Routine in the Time of Social Distancing

My friend posted

a picture on Facebook summarizing her family’s first day of no school. In the picture’s foreground, her third grader and kindergartener are having what looks like an amazing dance party. Her third grader is flossing like a boss and her kindergartener is clearly experiencing that euphoric high you get when the movement, the music, and the people surround you in just the right way. In the background, her first grader has a laptop in front of her and she has turned to the camera with her hands covering her ears, mouth wide open in what must be an anguished cry of frustration. This picture made me laugh out loud, but also struck me as capturing the feeling we are experiencing as COVID-19 upends our normal activities that ground our everyday lives. My friend later posted that the day was spent mostly in a wild rumpus and with Frozen 2 viewings; she promised to try better the next day. Having a routine to help children manage their emotions and maintain a sense of normalcy is critical. Routines for children work best if they can include a variety of learning activities, opportunities for exercise and movement, spontaneous play, and activities that promote relaxation or calm. Post a schedule and provide transition time between activities (10 minute, 5 minute, 1 minute transition announcements). Providing structured variety and not expecting children to maintain focus for extended periods of time can help them manage their anxieties as their lives abruptly change and they pick up on frightening news of COVID-19.

The need for routine is also critical for parents and adults working from home. Work and home life are now intertwined and the stress of no longer having at least the physical separation can lead to additional anxiety and burnout. It is easy to get caught up in working all hours when your home life becomes your work life too. Maintaining non-work related activities that help you experience pleasure, relaxation, or peace is critical in this time of social distancing. Carve out space in the day for “personal life” activities and protect that time. Go outside, join your children’s’ dance party, watch Frozen 2, allow yourself some protected time to not work. Stop checking your emails, don’t go back to your laptop to do one more thing. Hide your phone and laptop if you can’t resist.

However, as my friend discovered, these schedules may be fantastic in theory but don’t always work. Sometimes a good schedule has to be given up to Frozen 2 in exchange for moments of peace between siblings. Or maybe you couldn’t make time for yourself or the anxiety of the virus transferred into work anxiety leading you to feel guilty for not working more. When this happens, be kind to yourself, allow yourself to not dwell on perceived mistakes or all the “shoulds” and “musts” of the day. All of us -- children and adults -- are undergoing something extraordinary that has placed considerable stress and anxiety on our lives. All of us are doing the best we can. Take a look at what happened that day and make a plan that adjusts for things that disrupted your routine. Do you need to do your personal care and relaxation activity earlier in the day so the anxiety doesn’t overwhelm you for the rest of the day? Do learning activities need to occur in separate rooms to help siblings interact more peacefully? Learn what works for you and your family as day by day.

If your daily routine included social support that helped you manage your mental health or recovery this can be an essentially difficult time as social distancing may cut you off from the social interactions that were necessary for your health and well-being. Know that most mental health providers are now offering telemedicine services where you can see a therapist or psychiatrist via a secured video link. If you need a recovery meeting, talk with your recovery group about using video technology to hold groups, technology like Facetime, Zoom, Google hangouts, or Skype can be options to help you stay connected while still maintaining social distance. If the anxiety, stress, and isolation become too overwhelming there are several hotlines that are available, SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline is 1-800-985-5990, the West Virginia Hotline is 1-844-HELP4WV (1-844-435-7498) or via online chat at (https://www.help4wv.com/), and the national suicide prevention hotline is 1-800-273-8255. The CDC has more information on managing stress during this outbreak https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/managing-stress-anxiety.html

These are extraordinary times and we have collectively agreed to maintain social distancing and to limit our exposure in order to protect the overall health of our communities. There will be days of successful maintaining of routines and there will be days that are best described as learning opportunities. Just remember to treat yourself and others with kindness and to reach out via social media and internet when you need that extra support.

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