Psychologist Suggests Parents Model Self Care To Help Children Cope With COVID-19 Anxieties
This story has been updated.
As the nation faces the coronavirus pandemic, parents are left with the difficult task of explaining to their children the uncertainty disrupting their daily lives.
Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear urged schools within the past week to remain closed until late April. Although it is expected many children would be excited by the idea of not going to school, clinical psychologist Doctor Brooke Jacobs said many are missing the social interaction school provides.
Jacobs is Director of Client Services at The Merryman House, a crisis help center out of Western Kentucky. She said during this time it is important to communicate with your children and model good self care.
“The feelings that we have, the stress and anxiety and grief and worry, our kids are probably feeling that too,” Jacobs said. “So, if you can speak to them and let them know that you're feeling some of that as well and then you’re modeling good self care, that would be the best way to to help them cope because that's how they learn.”
Jacobs stressed the importance of an individual's understanding there are still aspects of their environment they can control during this time of uncertainty. She said feeling out of control fuels the stress and anxiety that are detrimental to mental health.
“One important aspect is to recognize that there are things that we're in control of, and there's things that we're not in control of. We have this overwhelming lack of control, and that feeling fuels stress,” Jacobs said. “We're in such a time that's unfamiliar and almost there's no end in sight. It gives us this sense of dread almost. So that feeling is overwhelming.”
One coping mechanism suggested by Jacobs includes therapy sessions through remote counseling options like Telehealth. Jacobs has been operating via Telehealth and said there are challenges in providing adequate care through phone or webchat, but it is still important to maintain some level of care through this time.
According to Jacobs, the stress of one unresolved traumatic event in a person’s life can build on that of another traumatic event. She emphasized the importance of getting help to cope with stress in the moment, so the stress can’t build on itself.
“I know researchers specifically around the Boston Marathon bombing and the Ebola crisis in Africa, published studies about increasing stress,” Jacobs said. “The people who were at increased stress in previous traumatic experiences, their stress lasted until the next traumatic experience. It actually impacted their ability to cope with the next issue.”
Jacobs advised people to reach out for help during this event through tele-psych health services.
However, Jacobs mentioned privacy could be an issue during telehealth appointments for some patients.
“Finding space is difficult if you live in a busy household. Some people share phones and share computers. If you can go outside on your porch or go outside and go for a walk, we're all going to have to kind of understand that there's barriers in place and cope through them,” Jacobs said.
Although social media may be more useful now than ever before in staying connected to the world around us, Jacobs still warns that too much social media exposure is not healthy.
“When you open social media you're opening yourself up to things that you don't have control over,” Jacobs said. “So if you are wanting to connect with someone specifically, reach out to that person by phone or by a personal message or something like that.”
Limiting social media checks to once a day or twice a day is suggested by Jacobs.
Guidelines on appropriate information to give your children about the virus can be found on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's website.
Update: This story previously misspelled the name of Dr. Brooke Jacobs.