Updated: Mar 19, 2020
The focus of this writing is the stress and anxiety that the COVID-19 virus is provoking in children, teenagers, and families. We will discuss some of the reasons why the COVID-19 is affecting them emotionally and mentally. Although, stress and anxiety are real there are things you can do to manage the negative emotions caused by COVID-19. This is especially important because children and teenagers react to situations how we do.
Any time your brain feels threatened it goes into fight, flight, freeze response. Some of you might have heard about this already. The part of the brain in charge of this flight, flight, and freeze response is called the sympathetic nervous system. It's basically in charge of helping you survive. Is also known as our "reptile brain", "protective brain", just to name a few. It's actually the first part of the brain to develop when we are born. When our protective brain perceives a threat it shots down our prefrontal cortex our "thinking brain". Your "thinking brain" is in charge of problem solving, emotional regulation and, conflict resolution.
We can agree that the COVID-19 is a perceived threat because it can adversely affect our health and has a death toll of more than 4,500 lives worldwide. It's like any other disease, cancer, HIV, influenza, diabetes, and so on. When you or a family member is diagnosed with such diseases the worst comes to mind: death. For a lot of people it's difficult to see otherwise. Obviously, like I explained before our protective brain has taken over for until you feel safe. The measures taken by governments worldwide is not only to protect our physical health, but our mental health as well. Keeping yourselves and families home can provides that sense of safety allowing our thinking brain function "normally". This helps those who might be stressed, but maybe not so much those who experience an anxiety disorder.
Stress and anxiety disorder have similar behaviors: excessive worries, negative thoughts about self and the world. Anxiety is a response to stress and is persistent over a period of time after the stress-causing factor is over, interfering with your functioning. People experience stress at different times of their lives. Today, COVID-19 is a stress-causing factor. Those who experience an anxiety disorder might have excessive worry about the COVID-19 and thinking the worst will happen even if they are in staying their home.
You too can help your family, not just by adhering to governmental protocol, but by engaging in self care. Self care is more than deep breathing, going for a walk or exercising. Self care is also following reliable news that keep you updated. Self care is to be informed without overwhelming yourselves. For example, you can set a time during the day to watch or listen to the news. Another way of self care is to know the facts about the COVID-19. Try also to engage in mindful strategies by really focusing in the now when you are watching a TV show or a movie, cleaning the house, washing the dishes, cleaning the cars, doing the lawn, etc. If you have to work, then try to focus while you are completing a task. No matter if you stay home or go to work focus your attention in what your doing. Activate you five senses: smell, vision, touch, and taste. Even when you're eating try to notice the taste, the texture, and the smell. These are simple things to do to manage the stress or anxiety you might feel.
Talking about mindfulness, parents you need to be mindful that stress and anxiety are transferred to your child or teenager. In addition to genetic predisposition, stress and anxiety are also learned. The strategies mentioned above are also applicable to your children and teenagers. You might want to do a mindful game during meals. It can be as simple as each one having a turn to figure out what they taste. Another activity can be "Simon says", "Mindful Music" (where children and teenagers can give a thumbs up when they hear a specific instrument), and "I spy with my little eyes". You can find tons of ideas on the internet if you'd like. I can not stress enough how important it's for your children and teenagers to build these skills to manage day to day stress as they become adults. Hope you all are safe!