April 27, 2020
Coping Strategies for these Challenging Times
Our world has turned upside down in a matter of days. So much feels unfamiliar and uncertain, even while some things remain the same.
For many of the clients I work with there is significant sadness, loss and anxiety about the many impacts of the pandemic on their perinatal plans and experiences: the complexities of bringing a baby into the world right now, birth classes being cancelled, restrictions on parents visiting them in hospital, loss of vital support networks in the postnatal period, changes to parents’ group, fertility treatments being cancelled. The sadness and grief around these losses is significant, and can be difficult to bear. It was not meant to be like this.
Because we don’t have an individual or collective experience of going through something like this, our normal coping strategies are being stretched, and at times may be quite ineffective. Here are some suggestions of ways to help manage the pressure, help your feelings, and take care of yourself.
Give Yourself Grace
So much change, so much uncertainty. Now is the time to take the pressure off pretty much everything. A good place to start is to readjust your goals and expectations to match the reality of now. Resist the temptation to make your usual goals work. Doing less, not more is the key to riding this out.
How to do it
Notice what creates your stress. These feelings tell us a lot about what’s not working and what needs to change. Some triggers that are working overtime right now may be:
How the house looks – this can be a big struggle for some of us (I’m putting my hand up!). Life right now gives plenty of opportunity to practice tolerating chaos at home. Our homes need to be our family space, alone space, work space, kinder space and school space. That’s a big ask, so cut yourself some slack.
What you get done in a day – juggling babies, children, your paid work, supervising school work, meals, laundry all requires patience, tolerance and, most importantly, lowering the bar. Much is being said about the value of establishing daily routines. A well-structured plan gives children (even young babies) a sense of security and predictability, and helps everyone get things done. Ensure your routine is flexible, doesn’t have too many parts to it, and has plenty of unstructured down-time.
Keeping children entertained - challenge the idea that you have to keep them constantly entertained and find amazing things for them to do each day. Build plenty of free time into their day, and let them work out how to use it. Now is a great time to help children practice boredom!
Make friends with your feelings
What we are all going through right now is hard, at times really hard. No strategy in the world is going to stop big feelings pushing through from time to time, and it doesn’t need to. Worry, fear, anxiety, confusion, sadness, loneliness, frustration are all normal emotions to have at times like these. Try and be accepting of all of your feelings, even the difficult ones.
How to do it
Try not to judge your feelings or yourself for having them. The idea that some feelings are good and others are bad is very unhelpful. It is valid to feel the loss of all the plans you had, to grieve the loss of your hopes of how you wanted it to be.
Make space for the feelings – counterintuitive but helpful. When big feelings show up, acknowledge them and name them. By allowing your feelings you’re on the road to working out what you need to get through them.
Use feelings to guide what you need – comfort? Connection? Problem solving? Do you need support, if so, what might that support look like?
Find your calm
Whatever this looks like for you, try and find it where you can. Anything that quietens your mind, turns down the noise, and feels restorative will do. It might be structured, like meditation (Smiling Mind and Calm are wonderful free apps to get you started) or yoga. But cuddling your sleeping baby, walking in a local park, listening to music, quietly washing the dishes, and sitting in the sun are all ways of getting there too. These past few days I’ve been escaping to the cubby house, closing my eyes, and just listening to the sounds of the birds. A beautifully simple mindfulness meditation.
Creating family calm with children can be done by scheduling periods of quiet play, listening to stories together, or simply lying in the backyard counting the clouds. Children’s bedtime offers a wonderful opportunity to listen to quiet music together.
It’s OK to feel stressed and overwhelmed
Fear, anxiety and worry are natural responses to uncertainty and threat. In the world right now many things are being felt as a threat – the thought of your children or parents getting sick, the loss of our normal daily life, the loss of plans, the loss of jobs or finances. When we encounter threat the emotional system of our brain gets activated and overrides the thinking part of our brain. We end up in survival mode, or the fight or flight response.
When threat and uncertainty is prolonged – which is what we’re experiencing now – we can be continually activated into the fight or flight mode, so we need to work hard at limiting the triggers.
How to do it
There are many things we can do to anchor ourselves, and try to limit getting caught up in the storm of panic and worry:
Take a break from your phone or computer, particularly if you notice that your social media feed triggers your anxiety. Be discerning about your sources of information, and set limits on how often you check updates.
Remember you can be scared, worried, anxious and unsure and at the same time still be a wonderful mother and a wonderful father. You can still take care of your child, and you can still experience joy.
Minimise “What If” thinking. It’s easy to get lost in a web of trying to predict the future. This thinking might feel like problem solving, but chances are it’s not productive.
Turn your mind to what you can influence rather than focusing on what’s out of your control. The more we try to grab hold of what’s out of our control, the more helpless and vulnerable we feel. Use the following questions to help guide your problem-solving:
What can I do right now?
What do I need that might help?
Who are the people who can help me problem solve?
What can I do while I’m getting through this?
Time- box your worries by making an appointment for worry time. Make it daily or weekly, depending on your need. Whenever worries show up outside of that time, simply add them to your worry list. At the appointed time allow yourself uninterrupted freedom to worry for 15 minutes, and then stop. This strategy is helpful because it reinforces the idea that while we certainly can’t stop worries showing up, we can (with practice) decide when we attend to them.
Places to find support
If you don’t like the way you are feeling, please reach out for support.
GP & Psychologist – See your GP for a referral to see a psychologist. Telehealth options are currently available for both GP and psychology appointments.
PANDA - Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia. National Helpline 1300 726 306
Their website has a wealth of information and resources for expecting and new parents.
24 hour Maternal & Child Health Line 13 22 29
Mama You've Got This
Dr Karola Belton