Living with uncertainty, anxiety and a loss of control can take it’s toll on our well-being. It’s no wonder that many of us are having some big reactions to changing alert levels and – for Aucklanders – a return to prolonged lockdown. 2020 has been tough! It’s all very well to count teddy bears in your neighbourhood and stage your own backyard Olympics, but if some days you just don’t have the energy for any of it, you’re in good company.
Recently we heard of an Auckland-based colleague (who shall remain nameless) who was reading a novel alongside her children while they worked on their home learning and suddenly felt the urge to dye her hair pink (inspired by a character in her book, of course). Conveniently, she had a box of pink hair dye lurking at the back of a cupboard. Half an hour later, voila – a whole new look.
“Cool Mum, I love how you did it so the ends aren’t pink, but the rest of the hair is,” was the initial feedback. Not not quite the look she was going for.
You might not have any hair dye handy, but chances are you’ve had your own moment of meltdown, madness or melancholy lately. And that is totally okay and absolutely understandable. Because we’re all coping with some pretty big feelings right now, we asked our newest member of the Parenting Place team – child and family psychologist Katherine Tarr (and no, she’s not the one with new pink hair) – to offer parents some alternative strategies for responding to our big well-being needs.
All I want to do is go back to bed and watch Netflix all day
Katherine: Yep, I reckon that sounds pretty tempting for a lot of parents right now. My encouragement, first and foremost, is to remember the basics of self-care. Diet, sleep, exercise and connection are foundational to our physical and emotional well-being.
Often healthy eating goes out the window when we’re stressed – from over-indulging to forgetting about food all together. So firstly, eat well and stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water, eat nutritious foods and challenge yourself to learn how to cook something new!
Secondly, sleep. Go to bed at a reasonable time, and get up at the same time each morning.
Next step (sorry about the pun), exercise. Find some time to move each day, for at least 30 minutes. It might be a walk, a jog, an online Pilates class, or even a dance party in the lounge with your kids.
And then there’s connection. Over the course of our lives, strong and supportive relationships are the number one predictor of well-being. Maintaining those connections during challenging times is especially important. I strongly encourage people to reach out to others and spend at least 30 minutes a day in intentional connection. That might look like a FaceTime call to a friend, a coffee (wine!) with some friends on HouseParty or a daily check-in phone call to your sister. Connection is also really helpful for our kids’ wellbeing so help your young ones connect with their friends on Zoom or Messenger Kids. (Your teenagers probably won’t need any help here at all.)
In a rash moment, I dyed my hair pink.
Katherine: Yep, again quite normal (depending on the colour dye you have at hand). Stress breeds unusual behaviours. Sometimes it causes us to forget the simple things, like wearing our seatbelt or where we put our wallet. It can also lead us to do or say things we might later regret, and even cause us to dye our hair unicorn styles. The following strategies might help us remain somewhat calm and collected.
- Stick to a routine
A daily schedule really helps. Keep it “As Normal as Possible, as Flexible as Necessary”, to quote a wise colleague. Maintaining regular routines (self-care, meal times, bedtimes, exercise, work etc) tells our brains that it’s safe to dial down the stress response and helps reduce our anxiety. However, unprecedented times call for unprecedented responses – hence the need for flexibility. Try and keep an open-mind and be gracious with yourself if the day’s structure has to change shape sometimes.
- Pamper yourself
The basics really do help – having a shower, washing your face, brushing your teeth. Take it to the next level with a bit of extra pampering – perhaps a long bubble bath or a home facial. Put on some bright colours and see how much better you feel. Here’s another apt tip for lockdown – dress for the social life you want, not the social life you have.
- Change of scene
Get out at least once a day, for at least thirty minutes. Fresh air is like a health tonic for our soul.
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Every day feels the same, I’ve got no motivation anymore.
Katherine: Yes, I hear you – lockdown certainly had a Groundhog Day vibe to it, and that was just the first time we were in it! The following suggestions to shift the mood are based on practices that are proven to help support our mental and emotional well-being.
- Get creative
Our emotional brain is very receptive to the creative arts, and the great news is – you don’t have to be ‘good’ at art and craft to harness it’s benefits. Find some creative outlet you enjoy – sculpting (play dough!?), drawing, dancing, music, singing, painting a piece of furniture) and go for it.
- Do the stuff that makes you happy
Research shows us that experiencing positive emotions is vital for our resilience. What are the things that fills you with love, joy, gratitude, amusement, inspiration and awe? Do those things! Who are the people who make you happy? Connect with them! Negativity is quite contagious and tends to stick to us. Deflect the negativity with regular moments of joy, filling your day with as many positive emotion experiences as possible.
- Help others, help yourself
Research has proven that giving has a significant impact on our life satisfaction. Receiving is great too, but doing things for others causes ripple after ripple of feel-good vibes. Lending a hand takes the attention off ourselves and helps us feel useful and even somewhat in control – which is, you guessed it, great for our well-being. And great for the people we’re helping, too!
- Have a ‘timed wallow’
Now doesn’t that sound fun! Truth is, no good will come from wallowing in sadness for over a minute. Yep, you’re allowed one minute for a bit of moping (put a timer on if you want), but after that – Pause, Hold, Engage, and go find something else to do that sparks joy, makes you laugh, gets you busy and generally shifts your mindset from ‘wallow’ to ‘oh well – this too shall pass!’
- Laugh out loud
As counter-intuitive as it might sound, it’s really helpful to find humour in each day. All the heaviness can be countered with a good laugh so my encouragement is to enjoy something funny at least once a day – be it a cat video, your favourite comedian, a good old ‘Rom-Com’ or a bunch of memes shared online by someone else who is probably feeling very similar you…. Laughter truly is good medicine and comic relief can go a long way in a pandemic, especially when we spread it around!
My final encouragement here, if you are struggling to cope and need help, PLEASE reach out. There are trained mental health support workers just a phone call away.
- LifeLine – 0800 543 354
- Coaches1737, Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor
- Samaritans – 0800 726 666
- Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
You’re not alone. There is support out there, 24/7. We may be physically distant, but we can always connect virtually.
Looking for more personalised strategies and solutions for your family?
Our Family Coaches bring their extensive training and experience to help uncover new insights, ideas and practical solutions to parenting and relationship challenges. Through one-on-one support (in person, via Skype or email), you’ll be provided with take-home strategies to bring about the positive changes you desire for your whānau.