WHAT I WANT TO KEEP TO MANAGE MY OWN ANXIETY
A friend observed recently that I “seem to be thriving” during this crazy time- it’s been over 2 months since Covid-19 hit. I’ve been working (as a therapist specializing in anxiety and eating disorders) and helping my 3 kids with the online school fiasco, all the while attempting to keep a lid on my own anxiety about how much anxiety is ok to have right now. I do acknowledge my privilege. I still have a job and have the means to provide for myself and kids. Others have not had that same experience, I know.
Like everyone, I have been worried in general about the state of the world, our country, and my own state that has been accused of responding poorly to the pandemic. For me personally, this time has been challenging, in large part, due to discovering one of my kids struggles significantly with organization and self-motivating outside of the structured school classroom. Figuring out how to make this work has been one of the hardest things I’ve faced as a parent. And this kiddo is a teenager, so you can imagine the fun of that.
BUT. Something has changed for me. Despite what seems to be the world falling apart around me, there is a certain sense of calm I have experienced.
I really worry about coming off here as an over-privileged white lady who has no sense of how devastating the impact of Covid-19 has been for so many. I do recognize that this pandemic has been a horrible tragedy. AND we have to find a way forward. I believe there is value in facing a challenge when we have no other choice, and committing to doing whatever we can to not make it worse. To, instead, respond the best way we can to improve the situation. This can help us from falling into despair.
I want to draw attention to changes many of us have made that were long overdue. Changes that were too hard, too unpopular, or impossible before. Changes that are working really well for many now.
Certain aspects of this new way of living have provided a calm I desperately needed, and I’m now trying to figure out how I can hold on to some of it. Our world will try to go back to normal. This is America. As I’ve said in another blog about the anxiety epidemic in America, here we focus on working hard, but making it look easy. It’s a recipe for disaster, as we see from the worsening state of mental health in American children and adults. I don’t want to live that way anymore.
I tend to run a little anxious and a little distractible anyway, thanks to my genes and my environment of 3 young, active kids and a business to run. Managing the buzzing undercurrents of both worry and distractibility is challenging. But failing to manage these challenges equates to "living on Hard Mode" (nerdy video game reference), as recently described by a friend. For me, the simplicity of life lately compared to before has provided a respite.
The friend who noticed my newfound peace asked what I would keep from this time, if possible. Below is my wish list that I will undoubtedly need to edit as time goes on. Maybe putting it out there will help me be more intentional about it. (Disclaimer: I am also one of those introverts who could easily live in quarantine pretty comfortably forever, so I realize this informs my thinking on this.)
My tools to manage stress and anxiety during Covid
A simplified schedule
As a mom and a therapist who reads a lot about child development and mental health, I really tried my best (pre-Covid) to not overschedule my kids. But I didn’t take into account that others would ignore this so hard. One kid, who plays sports year round, has multiple weekly practices with unpredictable dates and start/end times, plus games and tournaments. That same kid is an extraverted teenager with lots of friends and no car, and lots of requests to be driven places. With three kids in three different schools, school events were impossible to predict, as well.
Quarantine changed all that. The evenings were calm and uneventful, literally. We had dinners together, all sitting at the table at the same time! I had calm-ish conversations with my husband and kids, rather than those while frantically passing each other on the way out the door. Frequently, we just talked in the car on our way to activities. I know I can’t hold on to the complete absence of activities once this is over, but I certainly intend to reduce activities and be more discerning about whether activities are essential enough to sacrifice our calm times together.
Spending more time outdoors
Again, we have such a busy kid schedule that we all spent the majority of our time driving to activities. We were never home. But we were rarely outside either. In quarantine, we eventually got tired of staring at the same walls and the same screens all day. This forced us outside a bit more. We went on hikes, picnics in new parks, and for sightseeing drives. To be honest, I had to force the kids out of the house for this one, but they generally enjoyed it in the end.
Taking mini-vacations to unplug and relax
One weekend we took (forced) the kids out of their in-home comfort zone and rented a nearby house in the country. There wasn’t much to do besides sit outside and enjoy the sounds of nature, read, and play games. We didn’t have the usual distractions of deciding which restaurants to eat at, which activities to do, and how early to wake up to beat the crowds (hello Disney). Gone was the stress of early bedtimes to accommodate this, or cranky kids due to lack of sleep.
Reiterating the above point, the time outdoors was enjoyed by all. I’m not sure I can pull off this exact kind of trip again post-Covid, but it’s shown me the importance of building simpler days into vacations or entire vacations where we just stay still.
Spending more time on my patio
Continuing with the outdoor theme, boredom inspired us to make use of our back patio and adding little touches to make it an inviting space. We planted some flowers, added some comfy seating, and even moved an indoor tv out there. Here lately I go out there to talk on the phone, read, or even do work.
We’ve even had a few family movie nights, which we abandoned as the kids seemed to outgrow these. They seem to enjoy them again! I have even noticed my kids going out there to read or just spend time on their phone. It seems the patio has become a respite for all of us. I hope this will continue. I vow to keep the space tidy and the flowers alive so we can continue to have this relaxing spot.
The best (maybe only good?) part of homeschooling has been not having to wake up at 6:45am most mornings to get my kids to school. It was even earlier during athletic season for my son. Though my husband took him, it still woke me up. And I never made up for the earlier wakeup time by going to bed earlier. I love late night time alone. Now, we all sleep in a little. I am REALLY loving the more relaxed mornings.
Of course, this won’t last forever, but it’s inspired me to brainstorm ways I can approximate this. I’m thinking earlier bedtimes so I can get the sleep I need, and keeping our weekend mornings free for sleeping in. And maybe telling my son he can’t play ALL the sports that require a crack-of-dawn practice.
Moving my body in creative, convenient ways
With shuttered gyms, yoga studios, and even some outdoor spaces, the options for carrying on with movement seemed limited. But what happened after Covid-19 was that we all got creative. Access to online yoga, dance, and indoor cycling classes exploded. My gym Zumba instructor even put together a list of Youtube videos so her students could keep dancing at home. Not the same, but still fun and better than nothing. I did a Tahitian dance class for the first time and loved it, and was exposed to something I didn’t know existed. (here’s the teacher’s Instagram page, and she has free beginner classes! https://www.instagram.com/janay_noelani/?hl=en).
I’ve done many online yoga classes, and even set up space on my patio to do it outside. One day my daughter even asked to join me for her first time doing yoga. My gym did eventually offer on-demand classes, but I never tried these because I had so many other options that were new and available before the gym rolled them out. I even did a Zoom breathwork class a friend introduced me to! Which leads me to my next wish.
More silence and stillness
In whatever form that takes. For me that means less excuses to avoid mindfulness and meditation. Though it seems like just another passing trend, the research shows mindfulness practices are good for us and can help with anxiety. Generally I struggle to practice it regularly (or at all), but lately I have found I AM practicing it… just in less traditional ways than I thought I needed to. I have been doing more yoga and found that even at home with my kids around (I usually do it live in a studio) it’s meditative.
All the categories above provided opportunities for mindfulness practice, through the bountiful sensory details of nature, or the newfound chance to focus on one thing at a time because there were fewer things distracting me. Post-Covid I vow to reread this post often, and try to schedule silence and stillness into my schedule. I may have to ask for help with accountability on this one.
Better boundaries with our time
So, how do I hold on to some of the peace found during the pandemic? Boundaries. This will be a work in progress. I know the demands of the world will return to pre-Covid ways, but I have to be more assertive with others about my boundaries if I’m going to succeed at any of the above wishes. The good thing about working on this is the great role-modeling I’ll offer my kids, right?
This new way of living may lead to people getting frustrated with me, but I’ll work on how I react to that too. Working on our boundaries is required if we are going to make decisions that improve stress management. That’s a discussion for a different blog post. I’ll let you know how I’m doing with that one. :)
We’ve all had good practice determining what’s truly “essential” while quarantining at home. Let’s keep this up. What keeps me motivated to do so is the family legacy I want to create. Though we can’t necessarily change our genetic predispositions for anxiety and other mental health issues, we can work on changing our environments to make them less stressful and chaotic. This is the only chance we have to stop living in Hard Mode. Quarantine has taught me that Easy Mode exists and to some extent staying in Easy Mode is a choice.
If you’re interested in counseling to help you slow down and simplify, let’s talk! If you need accountability for making and sticking to changes that settle anxiety, let’s definitely talk! I OFFER VIRTUAL/VIDEO COUNSELING FOR YOUR CONVENIENCE!! If you’re looking for counseling in Plano, Texas contact me at 469-850-2420 or email@example.com for a free 15-minute phone consultation. My name is Danesa, and we can see if we’re a good fit! I’m also happy to connect you to another great therapist in the area.
My specialties include anxiety, depression, eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, binge eating; overeating or compulsive eating, and body image issues. My office is in Plano, Texas, and conveniently located near Frisco, Allen, and McKinney.