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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It’s the little things, like ice cream…

  Often it’s the small moments, the little things that many could and often do overlook that show us we’ve been making progress even if we don’t feel like we have been. Tonight I had one of those small moments that was really huge; Mr. N offered Miss. G a lick of his ice cream cone. Now for many that wouldn’t be a big deal, the significance of that gesture could easily be overlooked. But for me, it was huge!

Since my niece’s passing Mr. N has been angry, and extremely aggressive with Miss. G, hitting her, pushing her, yelling at her to go away, leave him alone, saying things like “I don’t want her here” as in he doesn’t want her to even be in this house, in this family. While he was very against interacting with her awhile ago, this has been different. The anger, the full on contempt that she dares to even exist is totally different. Just recently he told me “Joy’s in the sky cause she’s here” and since that moment I have been trying to help him understand that Miss. G had NOTHING to do with Joy being in the sky. That NONE of us wanted her to go, that we all love her and mourn her loss every single day. While the hitting had basically stopped, the contempt and disdain he had for her hadn’t dissipated.

And then came tonight at Costco, after we were done shopping I offered to buy ice cream, everyone wanted a cone except Miss. G who wanted a sundae. I ordered and we all sat down, Mr. N had been hopping up and down he was so excited about his ice cream cone, and after a couple of licks he turned, walked over to where she was sitting and said “You can have a lick” and stuck the cone in her face. She had a couple of licks and I squealed/shrieked “Oh you shared!!! Great sharing!!!” so loud that people turned to stare at the odd pink haired woman with 5 kids in tow making such a racket. Not that I don’t get stared at from time to time regardless with 5 kids in tow (occasionally I also get asked by complete strangers if they’re all mine or am I a daycare provider but that’s a whole ‘nother post) so I didn’t really care that people stared and I certainly wasn’t going to hold back the utter elation at seeing this one small random act on his part that meant so much more to me than just sharing a bit of ice cream.

It says to me that he’s healing, that he and Miss. G will eventually find their way through this phase, and that it is in fact just a phase, that they are developing a bond between them that will help to see them through some of the times they are bound for. Because let’s face it, life isn’t always sunshine and unicorns and far too many friends are really just frenemies, so at least they’ll have each other; they’ll have their siblings to lean on, and to look out for, and to share the small precious moments with…like enjoying some ice cream. 

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