertainty, too.
  • Showing yourself some grace. You can do all of the things above and still have some really hard days. Instead of beating yourself up, acknowledge how hard it is. Cry if you need to, journal, go for a run—whatever it takes to help you process through it. The good news is, you know the direction you want to head and you can get back on track putting one foot in front of the other.

When you are lost and using a compass to figure out where you are, the needle may shake a bit, but it always finds north.

The road ahead may be shaky and full of twists and turns, but working through some of these strategies for dealing with uncertainty can help you find your north again. That way, you can keep on keeping on.

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It’s nothing new to disagree with the ones you love, whether it’s about COVID-19, quarantine, religion, guns, racism, politics, football or something else. In fact, chances are pretty good that you completely disagree on certain topics with someone you care deeply about. The disagreements may be so intense you wonder how you can actually co-exist. 

The level of intensity might feel more so at this moment in time in our culture. In fact, many people can hardly believe that the people they love have such different perspectives from their own. The ongoing stress from trying to navigate these issues can take a massive toll on our relationships. FOR REAL.

What do you do when you strongly disagree with the ones you love?

Although you might be tempted to confront them and tell them they are just plain wrong, you might want to reconsider. That plan probably won’t go very well for you because it’s likely your loved one will feel attacked. Nobody wants to feel attacked, right?

Instead, start by asking yourself a few questions.

What is the goal of my conversation with this person?

Do I just want to share information?

Am I trying to understand their perspective?

Do I feel the need to convince them they are wrong?

Am I trying to prove that I have a valid point?

Do I have to WIN?

Taking the time to think about your ultimate goal can help you prepare to constructively engage with them.

It may help to remember that no matter how hard you try, you cannot change someone else or make them see something the very same way that you do. Yelling at them, belittling them, coming across as condescending, stomping out of the room or being sarcastic will only fuel the fire. And it will take you further away from your intended goal.

Plenty of married couples, extended family,, siblings and roommates have vehemently disagreed about things, yet their love and respect for each other was never in question. How you have the discussion matters.

Here are some tips you can use to make your conversations productive:

  1. Look for things you do agree on. It is likely that you agree on far more than you disagree about. 
  2. Kindness and respect goes a long way when trying to discuss difficult topics. Be aware of your tone of voice and body language.
  3. Avoid imagining how you think the conversation will go or how it has gone in the past. Playing negative scenarios in your head will actually increase your stress. It could also steer the conversation downhill straight out of the gates.
  4. Be prepared to genuinely listen to their perspective—even if you already believe you don’t agree with them and can’t fathom how they could believe what they believe. When people feel heard, you are more likely to keep the conversation going and avoid damaging your relationship. **PRO-TIP: Paraphrase what you hear and avoid using the word, “but.” Using “but” negates everything that the other person just said. Try using “and” instead.**
  5. If it feels like the conversation is becoming heated, remember that getting louder will escalate the situation for sure. Plus, it actually makes it harder to hear what is being said. If you are struggling to think clearly or keep your cool, take a break. Say you need to go to the bathroom or you need to get a drink of water—anything to take a break in the action and allow yourselves time to breathe. Pausing is powerful.
  6. Avoid using “You always, you never,” and “You should.” Instead, focus on yourself and share your perspective while using “I” statements (I feel, I believe, I want, I need, etc.).

These are particularly stressful times, and when you disagree with the ones you love, IT’S HARD.

This means that many of us are experiencing extended periods of heightened anxiety and are constantly in a fight or flight mode—which is totally not normal. Fuses are shorter and we are probably more easily irritated. And, we may react more quickly, especially if we’ve been thinking or dwelling on the topic at hand. Acknowledge this and think through the fact that how we handle difficult conversations can impact the quality of our relationships. 

It’s vital to remember that this is a process. If over time the conversation seems to go nowhere, you may need to set boundaries around this topic in an effort to keep from destroying the relationship. Keep in mind that if you choose to walk away from the relationship, you will no longer have the opportunity to present a different perspective.

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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. 

Staying calm in the face of a screaming or irrational child having a tantrum is no easy task. (Especially if it is in public or around friends & family. You feel like everyone is watching and judging. And they probably are. You just gotta get over that. It’s hard.) Let’s start with you.

We often find it hard to handle our emotions when our children have meltdowns. That often gives them power over us.

★ I’m gonna say one kinda harsh but true thing, give you a parenting principle that kept us sane, and then list a bunch of practical tips to help you hold on to your sanity.

The Kinda Harsh Thing

Your kids aren’t driving you crazy, you are. Don’t take offense. Someone had to tell me that same thing and it was a game changer for my wife and I. At one point we had 4 kids 5 and under. I get it. But kids are just busy being kids with their little kids’ brains. We have to be the adults. Sometimes kids act out to get our attention or affection, but sometimes they are feeling things they aren’t equipped to process. Sometimes they are just tired. You “lose it” or are driven “crazy” only as much as you allow. Let that sink in.

Here’s a little something about your (fully developed) parent brain. When you are stressed to the max, totally about to lose it, and highly emotionally triggered, your prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain that does all the higher-order important brain stuff– like logic, predicting outcomes of words and actions, decision-making, impulse control, focusing your attention, processing feelings of empathy, compassion, shame, and guilt –that part of the brain gets “flooded” with the same stress hormones that put us into “fight or flight” mode. 

At this point, your nervous system has kicked in and you are no longer the “normal” you. To your body, it’s the same as being charged by a bear. You will not think, act, or speak, like the “normal” you. It’s not your best self, it’s your biology. This is the “driving me crazy” feeling that you feel. Under stress, we regress. We either shut down or lash out. (Sometimes at our kids, sadly.) You will accomplish little to no parenting good in this state and you may do harm.

Parents need to recognize when they are being “flooded” and call a “Time-Out.” This might mean asking your partner to step in. This might mean getting the kids into the car and just going home. This might mean asking your kids to go sit on their beds. It takes about 20 minutes for our brain to recover from flooding. During this time, do what soothes you and calms you down.

Now think of a 4-year-old brain. They are not even close to fully developed. They can be flooded just by saying “no” to a piece of candy in the check-out line or simply being tired. When they are flooded, they throw tantrums, melt down, and act out. They need time for the floodwaters to recede from their little brains, too. Sometimes they can’t calm themselves down or soothe themselves. You might have to take an active part in that. That doesn’t mean condoning misbehavior. You can address it later after they have calmed down. It means they are not going to learn any “lesson” while flooded.

We have to be the adult, the grown-up, the parent, the one with a fully-developed brain.

The One Parenting Principle That Helped Us Keep Our Sanity

Kids need routines, rituals, structure, and boundaries.  This makes their young lives predictable, secure, and safe but it also provides them with the freedom to be kids. Oh, and these things can also help mom and dad to stay sane. It might take a little work upfront, but it will save you from so many tantrums, meltdowns, plus lots of time in the long run. You need a morning routine and a bedtime routine for sure, minimum. Post them at your kids’ eye-level. Use pictures if they can’t read yet. A structured day is a less stressful day.

Practical Tips! 

(Whether these are helpful may depend on you and your kids’ ages & maturity levels.)

  • Separate the child and the behavior. Be careful how you say things.
  • Sometimes kids need to go outside and burn off energy.
  • The Art of Redirection: “Instead of jumpin’ off the deck, why don’t you see who can run around the house the fastest?” (Notice: You didn’t say, “Don’t jump off the deck!”)
  • Sometimes we had to pretend we were watching other people’s kids. Seriously.
  • Enforce Quiet Time—Even if they’ve outgrown naps. Kids can sit on their bed and read or play for 30 minutes quietly (maybe longer) while you catch a breather.
  • Include them in what you are doing—cleaning, cooking, etc. Give them a little job to do.
  • Rotate toys. We would pack up some of their toys and put them in the attic. Less clutter, and when you bring those toys back, it’s like Christmas. Rotate out some other toys.
  • Read to them. Seriously, this should be a top priority at any age.
  • Try to do something new every week or so—puppet show, art exhibition, dance-off.
  • Have one of their friends over. (Take turns with another parent.) 1 Kid + 1 Friend = 0 Kids. I don’t know how that math works, but it does.
  • Take advantage of reading days at the library or bookstores or a “Parent’s Night Out” at your church or YMCA. [When things open back up.]
  • Get up before they do and you are ahead of the game. Don’t play “catch-up” all day. Have your own morning and bedtime routines. Take care of yourself.
  • Structured playtime— “It’s 1:30! That’s Lego Time!” Unstructured playtime—“It’s 1:30! Time to play whatever you want in your room!” (Or outside, if that is a safe option.)
  • Teach kids not to tattle-tale on each other and learn to work out their own differences. (Tattle-tales got in trouble at our house unless there was blood involved.)
  • Have some “special things” they don’t always have access to. Then when you break it out, it is an INCENTIVE & EVENT. “Play-Doh! Just after we clean up lunch!
  • Break bigger tasks down into smaller tasks—“Clean your room” = “Put the books back on the bookshelf, then report back!” “Okay, now put your stuffed animals up.” And so on.
  • We learned that each of our kids had what we called “Pressure Points.” Learn them. One child hated standing in the corner for “Time-Out.” Another kid loved it, but hated being sent to his room. Yet another child loved being sent to their room, but hated chores. They are all unique individuals. What gets one’s attention may not get another’s.
  • Use a hula-hoop for cleaning their room—“Clean up the part of the floor in the hula-hoop!” Then move the hoop to the next area.
  • Time chores—make them a race, game-ify things. “Let’s see if you can get ready for bed before the timer goes off!” See if they can top their best time.
  • Don’t just say, “Time to get out of PJs. Get dressed!” Give them choices: “You can choose between this outfit or this one.” Trust me, this solves a bunch of problems before they become problems.
  • Charts on the fridge are your friend (but only if you are consistent with it).
  • If any behavior gets a “big reaction” from you, you will see it again. And again. And again. Choose wisely what you react to…
  • Have older kids help with younger kids. (But be careful not to put adult responsibilities on them. That can breed resentment.)
  • Sometimes you just have to put a kids’ movie on and chill for 90 minutes. It’s okay.
  • If you have more than one child, try to get some one-on-one time with each of them doing what they like to do. It can be 10-15 minutes twice a day.
  • SNACK TIME!” Diffuses many chaotic situations. Ah, the power of some fruit, cheese and crackers!
  • Do some exercises with your kids. It lets you blow off some steam and gets them moving and sets a good example. Plus, it’s just fun.
  • Try to see situations through their eyes. Cultivate empathy.
  • Know your triggers. Be prepared for them and prepare your children for them.“We are going grocery shopping. Please do not ask for any candy. The answer is already ‘no’ so remember not to ask.
  • Love your child unconditionally. Let them know that you like and enjoy them too.

What is that saying about parenting? “The days are long, but the years fly by.” It’s so true. My kids are basically grown up now. Somewhere, deep down inside of me, I miss the insanity.

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Trauma is a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. And when it comes to COVID-19 and quarantine, most of us have experienced some sort of trauma around the situation. Actually acknowledging that is part of our healing process as people seek to get on with their lives.

As we all mentally prepare for life after quarantine, it will be helpful to consider what we have been through. It will also help us if we are intentional about creating a path forward. Many have said they don’t want to go back to the way things were.

Consider these things as you prepare for life after quarantine.

When we entered into quarantine, quite a few adults and children were exhausted from the chaotic pace we kept. Now, it is totally possible that you are dealing with exhaustion because of the intensity of what you’ve been through. Being mentally and physically tired can cause us to not think clearly. It can also cause us to make irrational decisions that we normally wouldn’t make and behave in ways that are unlike our typical selves.

Perhaps the first order of business is to take a few minutes and assess how you are feeling. Many of us, out of necessity, have had to keep our guard up throughout these last 40-plus days. Unfortunately, that may have kept us from actually ever acknowledging how we were really doing. As we prepare to come out on the other side of quarantine, now is a good time to consider that.

What are you physically and emotionally ready to jump back into? Although many say they would never have stopped all their family activities, the break has been nice for some. As things ramp back up, do you have the bandwidth or even the desire to go back to that level of busyness? Or do you want to use this as an opportunity to eliminate some things from the schedule? This could be a great exercise for the whole family.

What if we’re not feeling okay?

Some of us might feel like we are not okay—whether due to job loss, money tension, intense anxiety about getting COVID-19 or dealing with family members. There are many who may need the help of a third party to help us process everything, acknowledge emotions around the experience and create a game plan for being able to move forward. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you don’t know a good counselor, you probably have friends who do. Keep in mind that selecting a counselor is a lot like choosing a doctor. Having good chemistry with your counselor can help you accomplish the work you need to do to feel better.

Don’t underestimate the importance of good self-care as you move into life after quarantine. I know we’ve all been hearing it throughout the time we have been sequestered. However, it really does make a difference in our ability to think straight, make healthy decisions, problem solve and interact with difficult people. Exercise, get good rest, eat well and be intentional about having conversations with people who make your heart happy.

Keep in mind that while your children may not have been under the same types of stress that you have, they have still experienced something traumatic. As you develop your plan for re-entry, talk with them about what you have in mind. Seeking their input will help ease anxiety and give them a level of comfort about adjusting to a new routine.

And, let’s just not forget the power of unspoken expectations. You may have ideas about how things will go for you and your family when it comes to re-entry. For example, you may say you are for sure not going to be involved in so many activities. You might even say you are going to take it very slow when it comes to putting yourselves back out there. However, if everybody is not clear about your expectations and what moving forward looks like, it could lead to some unnecessary drama… and can we all agree that we’ve had enough of that?

Before we wrap up, just want to put this out there: It is possible and probable that you will have friends or family members who don’t agree with your plan. They may think you’re not being cautious enough or you are being too cautious. In the words of a 4-year-old to her father as she was trying to buckle herself in her carseat: “You worry about yourself!” There is no one right way to navigate through life after quarantine. Figure out what works for your family and encourage others to worry about themselves. Respect and kindness toward everybody, even those we don’t agree with, goes a long way. 

So, it is important to make a plan for life after quarantine, but it may be best to hold the plan loosely because we have no idea what lies ahead. Being willing to adapt and adjust over time will probably serve all of us well as we move forward. 

Looking for relationship resources during COVID-19? Click here!

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