Ask Dr. Paul: Outbreak is a reminder to focus on self-care

Take care of yourself by exercising, reading, listening to music or podcasts, and going out in nature.

When it comes to this pandemic, we need to prepare our minds and bodies to stay healthy for the long haul.

It’s normal to experience intense emotions when we face challenges or hardships. But we must work to manage those emotions and find outlets to cope with stress during this prolonged period of upheaval.

Q: Some days I just feel overwhelmed. Yesterday, I cried for an hour and I’m not sure why. I’m working full time, my husband is furloughed, and taking care of our children, 11, 9 and 5. I worry that the kids are falling behind in their online schooling. I’m afraid I’m drinking more than I want. Yesterday, I started screaming at my husband and kids. I feel like I’m falling apart. What can I do?

A: Parents feel the pressure of trying to make sure their kids are keeping up with school work, not watching endless TV, or playing nonstop video games — all without playgrounds or sports to help their children let off steam. Schools are closed, so parents are taking care of their children while reading and answering work emails.

Many others are wondering how they’re going to pay the rent or mortgage after losing their jobs, or are wondering if they’ll be laid off.

And at the end of the day, we’re all wondering if we or someone we love will contract COVID-19. If we do, will we become seriously ill?

When you add it all up, it’s a lot to handle. No wonder some days you feel exhausted and frustrated. Tears are a way of venting the pressure, and periodic grumpiness is inevitable, even if you are a candidate for sainthood.

We have a long way to go before our lives look normal. So how do we get through what appears to be a marathon rather than a sprint?

Cultivate acceptance. This pandemic is a national emergency. Sure, the electricity is still flowing, food and water are available, traffic lights still work, and we have TV and internet. But this pandemic is serious. It has changed so much for so many. We need to accept this fact and the new normal it has brought.

Focus on self-care. Exercise, reading, listening to music, online yoga, podcasts and getting outside in nature will help us weather this storm. Keep alcohol to a minimum — drinking too much can make things worse. During this pandemic, we’re all going to have to up our self-care game in order to stay whole.

Take the long view while living one day at a time. It is likely going to take months before we have implementable solutions that will allow us to return to some form of normal. Meanwhile, we have to save the lives of those vulnerable to the virus. We need to figure out how to make the best of every day for ourselves, our family and our community.

Nurture realistic expectations. Children absorb knowledge like sponges, and this experience is teaching all of us a great deal. If during school closures kids learn how to amuse themselves for 30 minutes without a screen, they will have learned something very useful. Encourage them to catch up on their times table, spelling and reading skills. It’s not realistic to expect that moms and dads accomplish what teachers do in a school day. We’re not going to be able to do it all. Put your high expectations of yourself in the garage.

Let your feelings out. Cry, talk, stomp your feet and share your frustration with your loved one. Let it out.

Our job is to live each day with grace, gratitude and grit.

Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist at The Everett Clinic. His Family Talk blog can be found at www.everettclinic.com/family-talk-blog. Do you have a behavioral-health question related to COVID-19? Sending your questions to askdrpaul@everettclinic.com.

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