Child Health

3 Weeks at Home: Stress, Anxiety, and Coping Resources for Children and Families

April 8, 2020 | Ohio

April 7, 2020

By Katherine Ungar, JD

In Ohio, many children and their parents and caregivers are in their third week of social distancing. The significant loss of social activities like sleepovers with friends, sport activities, and the routine of going to school every day is weighing on many and producing stress for everyone. In addition, many parents and caregivers of children are experiencing economic hardships due to layoffs, furloughs, and lack of childcare. We must also recognize that our children also feel anxiety about contracting the disease and concern about their loved ones contracting COVID-19. Psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors explain that many of us may be currently experiencing grief as we try to come to terms with the loss of stolen moments and extensive changes to daily societal life.

Stress during the pandemic can manifest itself in many forms, including fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones, changes in sleep or eating patterns, difficulty concentrating, muscle tension, irritability, worsening of chronic health problems, and increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs.

It is important for children to understand that increased stress due to this pandemic is normal and that it is healthy to worry about our own health and that of our friends and loved ones. It is also important to remember that many people are experiencing increased stress and anxiety right now and that you are not alone. However, in order to prevent becoming overwhelmed by anxiety and stress, we can engage in behaviors that build our mental resilience and enhance our well-being. Yes, we can do something different in our homes right now to help children navigate these uncertain waters that, in turn, can also help us, as adults.

Here are some things parents and children can do during this time to manage stress:

  • Communicate openly and honestly. Most children will have heard about the virus, so caregivers should not avoid talking about it. Avoidance can actually make kids worry more. Instead, caregivers can help children feel informed by answering questions and delivering fact-based information.
  • Take breaks from social media and the news. When we see other people’s worst-case scenarios, it can create the same type of stress in us. It can lead to cognitive distortions, like over-generalization and jumping to conclusions. We can be aware without being overwhelmed.
  • Whether dancing inside or playing in the yard, exercise has many benefits for children’s mental health.
  • Eat healthy, when possible. Leafy greens and other vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and nuts are a recipe for a healthy body and mind. The field of nutritional psychiatry is finding there are many consequences and correlations between what you eat, how you feel, and how you behave.
  • Practice deep breathing and meditation. Watch videos and tutorials on how to use breath to manage stress and activate a relaxation response.
  • Practice gratitude. Consider writing down or drawing things you are grateful for on a daily basis. Positive emotions, like gratitude, can help ground us when we are feeling stressed.
  • Connect with others. Encourage children to connect with others and stay in contact with people they enjoy.
  • Start a new hobby. Use this as an opportunity to challenge children to try something new.

Mental Health Resources

It is important that children feel welcome to reach out for help if they continue to experience significant anxiety, symptoms of depression (e.g. overwhelming sadness, lack of interest in typically enjoyable activities, irritability, hopelessness, low energy), or even suicidal thoughts. One of the best things you can do for your mental health is to reach out to others, including professionals, during this challenging time. Talking with family, friends, and mental health providers is another example of mental resilience.

The following resources are available for children and families coping with COVID-19:

  • Text “HOME” to 741741 for the Crisis Textline to connect with a Crisis Counselor for stress and emotional support.
  • Call 1-800-662 HELP (4357) to access the National Line for Emotional Support.
  • Call Cuyahoga County’s 24-Hour Warmline at 440-886-5950 to talk with a peer-support worker.
  • Contact the Sounding Board/ Counseling Center for Family Conflict (614-231-1151)to reach the Sounding Board counseling center which is a comprehensive mental health, counseling, and psychological center working with domestic violence, depression, anxiety, panic, and phobias.
  • Reach out to the Disaster Distress Helpline (SAMHSA) by calling 1-800-985-5990 or texting TalkWithUs to 66746.
  • Access the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 1-800-273-8255 or utilize the Chat with Lifeline
  • For support with Mental Health and/or Substance Use Concerns, call 1-800-662-4357 to access 24-hour free and confidential treatment referral and information about mental and/or substance use disorders, prevention and recovery in English and Spanish.

In addition, meditation and relaxation phone and computer apps may provide some relief to children and families during the Pandemic. Children can create a free account with Headspace, a guided meditation resource.