Love in the Time of Corona: Managing Anxiety as a Family

Finding peace and connection isn’t easy right now, but it can be much easier (and a lot more powerful) when we do it together. In this podcast episode, Dr. Michael Whitehead shares proven methods for moving from anxiety to calm, and even from calm to joy as couples and as families.

When we co-regulate as a family or as a couple then the benefits are enhanced and are much more strong than what they would be if we just tried to do it by ourselves.”

“We as families can use this time to co-regulate and deepen our relationships and intimacy with each other so that way we can feel that feeling of being understood, being heard, being touched by someone else who truly cares for us and loves us.

Here is the letter Dr. Whitehead wrote to his clients to help them through this challenging time:

Hello everyone,

First, I’d like to shout out a thank you to all other helping professions (i.e. doctors, nurses, paramedics, police officers, etc.) and others not ordinarily considered helpers (i.e. grocery store personnel, mail carriers, auto mechanics, teachers, farmers, truck drivers, etc.). I know the jobs of these helpers have become increasingly difficult as more restrictions are applied and the outbreak spreads.

However, the real intent of writing is to give a brief window into how COVID-19 is impacting mental health professionals such as myself. I only do so in hopes of encouraging others in need to seek out the help they may need during this very difficult and trying time, and to encourage my fellow helpers to practice appropriate self-care.

Before COVID-19, my job mainly consisted of working about 6-8 hours a day interacting with clients (mostly children and their families), helping my clients identify healthy coping skills, process trauma or stress, and implement self-regulatory skills. I had the luxury of largely keeping worries about my clients confined to my workday with only a few cases weighing on my mind later in the day or into the night.

Only one week into serious COVID-19 announcements, I find myself worrying constantly about my clients. I worry that they have enough food, shelter, and funds to survive a prolonged ‘social distancing’. I worry about my already anxious child clients and how they will handle the constant flow of new information. I worry how the parents of my defiant clients will be able to navigate and handle the increased school closure lengths. I worry about my elderly clients who could contract the virus and cause them serious harm. I worry about my marriage therapy clients who already had a difficult time with emotional processing with their spouses who they now have to spend extended amounts of time confined in small spaces with. I worry about the clients that were doing well, but now are urgently trying to get back in to process this drastic change, only to be faced with limited openings available. I worry how my supervisee’s (therapists in training) are handling this new era, and wanting to be sure they practice effective self-care. These worries don’t end at the end of the workday. I go home, try to be a father and husband, and realize that I need to practice what I preach to my clients. My kids need me as present as my clients do.

I wanted to share what I am doing to ensure best self-care practices. I encourage you all: client, therapist, parent, child, community member to think about implementing these self-care skills as well. We can and will get through this unprecedented time in our history, and we will do so better if we take these skills into account.

1. Get at least 8 hours of sleep. Due to social distancing, this may be a perfect time for all of us to catch up on our sleep debt. It is recommended that adults get at least 8 hours of sleep per night in order for us to have the best cognitive and social functioning. Any less, creates significant impairments.

2. Meditate at least 5 minutes each day. Take some time to be present through meditation in whatever form you find most appealing to you. Mindful presence helps to increase our ability to regulate difficult emotions. Emotions like many will feel during this time.

3. Take time to play. Play is an integral part of every child and adult life. Play helps the mind and body heal. Without play, our mental health suffers.

4. Enjoy the outdoors. Social distancing does not mean you cannot take walks, hikes, or fly a kite. Exposure to the outdoors, especially on a sunny day does a lot to combat depressive mood.

5. Connect with people. While this may not mean connecting in person, we live in a vastly amazing age in which technology has the power to connect us. Use your favorite social media platform, or video conferencing application to connect with family and friends. Social connection is very important to mental health.

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