Everyone’s lives have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. All of us has had to face stresses from concerns about health and changes to our lives these recent months—from ramping up personal hygiene habits to practising safe distancing in public to making various other adjustments due to circuit breaker measures.
How have you and your family been coping? If you are a working parent of school-going kids with elderly parents and parents-in-law, you must have a lot to deal with. Not only do you have to manage changes in your work, you also have to take care of your kids and your parents.
How can you care for your own and your family’s mental and emotional health in the current crisis?
Caring for yourself
One of the instructions you would hear in a plane’s inflight safety briefing announcements before takeoff is: “Make sure that you secure your own mask first before helping your children.” This principle applies to our lives as well, and especially so right now.
In addition to the stress, anxiety, and fear that can arise from the uncertainties of the present situation, you have transited to working from home at the very same time that you are attending to your children's needs at home. To add to that, you may also worry about your elderly parents and in-laws, since seniors are more vulnerable to the coronavirus.
It is therefore important that you take good care of yourself, so that you are better able to help and care for your family. Tending to our own needs is not being selfish, but rather, it allows us to keep running for the long haul.
- Physical self-care
Getting adequate sleep is essential. Lack of sleep can make us more emotionally reactive, more likely to dwell on negative thinking, worry more about the future, and less able to empathise with our family members1 in a time when they may need us to do so more.
Making time to exercise (with the necessary precautionary measures) also pays off, as it has been found to improve our mood, reduce stress, boost sleep quality, and help us to be more relaxed.2
- Mental and emotional self-care
Anxiety often arises from the stress of uncertainties. To move away from being feeling too worried and trapped, it helps to focus on what is within our control that we can do something about (e.g. changes we can make to our own lives) and to accept that some things are outside of our control that we can let go of (e.g. how long the COVID-19 pandemic will last or other people’s actions).
How we talk to ourselves also matters. Is our internal dialogue full of self-criticism or self-compassion? People who practise being kind, understanding, and gentle with themselves have better emotional resilience and psychological well-being, and are more able to cope with difficult circumstances.3 4
Remember that we are now living in unprecedented times. The atmosphere of unsafety and uncertainties caused by the pandemic does take a toll on our mental and emotional health5, so we should expect not to always function at our fullest capacity. We can afford to give ourselves grace and be more compassionate with ourselves, bearing in mind the various challenges that are coming at us at the moment.
Caring for your spouse
Our marriage is the most important relationship in our home. As we practise attending to our needs, we are better placed to also look out for our spouse’s mental and emotional health in the current situation.
- Understand what our spouse is going through
Our spouse is likely also dealing with their own emotions and thoughts about personal and family health concerns, work-from-home arrangements, and home-based learning, among others. Seek to understand what they are going through with curiosity and compassion, so that you can find out how to better care for your spouse. Use these moments to draw closer and build a stronger connection with each other.
- Keep communication lines open
As part of these conversations, open up communication lines about understanding and accommodating each other’s practical needs amidst the many adjustments that have to be made in your home. By practising flexibility and taking initiative, how can you both support each other in the areas of rest, work, family bonding time, caregiving responsibilities for your children and your parents, household management, and family finances? Unaddressed expectations can negatively impact the spouse who is facing undue stress from taking on a disproportionate share of the load.
Caring for your kids
When we as couples are united in loving and supporting each other, we can be more present for our children in caring for their emotional and mental well-being.
- Explain the situation to them
When talking to our kids about COVID-19, do remember to share an appropriate amount of information and avoid overwhelming them with scary details. Guide them in how to respond to bad news in the media. Acknowledge their emotions, and let them know they can always ask you any questions they have. Assure them that you will protect them and that the whole family will get through this together.
- Reframe their misbehaviour
Our children may exhibit more disruptive behaviour during this time. It is worth exploring if that is because they do not know how to cope with the many changes that are happening now. Our kids may be experiencing anxiety, frustration, or fear, but are unable to express what they feel in words, so their unpleasant feelings come out in other ways, like misbehaviour. They may not yet have learnt how to self-regulate when they are overwhelmed by emotions.
We can take a step back from being reactive when our children act out, and consider reframing the way we see their bad behaviour: they may not be seeking attention or being rebellious for the sake of it, but are instead looking for connection with us and asking for our help to cope with the present situation.6
Caring for your elderly parents
Because older people are more vulnerable to the coronavirus, we are understandably more worried about the physical health of our elderly parents and parents-in-law. We also need to give attention to their emotional well-being as they are staying at home more now.7
- See the situation from their perspective
To better care for them, we need to first see this crisis and its safe distancing measures through their eyes. For some people in our parents’ generations, they may believe that because they have survived other major crises in their past, the current pandemic is not much cause for concern. For others, because of the hardships they experienced, having the freedom to do what they want matters a lot to them, so they hold on to it very strongly.8 These reasons allow us to understand why our parents may not be treating safe distancing measures very seriously, viewing them more as unnecessary restrictions to their independence than necessary precautions to protect their health.
- Understand their stressors and struggles
We would also need to identify and address the stressors that may compromise their mental wellness.
Our parents may find this time challenging because they are suddenly required to change their long-time habits and have their movements outdoors restricted. No one likes experiencing a sense of displacement, and our parents are no different.8
If our parents used to enjoy a lot of time outside the home socialising with their friends, exercising, and participating in community activities, we need to appreciate how difficult staying home all day for an extended period of time is for them. This is especially so if they stay by themselves or alone, without their spouse.9
For those of us whose parents are not able or willing to use technology, we have to remember that (unlike us, with our digital devices) their leisure options indoors are limited to watching the television, listening to the radio, and (for those who are literate) reading. They may be now talking to their friends more on the phone, but it is not the same as the face-to-face interactions they are used to.10 This can result in them struggling with boredom, frustration, loneliness, or depression.
- Make the effort to connect with them
It is therefore important that we make the extra effort to spend time with our parents. We can also strengthen their social support by suggesting to them or helping them with safe ways to connect with their friends more regularly. Exercising with them at home can also allow us to bond with them while helping them to get active.
Explaining to them that we understand how they see the situation and the struggles they are going through could make them more receptive to our advice to abide by personal hygiene and safe distancing measures. Empathising with their experiences is a powerful way to make them feel heard and cared for.
Seniors have been found to respond well to persuasion and reason8, so it would help if we take this approach (even if it takes repeated coaxing), instead of scolding them or communicating with them in exasperation.
Caring for the Family
Caring for ourselves, our spouse, our children, and our elderly parents will enable us and our family to develop the necessary resilience to weather the pandemic. When we invest in quality time with one another as a family, it contributes to each family member’s relational needs and keeps the whole family together. This will boost our emotional and mental well-being and build stronger relationships with those close to us during the COVID-19 crisis.
© 2020 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.
- How Sleep Deprivation Hurts Your Emotional Health
- Exercise is An Important Aspect of Maintaining Emotional Health
- Self-Compassion and Reactions to Unpleasant Self-Relevant Events: The
Implications of Treating Oneself Kindly
- Self-criticism and Self-compassion: Risk and Resilience
- Mental Health in the Age of the Coronavirus
- A child’s bad behavior isn’t ‘attention-seeking.’ She's seeking a relationship.
- Elderly have to focus on their health amid social distancing
- Coronavirus: Social workers pound the streets to persuade seniors to go home and stay indoors
- Coronavirus: Elderly hit hard by social isolation amid circuit breaker measures
- The Big Read: Digitally estranged, seniors struggle with sense of displacement in pandemic-hit offline world
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