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Guest Column: Caring for yourself and each other in these stressful days

As parents, we know we need to care for our children, but we also need to take care of ourselves. This is true under normal circumstances; it is even more important in stressful times. The COVID-19 pandemic has turned life upside down, creating feelings of isolation, stress and uncertainty. Caring for oneself allows a parent to provide much needed security, support and predictability for the entire family.  

Caring for oneself means taking time to do things for one’s mental, emotional and physical health. While there has been a focus on staying physically well, we can’t forget to nurture our mental and emotional health. Close relationships are a protective factor and allow us to better cope with stress. Even though we are practicing social distancing, we can still stay connected to family and friends by calling, video chatting, or even writing letters.  

Caring for oneself does not need to take a lot of time; it might be a 15-minute walk, a five-minute meditation, or a few deep breaths.

It’s important to recognize stress symptoms and note that people react to stress in different ways; some reactions are physical, while others are behavioral. 

Physical reactions may include:

• Feeling irritable, angry, sad, or tired

• Being unable to concentrate or stay focused

• Having difficulty sleeping

Behavioral reactions may include:

• Eating too much or too little

• Cursing

• Withdrawing from friends and family

You may have noticed that increased stress changes how you interact with your family. Do you find you have less patience, less energy, or fewer words? Are you yelling more often? Maybe you’ve noticed changes in your children’s behavior. Following are some common stress reactions in children: 

• Increased crying, rocking back and forth, or head banging in infants and toddlers

• Bed-wetting, thumb-sucking, clinging to parents, temper tantrums and nose picking in preschoolers

• Whining, nightmares, frequent illness, fighting, and bed-wetting in school-aged children

Here are some ways to manage family stress:

• Use positive communication skills

• Keep to a routine

• Be sure everyone has enough sleep

• Move more

• Make healthy food choices

• Develop and utilize a support network

• Use relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, yoga, meditation

• Find time for family fun

• Let go of what is out of your control

If you feel you would benefit from professional help, call the Association for Mental Health and Wellness. They have a Mental Health Helpline at 631-471-7242, ext. 2.  

Until we resume in-person, interactive parent education programs, the educators of Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Family Health and Wellness program would like you to know that you can find parent support materials such as our Parenting Tips podcasts on temper tantrums, positive discipline, sleep, and family meals on our website, as well as blogs and links to research-based parenting resources. Check back often for new information including our virtual programs, currently in development.

Ms. Reda, M.P.H, is the Human Development Specialist at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County