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By Jordan Beach, LSW – April 14, 2020 –

With the current global health crisis, it seems like we are surrounded by doom-and-gloom information at all times. It’s easy to find negative news everywhere we look – on TV, on social media, and in written news.

More than ever, it is very important for us to be mindful and intentional about the information we consume. Being informed is important, but not more important than your mental health. We are going to discuss some ways to help make your mental health a priority while also being in the know about current events.

Currently some media outlets are heavily focused on the negative things happening around us. The pandemic information is scary, but it’s very compelling. This is the type of news that sucks people in, but it can also have a very negative impact on your mental health.

One thing experts suggest is getting information directly from the source instead of from news outlets seeking increased ratings. For example, with COVID-19, a good place to get information would be from the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) website.

It is important to have a general understanding of what is going on in the world so you know which guidelines to follow to keep you and your family safe, but it is not necessary to have a constant influx of this information.

Actually, research conducted by Health Psychology suggests that seeing too much negativity can be harmful to your mental health. Being bombarded with negative news can increase your own risk of developing depression and/or anxiety. Research done at the University of California Irvine states that during a time of crisis people who seek repetitive negative news can be affected for up to three years after the event.

Also, be sure that if you are spending time on social media you are not using it as your main source of information about what is going on in the world. Limit your time spent online, especially on social media sites. This is also a good time to clean out the people and businesses you follow on social media. If there are people filling your feed with negativity or outlets posting only doom and gloom news stories, this would be the perfect time to filter your access to them. In exchange, look for some positive accounts to follow. In this time when we’re seeing so much negativity, there are also a lot of people working hard to fill the world with light and positivity.

This is also a good time for you and your family to work together to spread kindness within your own home and neighborhood. Write positive notes to your neighbors with sidewalk chalk and send thank-you notes to essential workers.

There is so much good happening in the world today, but choosing to focus on the negative can take a serious toll on your mental and physical health. For the well-being of you and your family, it is important to be informed but not overstimulated with negativity. Right now it is best to follow guidelines, stay home and do positive things.

By Mary Ruth Branstetter – April 7, 2020 –

Many years ago a friend gave me a beautifully framed quote that reads, “Serenity is not freedom from the storm, but peace within the storm.” 

Over the last couple of weeks we have all found ourselves within the storm of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is especially true for children and parents of school-aged children.

Our children have had to switch gears from going to school to being at home 24 hours a day/7 days per week. Parents have had to shift gears also, possibly working from home and adding the title of “teacher” to their parental resume. 

This shift creates additional work and stress for both parents and children. However, children often do not know how to put words to their feelings. Because children may not have words such as worry, fear, sadness, anxiety, anger, and even depression to describe their stressful feelings, they act out. 

Acting out may look like excessive clinginess, tearfulness, emotional meltdowns, aggressiveness, or regression in other behaviors. Children may also suffer from more physical complaints such as headaches, stomach aches, a racing heart, dizziness, interruption in sleep patterns, etc.

As a parent, grandparent or caregiver, you have the challenge of helping your child learn to express and deal with their complicated feelings in a healthy, appropriate manner. This is no easy task, as you may be experiencing many of the same feelings yourself. However, you have to remember that you are your child’s “safe place” in what may seem like an unsafe world at present. 

Children are usually at their best when they feel safe, connected to others and have structure and organization in their lives; in other words, a sense of predictability and normalcy. You can be this fortress of safety and normalcy by trying some of the following strategies.

Learn/teach how to properly practice deep, relaxing breathing. You can do this in innovative, fun ways such as lying on the floor with your child while each of you puts a stuffed animal on your stomach. As you breathe in through your nose for a count of 3 or 4 and out through your mouth for a count of 3 or 4, you should see the animal sink and rise on your belly. This means you are doing deep, relaxing diaphragm breathing.

Deep breathing activates your parasympathetic nervous system. In simple language, it helps decrease sensations of fear or distress and increases a sense of calm. This would be an excellent way to start your at-home school days along with a discussion of what the day’s routine is going to be, which again conveys a sense of safety to children.

Try to take a break every 20-30 minutes, depending on age and attention span of your child. During these breaks, dance, sing, hum, and encourage movement, as these types of activities help to naturally promote a sense of calmness and/or positive mood. 

If you notice your child is starting to become frustrated or upset during an assignment, try to interrupt the frustration before it becomes a full-blown meltdown.  Suggest they splash cold water on their face, put a cool rag to the back of their neck, or give them a piece of sugar-free candy or gum to chew. 

You could also try a 5-minute “blanket break.” Wrap the upset child in a blanket for 5 minutes, have them close their eyes if they’re comfortable doing so, take 3-4 deep breaths and think about a family vacation, memory or activity that makes them happy.

End your home school/homework time with a discussion of what the next day’s tentative schedule is going to be and one thing they have learned or are grateful for from their day.  Again, this promotes predictability and a positive attitude. Also, in ending your school/homework time with your children, give them time to ask questions or talk about something that is on their mind or important to them. 

Even if you only have 5 or 10 minutes to do this, try to really listen, empathize if needed, answer questions truthfully with age-appropriate facts…and try not to be judgmental. Just like you, children are trying to understand and come to terms with the current chaos and unknown of the “new normal” – in what is not their normal world.

Please check out the Youth First website at youthfirstinc.org/selmaterial for additional suggestions, activities, and exercises to help strengthen families and youth through this stressful time in our lives.