We are currently facing an unprecedented crisis here in 2020. In what seems to be an instant, our entire lives have shifted. Our schools have closed and switched to remote learning, our favorite “non-essential” businesses have closed their doors, and families are left scrambling to make ends meet. Some folks have lost their jobs, some are having to brave the front lines and risk personal health. We are all worried about what this means and we are all concerned for the wellbeing of our friends, our families, our children.
I could easily give you a bullet list of “tips from a mental health professional” to help keep you feeling accomplished, productive, and like the world’s most capable parent during these times. But I won’t. We have all seen those lists, those color-coded daily schedules, those “create this meal in 10 seconds using the random ingredients in your cupboard that contains 36 hidden vegetables” meal plans. While those have every good intention of helping us feel organized and like parent-of-the-year, they can make us feel like we are falling further behind when we already have so much on our plates. I won’t give you that today. What I can give you, and what I think you might need a bit more, is permission to take a break.
As a society, we are all experiencing a traumatic event. While this doesn’t fit the classic concept of trauma, this slow seeping concern, fear, and forced isolation is affecting us all. So in these times of heightened stress, emotional drain, and complete uncertainty, I give you permission to let it go. Let go of the Instagram worthy picture of what life should be right now. Allow yourself some grace to just be. Be patient with yourself. Be present. Be willing to take a step back and identify what is important in your life and offer a moment of gratitude. We can make the best of this situation and allow ourselves time to breathe, to re-center, to regroup.
The practice of mindful awareness can help to reduce anxiety and lower stress levels. If you’re unsure where to start, that’s okay. There’s no special yoga mat, trendy leggings, water bottle, or exercise tracking device that you need. Simply find something to focus your attention on and observe it without judgment. Some of my favorite things to observe are plants, pictures, or a fresh cup of coffee. Observe it using all of your senses (although if you’re observing something non-edible, please don’t taste it!). Identify the shapes you see, the colors. Does it have a smell? If you touch it, is it soft or hard, cold or warm? If you move it, does it make a sound? What feelings are brought up for you when you observe this object? Does it remind you of anything? All while you’re asking yourself these questions, make sure to take slow deep breaths to help ground yourself.
This practice doesn’t have to take more than a minute. In doing this, you are slowing your heart rate, calming your body and arousal system, and taking a quiet moment to truly notice and appreciate something. If this practice becomes a habit, you’ll find that you are able to be more present during the day, be more in tune with your thoughts and feelings, and you’ll find that you’re better able to ground yourself when feelings of stress and overwhelm start. We all deserve the chance to regain some control and some sense of ownership over what is happening right now.
From one parent to another, know that you’re doing just fine. We don’t have to be perfect and we don’t have to do it all. Love on your babies and know that simply being there is enough. Take care, be well, and wash your hands!
Sarah Cain, LMFT