Mental health tips and strategies for busy working moms
COVID-19 not only tests our healthcare systems to the extreme but also gnaws on each of us. The constant up and down of infection numbers and news bombs around vaccinations, mutations, restrictions, you name it, make us feel like we are on a constant emotional rollercoaster that spirals out of control with no end in sight. Even the prospect of opening up post-lockdown is accompanied by many questions, both in terms of wondering if this and that is safe to do and the feeling of unease that can happen when you are suddenly surrounded by lots of people again.
Every step forward creates more questions than it answers. Like how news around vaccination progress is often directly followed by uncertainty of whether they help against new strains of the virus, etc.
However, there are tons of helpful tips and tricks out there on how to cope with COVID anxiety around the uncertainty of events unfolding, but not all of these are viable when you’re a parent. For instance, it’s a great idea to help you reduce your stress levels by going on a walk by yourself, but when you have energetic toddlers at home or school-aged kids who couldn’t care less about walks, then that is not a viable approach. First, because you wouldn’t necessarily be alone on your walk and second, even if you were, if you are already stressed and feel like you can never keep up with your to-do list, unplugging and going for a walk is not always that easy.
Times a million
One key factor in anxiety is excessive worrying. All of this gets magnified when you’re a mom or dad. Times a million when it comes to how to cope with COVID anxiety. Not only do you worry about your own future or that of society as a whole, the economy and such – no, there’s one or several tiny humans who you want to protect with every fiber of your being. Sadly though, one of the key takeaways of this pandemic is the realization of how little we are in control and how little we can influence the force of nature. This includes the daunting feeling that you are in fact in no way able to fully shield your little ones from all that’s going on. And it breaks your heart.
Now, how to cope with COVID anxiety when your tiny tribe is part of the equation? The tips you’ll find below all adhere to the basic mantra that you don’t need to add anything extra to your plate to accomplish them. Because let’s be honest: we all already have that “extra thing” we all carry around with ourselves: COVID-19 (hopefully not literally though!). Hence, why I wanted to focus on practical tips that you can try that require little or no additional time and don’t require you to juggle different priorities any more than you do already.
So no “why don’t you try to get 30 minutes of exercise done every day to lift your spirits?” from me. Although that might be a great idea in general, it is not necessarily what you need right now if you’re a parent that struggles with anxiety during this difficult time.
Tip 1: Set the record straight
One of the common things that people say when things are tough is, “look on the brightside, at least you still have x” or “people go through worse in warzones.” YES. FINE. That doesn’t help you though, does it. At least for me, while I know that all such statements are obviously true, they don’t help as they all come from a somewhat negative external angle. The baseline of sentences like those are: it could be that much worse. To that I say: it’s okay not to be okay. There are three things that help me though when I do feel overwhelmed:
- Allow myself to completely loose it for 5–10 minutes. Freak out, punch your pillow, cry hot tears of frustration like your toddler when they discovered that you handed them their chocolate milk in the wrong cup (how dare you use the pink paw patrol mug when they asked for it, when really they wanted the one with the yellow truck on it?). I fully admit that this might be very challenging for the people around you. I know for a fact that this approach is definitely not a favorite of my partner when I decide on a random Saturday to allow myself those 5 minutes of emotional breakdown. However, it helps because the emotions are in me and therefore it is in fact mentally healthy to cleanse myself of them by releasing them into the wild. It’s having a dog that really needs to get out of the house and run over a field chasing a ball. You won’t calm them down by placing them in a corner telling them “this too shall pass.” No, you help them calm down by letting them run outside for a while to get it out of their system.
- Gratitude journaling. While laying in bed in the evening, write down a word, a thing, something or someone that you are grateful for today. Be careful to write something real and actually meaningful to you and not something generic like “access to clean water” (though one might rightly argue that clean water and a safe and stable society are indeed still great luxuries in today’s world). The more real and immediate the thing you’re grateful for is, the more it reinforces that feeling in you, which is 100 percent positive. The more vague or general, the less of an effect it has. You can write it down in a real one-line journal (this one is my personal favorite one-line-a-day book), in a note app on your smartphone or maybe just tell it to your partner as you lay there next to each other.
- Roll the dice. I’m a big fan of using a ‘mindfulness dice’ as a means to have a sort of ‘guided’ conversation with your family members or one with just yourself. Each side of the dice has a different question on it and you answer the one that comes up on top as you roll the dice. The idea is to reflect on your day, ideally with a focus on positive developments. (To find out more about the mindfulness dice, check out my article in the mom’s health section about it).
Tip 2: Bake it till you make it
To me, baking is an act of mindfulness and it’s a win-win-win situation:
- You take your mind off whatever stresses you by focusing on the moment, i.e., baking that cake
- You trigger positive emotions in your brain when you smell that homemade cake and all of its wonderful aromas (see previous paragraph)
- You get to eat cake and – as a side effect – feed your family
To me it was a very powerful tool with regards to how to cope with COVID anxiety.
Not only is baking a great way to allow you to focus on something other than your anxiety, it also gives you the feeling that you created something. Something you can actually see, touch and – yes – eat. There is something greatly rewarding about seeing the fruits of your labor. To know: I made this. It’s a small accomplishment that you can control, which is especially important if there are a lot of things going on in your life that you feel you can’t control.
Tip 3: Doodle, doodle, do… draw, color and sketch your heart out
This tip on how to cope with COVID anxiety is yet again something you can do alongside your mini-me. Drawing, coloring and sketching are wonderful mindfulness exercises for parents, as they can be done together with/in parallel to your child. Besides, the very fact that you’re a parent gives you a great head-start, as you will most likely already have the necessary equipment at home. All you need is coloring pencils and a piece of paper.
One way to deal with your anxiety can actually – and weirdly enough, but hear me out – be to fully indulge the emotion and try to bring it to paper by drawing it. You thus channel the underlying feelings and thereby learn to regulate your emotions. By regulating it in the form of drawing, you give your anxiety room and space, but then you put it in a drawer with the finished drawing when you’re done.
Always remember: it doesn’t have to be perfect and it doesn’t need to be pretty. And if you don’t know where to start, try drawing abstract shapes or symbols like swirls and waves. Are they intense? Are the lines really thick if your emotions are heavy or are they faint because you feel so darn exhausted? Then dive deeper in and bring it all out.
Or go the complete opposite path and draw things that make you happy, like a cute turtle or flower. The sun. A tree. Whatever comes to mind and takes your mind away to that happy moment you create on your piece of paper. Like nothing else matters, because it doesn’t.
Before you know it, you will own a favorite pencil and have a designated sketch book!
If you’re not necessarily one for free-style expression, check out this great Corona-themed coloring book for adults that includes profanity. If you prefer to stay on the cutesy side of the coloring aisles, how about a book full of adorable little baby animals that eagerly wait to be painted in the brightest colors?
Tip 4: I’m so puzzled all the time
Yet another great way to release anxiety and stress that you borrow from your kids: puzzles. They’re a wonderful way to take your mind off whatever is going on in your life and force you to focus on the moment. Moreover, similar to drawing, coloring, doodling or baking, it allows you to create something. Something real. Something you can see.
We live in a world, where so much is digital and essentially gone the second you hit the safe button and close the file. Even the things we might post on social media are radically fleeting. It’s there in one moment and shortly thereafter it’s gone from active memory.
Puzzles however allow you to create something real and are thus a great vehicle to cope with COVID anxiety. The reason for that is multi leveled. They take your mind of a confusing and chaos induced reality as you have to focus on which piece goes where. They allow you to create something that is logical and allows you to be able to be in control – something we all feel we lost during the pandemic.
Tip 5: This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine
Listen up girl – I hereby give you express permission to buy yet another Yankee candle! All for the sake of easing stress and anxiety to cope with COVID anxiety. Yippie!
Scents are extremely powerful agents to influence your emotions. Some scents lift you up, others help you relax. Light a scented candle to help your mind calm down, thanks to the soothing effect they have on you. Moreover, they release many happiness hormones. Hence why it’s called aromatherapy.
Scents to look out for:
- Ylang ylang
What also works great: any scent that triggers a positive childhood memory, like ‘this smells like my Grandma’s apple pie.’
If candles and the age of your child(ren) are not compatible, as in you have a very active and curious toddler who would dart for that candle the second you light it, then maybe rather opt for essential oils. Otherwise, the very thing that aims to reduce your stress level could push your anxiety over the edge.
Tip 6: No, I don’t want your number, no, I don’t wanna give you mine, no…
Who still remembers the song “No scrubs” by TLC from the end of the last millennium? While the story of that song might be a completely different topic than what you’re dealing with right now, it still contains the most important word to prioritize in your vocabulary: NO!
- No, you don’t need to tidy this right now unless it truly bothers you.
- No, you don’t need to do this video call with friends or family if you’re tired from staring at the screen all day.
- No, you don’t need to bake banana bread just cause every darn influencer does.
- No, you don’t need to start a yoga routine.
- No, you don’t need to feel weird about putting on full make-up when working from home, cause why the heck not?!
You do you and if it’s all too much, say no. It essentially means to ‘Marie Kondo your life.’ We are so often trapped in this giant endeavor of striving to reach for perfection. Listen, chances are huge that you’re doing just great given all that’s going on. Don’t ever beat yourself up for not finishing your entire to-do list in a day.
Tip 7: Shake it off
One thing that never fails to pick me up is girl bands or artists from the nineties or 2000s. You can’t really keep your feet still or not sing along to Britney, the Spice Girls, or TLC. So create a playlist with your favorite pick-me-up music, blast it on full sound and just dance. Works like magic after you just came out of a video conference meeting at work and also to cope with COVID anxiety.
Dancing and singing release a lot of amazing endorphins, create this great big smile on your face and bring back all those memories of your high school or college years; in short: all that happy stuff. With every minute you dance, you can shake off those tense feelings that have held a grip around your heart a little more.
Confession time: I actually only got a Spotify account a couple of weeks ago to be able to listen to the new podcast Renegades from Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen. Ever since then it was a total game changer in terms of creating playlists full of feel-good music.
Tip 8: What’s your feel-good treat?
We all have this one little treat that we love and that works like magic on our mood. This treat might be something completely benign like a hot pot of coffee. Discover your own feel-good treat to help you cope with COVID anxiety and in general! The key element of that treat is that it has to be very low key to acquire.
In my case, it’s indeed coffee: hazelnut coffee to be precise. I’m also quite tolerant as to which kind of hazelnut coffee, be it hazelnut-roasted coffee beans or hazelnut syrup. Bring it on, I’m game. However, I have to say my Achilles heel in terms of happiness inducing goodness is iced hazelnut coffee. Gimme that and it is infinitely relaxing. Why’s that? Because there’s something deeply casual about it for me. It makes me feel like I’m sitting on a sun lounger under a weeping willow tree reading a book, even if the reality of things is me sitting at my desk typing away.
Think what tiny thing in your every day life has the powerful strength to transform your experience. How to cope with COVID anxiety can be something very simple and small. Maybe it’s putting on your favorite college hoodie, your extra fluffy socks, walk 5 minutes through our garden barefoot.
Tip 9: OMG, have you heard about…? – No, I haven’t.
One of the key aggrevators during this pandemic, but I would argue the same was already true beforehand, is the 24 hour news cycle and all the constant supposedly relevant news flashes, updates, breaking news. Like any other business, journalists have a product to sell and want you to stay engaged. This has a huge affect on our perception of the world, because in order to keep our attention on their product (TV, websites, etc. you name it), there has to be something crazy, scandalous, catastrophic to keep you tuned in.
This principle massive adds to our feelings of unease and anxiety as you are put under the implicit or sometimes explicit impression that the world is in shambles and everything is disarray. Whereever you look, whatever station you tune it, whatever news website you browse, you get bombarded with global conflicts, challenges left and right and the distinct idea that dooms day is upon us. It’s not.
That’s why it is crucial to make yourself aware that you are fed a product to sell advertising and that very little of what you see or read actually affects you. That’s why a great way to combat anxiety in your everyday live is to consciously opt out of news. Rid yourself of feeling the heavy weight on your shoulders that comes with worry of the state of global and national affairs.
Start by going a day without any news on the radio, TV or the internet. When you accomplished that, try going for a week and before you know it, a month has passed and you will realize that you are getting by just fine without the constant exposure to news. It doesn’t make you an ignorant person to not know that country A is going through an economic crisis, it doesn’t change your life to stay up to date with the latest political scandal.
A friend who practices this since years summarized it beautiful: if it is really important to know about it, I will hear about it without actively seeking it.