The slow burn of fear and anxiety.
As we walk out the door these days, our checklist has grown. Phone, money, keys, mask, sanitizer. Our hands are drying out from the amount of washing and kids have been introduced prematurely to a new set of vocabulary. Singing Happy Birthday has different connotations and we are constantly holding our collective breath waiting for the next spike or update in cases. Covid 19 has infiltrated every aspect of our lives. There isn’t a single day when we are not reminded of it in what we see, hear or do. No wonder we are experiencing a slow burn of fear and anxiety. This is the year of corona, and parenting has never been more difficult or important.
We’ve been winging it up until this point
Every generation brings a new layer of issues to deal with, and every family has it’s own worries and concerns. Each parenting generation likes to think it knows best and enjoys reminiscing about bygone days and long hot summers. But let’s be honest. We’ve all been winging it up until this point. This really is next level. We are all of us now harking back to yester year. Well 2019 to be precise, when all we had to think about was inequality, environmental sustainability, the evils of sugar, screen time and social media. Ironically we are now embracing the very things we’ve been avoiding in order to stay connected, alleviate boredom and create a little happiness. And that’s ok as we muddle our way through unchartered territory. But there are a few things we can do to ease the anxiety and feel less like we are in a state of freefall.
Honesty and Openness
First up we need to own the situation. As we mourn the death of our old lives, we are experiencing feelings much like the 5 stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance). Many of us might not want to accept what’s happening right now or in the future, or we may just feel angry, resentful, sad or anxious. We want to get to acceptance, but in reality we are probably flitting between all 5 stages. And you can bet our kids are feeling the same. So talking about these emotions is essential. Our kids need honesty. They need to understand what’s happening in their world and beyond. We won’t have all the answers but opening up the conversation is important. We can address their fears and our own through honest dialogue. Silence and secrets do not protect our children. Honesty and openness do.
Time to check-in with ourselves
And as we continue to mourn the loss of our old life, it’s more important than ever to prioritise our physical and mental wellbeing. Self-care can mean eating healthier or doing some exercise. For some of us it may mean meditation, deep breathing or reading. For others, it could be as simple as having a cup of tea or chatting to a friend. What’s important is taking the time to check in with ourselves, and then our kids.
Rituals and structure can restore our sense of control
Another way to offset this sense of grief is through our own rituals and family structure. For a lot of us, this sense of demarcation and organisation may help us and our kids feel a little more normal when everything’s all at sea*, particularly when we are stuck at home. Showering every day, making our bed or walking the dog may seem like mundane tasks but they are in essence, small routines that give structure and motivation to our day. Put your lippy on when you work from home if that helps. Shave your beard every morning if that’s how you feel prep’d and ready to go. Or grow a beard. Cook pancakes on Tuesdays, watch movies on Fridays.
Create specific rituals for you and your kids to feel emotionally attached to the family – a family cuddle every morning, watching the sunrise, lighting a candle at sunset, bedtime stories. Whatever works for you. When we suffer a loss of some kind we often feel our lives are out of control. Rituals and structure can restore our sense of control and make it easier to cope with grief.
An idea that’s been bandied about recently is that we are all ‘in the same storm but not in the same boat’. It’s true. We are definitely sailing in very different vessels on the same sea of grief. The levels of anxiety in each family situation may well be compounded by social isolation and financial hardship. But whatever the vessel you’ve been given, you can only do what’s best for you and your family.
Rude guest that it may be, Corona virus is here to stay, for now. So next time you head out the door with your checklist of items – phone, money, key, sanitiser and mask, try adding one more thing to the list. Acceptance. It’s how we move forward.
Words by Sam Yetzes
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*Sali Hughes – Write and Journalist