As I write this, it has been a month since everything changed. At least it feels like everything changed due to the COVID-19 shutdown. I think of that REM song from the 80s “Its the End of the World as We Know it”. The world, as we know it, has changed significantly. Every generation has a defining moment and, based on the hope that nothing more cataclysmic than COVID-19 will happen, this is it. Everything hasn’t changed, but so much has changed that its overwhelming.
With massive change comes confusion, chaos and anxiety. And COVID-19 also brings us social isolation, which is a uniquely stressful situation. We are all wired for connection and community. This level of disconnection and isolation is even getting to the introverts! The combination of social distancing and lack of routine is a double whammy. Work, school, sports and church gave a structure to our daily lives. Because these are gone (for now) we are challenged to regulate our own schedules and routines.
How are you doing with this? Here are some “red flag” signs that the stress is getting to you: Sleeping too much or too little, increased use of alcohol, tobacco or caffeine, using illicit drugs to cope, thinking you can handle this on your own, pretending as if everything is fine when its not, not communicating with friends and family, and not sticking to a basic schedule. If you find yourself suddenly home a lot now, make a plan and stick to it. Wake up at the same time every day, exercise, do something productive and meaningful before succumbing to the screen. Limit your news feed. Get to those things that you’ve put off until you had more time.
How are your kids doing? All the disruption is stressful for them as well. You might see your kids regress to more immature behavior, become more withdrawn and moody. Its normal for them to worry and obsess about the virus. They need to talk about what is going on. Answer questions in a way that gives the information they are looking for, but not too much information. Be as open as possible with them yet reassuring. Spend extra time (we have it to spend) with them without screens. Realize this is a teachable moment. Children will learn to cope with stress by watching how YOU cope with stress.
What about your teens? They need a schedule too. This can be difficult because they also want control over their own lives. That makes it hard to tell them what to do all day long. Instead, take a more non-directive route. Ask “What’s your plan for today?”. Give them the expectation that they will structure their day. Expect them to contribute (i.e., fold laundry, empty dishwasher) yet manage themselves. If its getting to you that they are staying up all night and sleeping all day, then help them out by shutting down the internet. Some families I’ve talked with have resorted to locking the router up every night.
Most of all, lead your family by keeping a good attitude. In times like this, we do well to focus on what we can control, and that is our thoughts and choices. Charles Swindoll is quoted as saying “I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.”