Mental Health Challenges and Coping Strategies While Social Distancing

As we continue to live through this unprecedented time, there is still so much we are working to understand about COVID and what the future holds for the pandemic. We do know that it is clearly having an impact on all of us including children, teenagers, and families that we take care of. The mental health impact from COVID can be broad and we still don’t know all the issues that will arise. Through this blog post and our Instagram Live session this week, we would like to discuss some common issues and questions that have come up for us that families and teenagers have asked us with the hope that we can provide some information, resources, and coping strategies to help you and your families through this difficult time.  Joining us at our Instagram Live session this week will be Dr. Amit Mediratta who is an excellent psychiatrist our practice commonly refers to in Brooklyn. During our Instagram Live session this week we will have a discussion about some of the challenges we are all seeing right now with the pandemic.  We have compiled several questions that families, teens, and other doctors in our practice have encountered over the last few weeks and thought we’d address some of them here:

What should I do if my child has an existing mental health condition?

It is more important than ever that individuals with pre-existing mental health conditions to continue with their treatment plans and to keep in contact with their primary care provider/pediatrician and their mental health providers. It is good to monitor for new symptoms and to notify your providers if new ones show up. Additional information may be found at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website.

We’ve seen a lot more tantrums, behavioral regressions or challenges with concentrating at school recently along with more sleep issues-what can we do to try and help our child or teenager out with this?

Children react somewhat to what they see from the adults around them. When parents and caregivers deal with the COVID-19 calmly and confidently, they can provide the best support for their children. Parents can be more reassuring to others around them, especially children, if they are better prepared. Take time to talk with your child about the COVID-19 outbreak. Answer questions and share facts about COVID-19 in a way that your child can understand: Healthy Children has excellent resources to help with this. Reassure your child that they are safe. Let them know it is okay if they feel upset. Share with them how you deal with your own stress so that they can learn how to cope from you.  Help children find positive ways to express disturbing feelings such as fear and sadness. Children feel relieved if they can express and communicate their disturbing feelings in a safe and supportive environment. It is good to engage in interactive activities with your children that are age appropriate. Be a role model; maintain structure, take breaks, get plenty of sleep, exercise, and eat well. Connect with your friends and family members and rely on your social support system. It is important as parents to listen first and to not assume what children want to hear to know. It is good to start with an open ended question and let the child lead the conversation. We have posted some more of these tips in our previous Premier Pediatrics blog post on “Talking to your Kids About COVID-19.”

My school is closed, my graduation got cancelled, my summer camp or vacation got cancelled-how am I supposed to get through all these changes?

First off, it is okay to be feeling sadness over the cancellation of many events and activities that you were excited to take part in-and know that you are not alone in experiencing these feelings. What you can do is to try and pay attention to those things that you can control. The infection is likely to spread through the population in unpredictable ways and continue to cancel events that we all look forward to. There is unfortunately nothing you can do about this. Make time to share your feelings with a close friend, family member or your health provider if it is causing you a lot of stress, anxiety or worry. Keep up your usual routine. Even if school events or vacations/camps are cancelled, maintaining structure to your days will help you feel in control. Routine is comforting. Schedule calls and video chats to keep you connected with your friends. Ask your family or others in your support network to reach out to you as well.

What if I am feeling anxious or stressed related to everything going on with the coronavirus?

Everyone can react differently to stressful situations. The emotional impact of a disaster or emergency scenario can depend on the individual’s characteristics and own experiences along with the social/economic situation of the family/individual and the community they are around and local resources available to them.  People can become more distressed if they see repeated images or hear repeated reports about the COVID-19 outbreak in the media. Common reactions include fear/worrying, change in sleep and eating patterns, difficulty sleeping or concentrating, worsening of academic or job performance, worsening of chronic health problems, increased substance and alcohol use. Feelings of fear, anxiety, sadness and uncertainty are normal during a pandemic. Being proactive about your mental health (paying attention to your feelings, engaging in relaxing activities, asking for help when you need it) can help to keep both your mind and body stronger.

What can I do to support myself or cope with everything going on?

Avoid excessive exposure to media coverage of COVID-19. Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories. Rely on information sources that provide reliable information about how to protect yourself, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or Healthy Children’s AAP Website. Social media can sometimes be an unreliable source of information. – Recognize the things you can control. Take care of your body and remain grounded. Take deep breaths, stretch or meditate. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep and avoid alcohol and drugs.  – Make time to unwind and remind yourself that strong feelings will fade. Share your concerns and how you are feeling with a friend or family member. Maintain healthy relationships. Maintain a sense of hope and positive thinking.  – Stay connected. Staying at home and distancing from others should not mean you are completely isolated. Reaching out to people you trust is one of the best ways to reduce anxiety, depression, loneliness, and boredom during social distancing, quarantine, and isolation. You can use the phone, email, text messaging, and social media to connect with friends, family, and others. Talk “face to face” with friends and loved ones using Zoom, Skype or FaceTime. Resources

Of course, we are here for you to help you through this difficult time and we would like everyone to take solace in knowing that a lot of people are dealing with anxiety, depression, sleep issues and that it is okay to talk about it and reach out for help. If you would like to discuss more of these issues-please contact us and we can arrange for a telemedicine or video consultation.