Here we are, in the midst of a pandemic and national emergency, with many schools closed for weeks to come. What is a working mom to do? Here are ten ways to stay calm.
- Take exquisite care of yourself. As moms, we set the tone for our families. We need to be at our strongest and healthiest right now to lead them through this situation. That means that our physical health needs to be a top priority. This is an opportunity to start healthy habits that you might have been neglecting.
- Sleep is paramount. Without it, your immune system gets weakened so make every effort to get enough.
- Healthy food is the next priority. Sugar suppresses your immune system, so consider avoiding it. Choose fruits, veggies, and whole foods, instead. Frozen fruits and veggies have tons of nutrients, so stock up your freezer with them. Homemade soups freeze well and are healthy, so make some big batches now to have on hand.
- Exercise is also key. You can take walks outside with the kids, go bike riding, or do a workout video at home, but make sure you get some movement. Note: Public health experts are advising parents to keep kids away from public playgrounds, so walks outside are a great way for kids to get exercise, too.
- Empower yourself with calming tools. Your mental health impacts your physical heath and requires attention and care. If you feel anxious or panicky, it means that your sympathetic nervous system has taken over. The good news is that you can activate your parasympathetic nervous system to calm you down. Here are some techniques that you can try both for yourself and with your kids:
- Breathing exercises. Set a timer for one minute. Breathe in for five seconds and breathe out for five seconds. Repeat until the timer goes off or until you feel calmer.
- Meditation. Set a time for five or ten minutes and focus on watching your breath. Your mind will wander and when you catch that happening, redirect it back to your breath. There are also lots of guided meditations for kids on YouTube, if you want to practice with them.
- Feeling gravity. Set a time for one minute. Notice the weight of your body against your chair or the floor and feel the pull of gravity on your body. This is an excellent way to ground yourself.
- Movement. Movement can help to discharge nervous energy. Put on some music (or not) and let your body express how you feel right now. Dance, stretch, throw punches, whatever. Kids love this, too, so put on some music and have a dance party. Yoga is also a great way to focus on being in your body. Again, lots of kids yoga videos are available online.
- Set limits on the news you consume. There’s a difference between staying informed and getting overwhelmed. Our brains are great at scanning for what’s startling and right now the news is startling. It can be tempting to stay glued to the newsfeed, which can lead to anxiety and panic. That’s not a great state from which to lead your family through this situation.
You can stay informed without losing your calm by limiting how much news you consume. Decide when you want to read the news, set a timer (15 minutes or so), and turn to something else when the timer goes off. You don’t have to read every article that people send you. Put your phone away and focus on doing something you enjoy. Doing something fun or pleasurable will override your brain’s quest for more news. Make a pot of tea, listen to music you love, take a walk outside. And turn off all non-urgent notifications on your phone, so you can stay unplugged.
- Trust yourself. Our mama bear intuition knows how to keep our families safe. But we’re sometimes hesitant to follow it because of what others might think. Now is not the time for people pleasing. It’s the time to trust yourself. That might mean that you decline invitations for play dates. It might mean that you keep your kids home from school even if your schools haven’t closed yet. It might mean your kids or others get mad at you, but you can handle that when you’re grounded by what feels right to you. Trust that you have everything you need to get through this, because you do.
- Focus on service. Mr. Rogers’ mother told him to look for helpers during a crisis because they would always be there. It’s a comforting message for both children and adults. We can also be the helpers, even from the confines of our homes, by stepping into a mindset of service. We can call and check in with people who might be vulnerable to COVID-19. We can order groceries for people who can’t go out. Our kids can make cards and pictures for grandparents that we can send via email or text. We can order gift cards online from local restaurants or shops that we’d like to support, to use later or as gifts. We can give donate money to local foodbanks and charities that help those in need. We can also write to leaders in our communities to encourage measures that would help. Service prompts us to stop worrying, which isn’t useful. It also prompts us to take compassionate and creative action, which is very useful. In doing so, we help others and ourselves.
- Prioritize. This new reality requires that we focus on what matters. There may not be enough time to get everything done, but there is time for the most important things. What is most important for you at work this week? What’s most important at home? (As mentioned above, taking care of yourself should be at the top of the list.) Write your priorities down, focus on those tasks, and you’ll find that there is time for what’s most important.
- Plan. If your brain tells you that you don’t know what you’re going to do, remember that you can figure out a plan. Using the priorities your wrote down, decide your daily and weekly routines with the kids and at work. Schedule the most important things early in the day and week, to make sure that they get done. Have a family meeting to ask for input about the plan and set clear expectations. Once a plan is in place, honor it the best you can. Having a basic plan provides order, predictability, and structure, which kids crave. Your leadership during the next few days will set the tone for the coming weeks.
- Play. None of us wants this situation to continue. But while it’s here, we can use it to get a much-needed break from the daily grind. Use the extra time at home to do something that restores your energy and uplifts your spirit. Play with your kids, read a good book, make homemade bread, listen to music, or whatever you enjoy. Play elevates your mood and keeps you feeling good, so it’s important both for you and your kids.
- Get outdoors. If the weather allows, make time to be outdoors as much as you can during the coming weeks. Spending time in nature reduces stress hormones like cortisol. It also provides a great way to get plenty of movement without getting close to other people. Doing so allows us to see that the life is still happening all around us. Yes, the situation is serious and requires us to do what we can to “flatten the curve”. But if you get outside, you’ll notice the sky isn’t falling. We can each do our part and make it through this.
- Turn inward. This situation provides us the chance to step back and reevaluate what’s working and what isn’t. Is your employer being inflexible? Perhaps you should start thinking about another job or career. Feeling exhausted by daily life and finding this situation to be too much to handle? It’s time to pause and reflect on what you want for your life. When you pause and turn inward, you realize that you can steer your life in any direction you choose. If something isn’t working, there’s no better time than now to realize that so you can start charting a new course.
If you need personalized help with your specific situation, I’m here for you. This week, I’m offering a limited number of Mom Crisis consult calls. You can offload your concerns and burdens, and get some help through this crisis. Click here to schedule your free call.