Posts

By Shannon Loehrlein, LCSW -October 1, 2020-

This time last year, no one dreamed 2020 would bring a worldwide pandemic. We were forced to adjust very quickly to quarantines, stay-at-home orders, social distancing, travel restrictions, working remotely and masks. Who knew a year ago we would be using terms like “social distancing” and “face masks” in our everyday conversations?

Anxiety, depression, and suicide have all been on the rise. Unemployment and economic numbers are worse than during the Great Depression. Everyone is on edge. 

As adults the coronavirus pandemic is scary enough, but what if we are also parents? How do we take care of ourselves while also providing comfort and stability to our children? 

As a parent of two young children myself, working from home at the start of the pandemic was a challenge. Parents have always struggled with work/home life balance, but stay-at-home orders and working remotely were something new. We also had the challenge of not only being a parent but also our child’s teacher.  I think all of us now have a greater appreciation for teachers and the work they do. 

Stay-at-home orders have ended, and many of us are gradually returning to work and school. As we adjust to a new normal, however, many parents are struggling to find time for their own self-care.

Self-care is the practice of intentionally taking care of your own needs. Self-care is important for everyone, especially parents and caregivers. Some may find that certain activities they used to enjoy as part of their own self-care, such as going to the gym, vacationing, going to the movies, and eating out may be more difficult with COVID-19 restrictions or closures. 

Here are some practical self-care ideas for parents:

  1. Avoid overexposure to the news. I personally found that when I was watching the national news I was more anxious and worried. Spend time watching television that is enjoyable and gives you an escape from reality for a bit.   
     
  2. Spend quiet time alone. It could be on your commute to work or after your children go to bed. It’s important to have time to process the day and enjoy calm.
  3. Spend time enjoying hobbies. Some pandemic-friendly ideas include listening to podcasts, reading, going for a drive, or talking to friends or family on the phone. I’ve recently discovered audio books and love being able to “read” while driving to work or taking a walk outside.
     
  4. Exercise.  Maybe you still feel uncomfortable going to the gym, but fall is a beautiful time for the family to enjoy outdoor walks. Exercise is also a natural stress reliever. 
  5. Practice mindfulness or meditation. There are several apps you can download for free mindfulness exercise, such as CALM, Stop Breathe and Think, and Headspace. Some of the apps have both a free and paid version with additional content. Research links meditation to increased levels of happiness.
     
  6. Find a babysitter for the night and enjoy some time with friends or your significant other. It is important to have adult time away from your children. 
  7. Spend time planning upcoming experiences. Dr. Laura Santo from Yale University’s work on the secret of happiness has found that spending money on experiences is linked to increased levels of happiness versus spending money on material possessions. For many, this could be planning a trip. I was reading in a travel magazine that the act of planning a vacation can actually lead to more happiness than the vacation itself. If you had a trip cancelled this year, plan for something exciting in 2021. You don’t necessarily have to leave town; you could plan a local experience such as a trip to the zoo or a walk by the river.
     
  8. Enjoy time together as a family. Have a game night or order carry-out and have a backyard picnic.   
     
  9. Socialize. I think one of the tragedies of COVID-19 is the loss of human connection.  Isolation can lead to depression. People have been told to stay away from others and maintain distance, but this does not mean we have to isolate. Plan to FaceTime a friend or have an outdoor get-together with chairs spaced 6 feet apart.
     
  10. Order carry-out food (or dine in if you feel comfortable) and support a local business.

If you’re a parent or caregiver, be sure to make self-care a priority during the pandemic. Taking care of yourself ensures that you will be able to give your best when taking care of others. 

By Shannon Loehrlein, LCSW – April 21, 2020 –

COVID-19 has led us into uncharted territory. Never before have schools across the country closed because of a pandemic. 

As adults we may be worried about the future. How long will schools and businesses remain closed? We may also be worried about how closures will affect our monthly bills, paychecks, and childcare. 

Children are worried too, but they worry about different things. Children are concerned about missing school, completing virtual assignments, and missed play time with friends. My 5-year old has been asking when she can go back to school to be with friends.

As adults, we don’t know the answers to a lot of these questions, but there are some things we can do to help manage our children’s fears. Below are some tips for parents and caregivers.

  • First, manage your own anxiety about the situation.  As parents we are naturally anxious about this situation. This is a good opportunity to help our child co-regulate.  If we can manage our own emotions, then our children will see positive coping skills in action.
  • Let your child know it’s okay to talk through their emotions.   Allow them to ask questions, but don’t feel like you must have an answer to all of their questions.  Listening is powerful. Sometimes all we can do is say, “I can understand why you feel that way.” Children need to feel heard and validated.
  • Limit your child’s exposure to news. This is also helpful for adults.  In the 24-hour news cycle it can be tempting to watch the news all day. It is important to stay informed but not oversaturated. Watching too much news can instill fear and anxiety in children. 
  • Keep a schedule. Many parents are being forced to either work from home or find emergency daycare placement with family or friends during this time. Kids thrive on a schedule, and their usual routine has been disrupted. Kids of all ages – and even adults – do not do as well when they are off of their normal schedule. So create a new schedule, and try to organize your child’s day during typical school hours. You can find free examples of schedules online. 
  • Make sure you limit digital time.  Although students have virtual learning built into their day, make sure you weave in play time and non-digital time throughout the day.  Excessive use of electronics can increase anxiety, so make sure your child takes breaks from electronics during the day. 
  • Encourage outdoor play. Kids are used to outdoor recess. Even if the weather forecast is not ideal, encourage kids to go outdoors in between the rain showers. They need to be able to run around and play to release energy and stress.
  • Teach your kids coping skills. Exercise, belly breathing, and talking about their feelings are going to be really important during this time.  Also encourage your children (especially teenagers) to reach out to their friends by phone and text.  For teenagers, relationships with peers are very important. 
  • Lastly, use this time to reconnect as a family. Normally our busy schedules leave us little quality time with family. Use this time to play board games, have family meals, and connect.

By Shannon Loehrlein, LCSW – October 29, 2019

Over the summer I participated in a free online class offered by Yale University called, “The Science of Well-Being.” It is taught by Dr. Laurie Santos. 

I have recently learned that Dr. Santos will be starting a podcast called “The Happiness Lab,” which I am looking forward to listening to this fall and recommend you check out as well. 

Happiness has always seemed like an unattainable achievement in our society. We are often plagued with the messages that society sends us about happiness. 

It turns out that many of the things we think we want in life do not actually bring us happiness. In her class, Dr. Santos talks about the myths we believe about happiness and what science tells us actually does bring happiness. 

What does society tell us is supposed to make us happy?  According to Dr. Santos’ research the most common myths include: true love, having the perfect body, owning expensive possessions, getting good grades, having money, and having a good job. 

Dr. Santos uses the psychological term of “hedonic adaptation” to explain why these things do not make us happy. In simple terms, this means that we become used to whatever it is we have.

For example, if someone won the lottery, at first it would bring increased levels of happiness.  But eventually they would become used to being rich and yearn for more, more, and more.  Hedonic adaption means that any level of happiness does not last for long. 

People have the general tendency to return to a stable level of happiness. The good part of this is that even if we have a negative life event we will eventually return to this stable level of happiness. 

So what are some practices that we can do to increase our levels of happiness and mood?  Luckily for us, these practices are free and easy to use. According to Dr. Santos, the secrets of happiness are:

  • Meditation – a practice to help someone become present in the moment and tune out distractions.
  • Savoring – the simple act of appreciating and being present in the moment.
  • Gratitude – taking time to appreciate the blessings in your life.
  • Kindness – acts of kindness toward other people.
  • Social Connection – having friends and being part of a community can make you more likely to survive fatal illness and less likely to die prematurely.
  • Exercise – 30 minutes a day can boost moods and happiness levels.
  • Sleep – at least seven hours a night for adults and nine hours a night for teens.

So now that you know the secrets of happiness, start using these practices daily. It may just help you live a better life!