“Pandemic Paralysis” in Parents
This blog is a sequel to last week’s blog written by our Clinical Director, Amanda Good, LICSW who wrote on August Scaries, which is about how to cope with feeling fearful during this month’s transition back into pandemic protocols and school year routines.
As a family therapist in Washington, DC and a parent myself, I have been thinking about this process for parents over the past month—yet I’ve been too frozen to write any of it down!!! Why? Because, I’ve been living in a “pandemic paralysis” where I can’t seem to re-establish routines, nor can I accomplish much or think as clearly as normal. As Amanda mentioned, some of this process is normal for many of us to feel as we transition from summer into the school year. Yet, this year, I’m finding the slog of “back to school” activities to be filled with dread and doldrums. These feelings aren’t typical for me either. I’m a nerd at heart! As a student when I was a child and as a mom of 2 middle schoolers and 1 school-aged child, I’ve always loved organizing closets for the school year, buying pens and new notepads, thinking about fall schedules, etc. Yet, this month I’ve wrestled with lethargy and a lack of productivity—I wasn’t able to get my mom mojo on at all!!! And I’m not the only one. Most every parent I talk with both in my practice and in my parenting circles is feeling the same way.
We all rushed into summer with the goal of having fun again with our kids, traveling to places where we can unplug and relax, and getting out of the grind of isolation and limiting routines. And, now we are facing a year of masking, new fears around the Delta variant, and constantly changing protocols stretched out over a long school year. And AT THAT, we stop—we freeze–our nervous system says “NO MORE!” Our fears and uncertainties leave us in the lurch and we struggle to get our “fight” on as parents~and, we know we can’t give up and flee from responsibilities as parents. Our kids rely on us to keep them grounded in routines and feeling positive about the school year.
So what are we to do as parents to deal with feeling paralyzed? Here are a few thoughts that I’ve been applying to myself this month, which might assist you as you prepare for your year ahead with your family.
- First, honor the urge to STOP! Our urge to stop is our nervous system’s way of recalibrating. It is our body’s way of trying to deal with excess cortisol from too much fear and anxiety. We have to download our stress and anxiety in order to reach emotional equilibrium. So notice the urge, and allow yourself to STOP even if it is just for a bit. I spent the month of August sleeping later, producing less, barely cooking, and abandoning many of my goals, all of which is very atypical for me.
- Find a way to PROCESS–Ask yourself what are the feelings behind the paralysis. For me, I realized that my dread about the school year has to do with feeling uncertain and emotionally heavy from carrying so much worry about how my kids will cope with new stressors. While they are doing much better, 2 of my 3 kids really struggled emotionally during the pandemic, which reflects what I think many families experienced. I also noticed that those feelings were mixing in with my feelings of soft grief that occur most Augusts since my father passed away. Just acknowledging those feelings to myself really helped me start to meet my own emotional needs this month.
- REFLECT on what we’ve learned/gained so far–As I replaced my regular boot camp classes with long slow walks this summer and lazy mornings, I reflected on what me and my family learned over the past year. I started to feel more positive and confident energy building during this process. I remembered that my daughter had found a new perspective and gained more confidence at a new school. I realized that my middle son now clearly knows the family norms and rules well enough to correct his younger brother often:)–he’s growing up! I appreciated some of my husband’s new insights and routines that support him and our family better. I was thankful that my youngest son will get a fresh start at a new school. And I silently recounted the many stories of strength and perseverance that I had heard throughout the past year from my clients. I also reminded myself that we’ve had a year and half of masking and practicing pandemic protocols and we know how to do hard things (as Glennon Doyle reminds us in her new podcast Home – We Can Do Hard Things – The Podcast (wecandohardthingspodcast.com)
- PRACTICE Deep Inner Self Care–This summer, I’ve been practicing something that Glennon Doyle discusses on her podcast, which she calls “deep inner self care.” She talks about how self care extends beyond just mani/pedis, working out, lighting candles and buying products. Deep self care comprises paying close careful attention to your insides—your emotional wants, needs, and desires. It is an act of listening to your emotional self. It includes asking yourself–what really matters to me? And how do I meet that need/want at this moment? For me, my actions don’t change that much, but my attitude shifts exponentially. For example, I sent my family away this past weekend and abandoned a long awaited girls weekend with my friends and our daughters. I stayed home and cleaned, cooked, wrote, and organized, which all are tasks that I do as a mom regularly. Yet, I needed solitude, and the best way for me to achieve that was to ask for some time and space alone. It worked wonders!
- MOVE slowly and progressively—This step is difficult for me. I like to move a lot, and I struggle to move within the limitations of my aging body especially if I’m feeling weighed down by worry. Yet, I haven’t been able to get myself to move much this month. The pandemic has helped me experience what I always remind my clients. You only need 15-20 minutes of movement to help your mental health. So when I can’t bring myself to exercise, or I am feeling emotionally heavy, I always just make myself move a little. I go for a short walk with the dog or stretch for 5 minutes. I keep adding on time and activity as I’m ready. Eventually, my energy lifts and I feel better and more ready for what I need to do in the world.
- CREATE an ideal Vision with a realistic Plan–How do we balance our ideal wants/wishes with what our real life is handing us at the moment? I think it is important to take a BOTH/AND approach with this one. We need our ideal vision in order to have something motivating to strive for daily. And, we need a plan that considers real life limits so that we don’t become too frustrated or discouraged. So in order to BOTH motivate you, AND prevent yourself from feeling completely discouraged about tackling another year with your family in the pandemic, try writing down what you’d like to experience with your family this year (i.e. more in-person learning, safe in-country travel, new DIY family projects or connecting routines, etc.) and what you think will be the natural constraints of the pandemic (i.e. masking, outdoor workout classes/activities/sports, socializing within your bubble, limited travel, etc).
- FOCUS on your family’s ONE Thing! Once you’ve got your wish list and your real plan, then choose your top one priority for the school year with the family. I call this my ONE Thing! I pick one activity for myself, and then subsequently for each person in my family that will be my primary focus with myself and with them. When I get discouraged, confused, or lost, I remind myself of that ONE Thing to keep myself focused and encouraged. It works in business, and it can work in your family too.
As I’ve applied these steps on myself, I’ve found that my pandemic paralysis is coming unstuck. I’m slowly building more energy and momentum for the school year, and you can too. And, of course, if you keep feeling stuck, reach out for support to your friends, your support groups, or a counselor. It helps me, and it can help you too.