Behind starburst eyes

Coronavirus Pandemic and Our Emotional Health

We live in Ontario, Canada and our premier has officially declared a state of emergency this morning. This means in addition to primary, secondary and post-secondary schools being shut down for the next 3 weeks, now our daycare centers, restaurants (dine in portion), bars, cinemas, libraries, museums, major venues such as the science centre, and recreation centers are all shut down until at least April.

We homeschool our 3, but my two stepdaughters attend public school at their mother’s insistence. So this changes some things for us, but not all things. Obviously daycare facilities being closed doesn’t effect us. However, everything else being closed does.

One of the ways all of these closures effect us is through fear and anxiety. My youngest son has asthma and has had to be on oxygen and nebulizers in the past, so I am in a heightened state of anxiety. But I’m not the only one, my children feel it too. Not just through me, but also because news of the virus is everywhere and both kiddos understand the potential implications for their brother, and he understands the implications for himself. To that end we have been working a great deal with the concepts of fear, anxiety and powerlessness.

Acknowledgement of Emotions:

We’ve spoken about how scary it can be to feel like you’re powerless in a situation, and how to work with that feeling to acknowledge it but not let it overwhelm us (a thing I am struggling with myself as well).

Then, I attempt to teach them how to work through their scary thoughts. We talk about their feelings, how their real and valid first. But also that even though their valid, we don’t have to be ruled by them. We can focus on the things we HAVE done, the things we ARE doing, and the things we CAN do during this time.

Breathing Techniques:

Once I’ve validated their emotions we do breathing exercises. Five deep breathes in through the nose and out through the mouth. This helps to calm the nervous system down and allow the pre-frontal cortex to come back online (center of logic and reasoning).

Mindfulness Exercises:

Mindfulness exercises such as finding 5 things they can see, touch, and hear can also help to refocus on calming the mind enough to work through any scary thoughts.

Positive Actions:

Finally, we focus on something positive, such as on gratitude, love, giving to others, or constructive actions. We do this because in allot of ways our thoughts are like roads, the more frequently their used, the more deeply they become entrenched and at times like this we NEED the positive perhaps more than ever.

For one child, focusing then on how grateful they are for the healthcare professionals or our ability to have things delivered to lessen our chances of exposure is helpful.

For another it’s expressing love through acts of kindness such as offering to play another siblings favorite board game or reading a book to a younger sibling.

For another it’s writing a card to send to someone they can’t see in person right now, or walks in the conservation area to be in nature.

For me, it’s constructive physical acts that help, for example organizing cupboards and labelling jars with our supplies or sorting the kids clothes for donations (I’ll wait to donate, but I’m happy to pop bags of donations in a closet ready to go once this is all over). Each person is unique, so choosing the positive actions that work best for them should be specific to them.

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The help of a mattress…

A few months ago I went out and bought a mattress. I then threw out the couch in my living room and promptly put the mattress in the living room instead. My husband was aghast at my plan originally, after all mattresses are for bedrooms and sleeping and couches are for living rooms and sitting. But there was a theory to my outwardly odd idea…

What if Mr. N would accept physical touch more if he could slowly inch his way towards it? What if by having such a large space to sprawl on with his siblings and myself on a daily basis he would eventually become more comfortable with touching other people? What if by exposing him to the constant opportunity for physical touch he eventually started to view those opportunities as a positive thing?

So theory in mind, and a tentative hope in my heart for a time when Mr. N would be perhaps accept regular physical contact with those of us that loved him I changed our living room and made it quite an unconventional area. I bought a bunch of pillows and scattered them about the new “couch” and sprawled out. He was adamant at first that no one be touching him even a little, not a leg, or arm or torso could be in direct physical contact with anyone of us. But slowly, as the days went by it changed…First he didn’t notice when my leg was “accidentally” touching his…Still many more days passed and then one otherwise gloomy afternoon he plopped down beside me, and his whole left leg was against me, but he appeared to not notice! A few weeks went by with that being the level of contact he could handle, and believe me when I say I was thrilled with just that, but it didn’t stop there…Then it was him actively initiating contact by laying snuggled up to someone….Just last night he tried to stay up after he was told it was time for bed, what “tactic” did he use? He kept asking for kisses and of course his dad and I kept obliging!

There are still moments when he’s overwhelmed and will say “Don’t look at me” or “Don’t talk to me” and while he’s told he has to say it politely, (we are helping him to learn sentences he can use to say the same thing in a polite manner) he still has a right to vocalize how he is feeling and to decide what level of interaction he wants with someone else.

While my living room might look strange to some I don’t really care, because it has been SO worth it. Having a mattress in our living room has helped Mr. N to be okay with physical touch. While it’s not a constant yet that he actively seeks out physical touch, he does regularly seek it out now, and to finally be able to show my youngest son that I love him through touch, through snuggles and hugs and kisses upon his soft brow, all while he’s still actually awake and aware of it, that dear readers is a blessing that brings tears of joy to my eyes.

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Creating a behavioural therapy plan

Just after my last blog post I spoke with N’s doctor (at least I spoke with her assistant) in regards to an appointment to discuss a behavioural therapy plan for him while he’s on the wait list for behavioural therapy through their site. I was told that if I only had paperwork for her to look over I could drop it off as his next scheduled appointment wasn’t until March 2014. 

I was pleased that she was willing to look over the paperwork now instead of having to wait several more months. To that end I have completed a behavioural therapy plan for him and tomorrow when I go there for N’s speech therapy group session I’ll be dropping it off. I’m hopeful that she will like it, and that she’ll agree it’s a sound plan for N until he finally has his own behavioural therapist to create such things for him. 

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