Cooped up with children: Taking care of a parent’s mental health

This is Coping with COVID-19, a weekly series of blog posts and videos dedicated to sharing tips for coping with stress and anxiety during the coronavirus crisis. Your mental health matters now more than ever.

I read a tweet the other day that said, “Thanks to distance learning I now understand that teachers deserve a raise. They should be paid $21 million dollars. Per day.” Any parent with school age children can likely empathize with this feeling thanks to the current pandemic. Most parents have been unwillingly drafted as teachers and their children often treat them as well as they would any substitute teacher!

Most parents will do anything for their children, including neglecting their own needs to take care of them. This is often effective in the short-term but given that we are likely to be dealing with this virus for the foreseeable future, it is more important than ever for parents to take care of their own mental health.

Create a daily schedule for everyone

One of the best ways to keep both children and parents on track is to create a daily schedule. With many of the usual activities that structure our days cancelled because of the pandemic, it can be difficult to fill the holes in our schedules. However, it is reassuring to children to have a schedule that they can rely on. Ideally, this schedule can be prominently displayed in the home where the children can easily refer to it. This schedule serves a “containing” function for children and is likely to reduce anxiety as well as boredom. With older children, collaborating with them to come up with the schedule can reduce the protests against the structure. This, in turn, is a huge stress reliever for parents who can point to the schedule when the child says, “what should I do now?”

Parents can also benefit from having their own daily schedule and this should include time away from their children, even if this is only a different room. This time apart could be used for exercise, video chatting with friends and family, reading a book or engaging in any other activity that promotes relaxation. This is not the time to scroll social media or consume the mountain of daily bad news. Instead, plan things that reliably make you feel better. Those fortunate enough to have partners at home should coordinate this time with each other so that the inevitable calls of “Mom! Dad!” do not interrupt this time.

Don’t neglect your treatment plan

For those who have a mental health diagnosis, please do not neglect your treatment plan! Work with your provider to find ways of keeping your treatment on track. Most therapists are conducting sessions online and while this may seem awkward at first, try it a few times and you will likely adjust to the differences while still benefitting from the treatment.

“Good enough” is the goal right now

As we try to adjust to our new reality, it is important to remember that in parenting and our own mental health management, “good enough” should be our goal. This goal allows for bad days with our kids and failed attempts at structuring our time. And when the kids finally go back to school, we’ll figure out how to get the teachers that $21 million.

Meet Jonathan Horey, MD

Dr. Jonathan Horey became familiar with TMS while training and working at Columbia University in New York City where many of the early and important studies on TMS were conducted. Dr. Horey has since completed more extensive training in TMS and keeps himself up-to-date with the latest research on brain stimulation techniques, including TMS.