Now more than ever, taking care of your mental health as a parent is crucial. Parents are juggling working from home, homeschooling the kids, managing kids’ mental health, and trying to figure out their own during social distancing—and all of that adds up to an increase in negative feelings that can be breathtaking. Whether you’ve experienced challenges like depression and anxiety in the past or this situation is bringing feelings up for the first time, there are ways you can manage your mental health right now. Julie Morison, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist operating at HPA/LiveWell in Albany, and Sanam Hafeez, Ph.D., the founder of Comprehensive Consultation Psychological Services, P.C., share their tips on managing your feelings, getting professional help, and remembering the little things that can make you happier right now.
It’s normal to struggle with mental health (especially now!).
Your kids need to be homeschooled, you need to complete work projects from your kitchen table, you need to cook dinner for the eighth night this week, and another mom on social media has posted a perfect-looking snap of her homeschooling setup. Sound familiar? Dr. Morison and Dr. Hafeez point out that parents are facing completely new stressors right now, and it’s normal to feel overwhelmed—especially given that New York might be past the peak of infection, but we have no idea when this is going to end. Anticipatory anxiety is high. There can be guilt around not giving your kids or your job 100 percent of what they need.
One effective thing to do is remember you’re modeling balance for your kids, Dr. Morison says. If you need to hop on a Zoom conference call but your daughter needs help with a math problem, tell her you’ll tackle it together after your call.
“Show [your kids] they need to be resilient and try things independently,” Dr. Morison says. ”Say, ‘I’m in a meeting now, give [this a shot].’ Let kids have some responsibilities and feel okay about that. Give yourself permission to still be an employee.”
Create a schedule the whole family can follow so everyone knows where they need to be during the day, and prioritize your priorities.
Right now parents are also struggling with their normal reassurances—for their kids and for their own parents. When you’re the one who usually tells everyone else it’s going to be okay, and right now you don’t know if it will be, that can be very difficult, Morison says.
“Use the facts,” she says. “Be able to say, this is what I’m afraid of, but this is what I know. And the difference between possible and probable. Is it possible that you’ll get coronavirus? Yes. Is it probable?
“In the moments where you feel like you’re being taken over by emotions, access the facts,” she continues. “Do this with your kids. Talking to kids so that your best coping skills are shared with them is good. Speak to your anxiety, don’t avoid it.”
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If you’re already coping with mental health challenges, continue with treatment.
Mental health professionals have seen an increase in patients experiencing anxiety, hopelessness, and depression, Dr. Morison says, because coronavirus has “attacked every aspect of our lives” and we don’t know what’s coming next. For parents who already live with depression and anxiety, she encourages continuing with treatment and medication.
“This is not the time to say you’re not going to the pharmacy to get your medication because it’s too risky,” she says. “It’s riskier to not fulfill prescriptions. Make sure the things you did before to manage your mental health, you do now as well.”
Dr. Hafeez discusses how negative feelings can snowball when parents worry about their children seeing their mental health symptoms.
“If you’re a parent with limited resources, multiple children, you are struggling financially, if you have a propensity for mental health issues, all of that is coming to ahead. Darker tendencies are emerging at this time,” she says. “When you have children and you have personal responsibilities, that takes on a whole new meaning. There are guilt and pressure about what you might be exposing your children to, how you might feel that you’re not showing up to be the best parent you can.”
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Jacqueline Neber is an assistant editor and a graduate of The Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University. When she’s not focused on writing special needs and education features, you can find her petting someone else’s dog.
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