Promoting Positive Mental Health During COVID-19
General Strategies for Promoting Positive Mental Health
During this unprecedented time, it is normal for children and adults alike to experience a range of uncomfortable and difficult emotions, such as anxiety, stress, frustration, boredom, and fear. It is important to try to manage these emotions in a positive way so that we will be less likely to experience long-term mental health problems when we are able to return to our regular daily routines.
Here are some ideas collected from professional health and mental health organizations (the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, American Psychological Association, and National Association of School Psychologists) on what we can do to help ourselves and our children promote positive mental health while we stay at home and work together to decrease the impact of COVID-19:
- Have a trusted source [CDC, World Health Organization, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE)] for clear and accurate information on current recommendations for keeping safe and healthy.
- Limit the amount of time you spend watching news report or scrolling through social media pages. Also be sure to ask about and monitor the ways your child is accessing information about COVID-19. Too much media (particularly social media) coverage of crisis situations has been found to have a negative impact on mental health.
- Speak up when you hear, see, or read discriminatory comments. Reports of violence against Asian Americans have increased at a time when we should all be working together to get through this public health crisis. Report incidents of harassment to CDPHE here.
- As much as possible, stick to a daily routine. Develop a routine with older children rather than for them. Predictability can help diminish stress.
- Set your expectations of ‘normal’ and what is a ‘good day’ with the awareness that there are aspects of our current situation that are out of our control. Focus on what you CAN do each day.
- Follow basic hygiene recommendations, make healthy food choices, move your body every day, and maintain good sleep habits. Taking care of physical health is an important part of mental health.
- Stay connected with people who support you. It is OK for children to use technology to stay connected with their friends. Our relationships with other people can have a positive effect on our mental health.
- Make sure to spend some time focused on positive things: spend some time doing things you enjoy (individually and as a family), look for stories of good going on in the world, and be patient and kind with yourself and others.
- Be aware when uncomfortable feelings like stress or anxiety have become overwhelming for you and take active steps to manage these feelings. Learn about new coping strategies or use coping strategies that have worked for you in the past.
- Be careful not to rely on unhealthy coping strategies like excessive alcohol or marijuana use.
- Talk with your children about family expectations while everyone is at home. Anticipate that with increased stress for everyone, conflict may occur. Having plans in place for how you will respond may be helpful.
- If needed, reach out for additional mental health support. Immediate help can be found at Colorado Crisis Services or SAMSHA's Disaster Distress Helpline.
It is important for adults to have conversations with children in the home. Kids will worry more if they are kept in the dark and they can feel relieved to have the opportunity to express feelings that they may find upsetting. They may also have questions about things they have seen and heard and it’s important to check in with them to find out what they have been exposed to. This will not be one conversation, but rather should be an open invitation for them to talk with you when they need to. Be prepared for them to ask questions (and “I don’t know” is an ok answer), but don’t wait for them to come to you with questions before having a conversation.
- Provide age-appropriate simple and accurate information on what is currently happening. Avoid words that might be frightening like ‘catastrophe’ or ‘disaster’. Some ideas on differences across age groups:
- Let them know it’s normal and understandable for them to be experiencing feelings like anxiety, stress, frustration, anger, and grief. These feelings can be useful to us and only become a problem if they become overwhelming. It’s important to note that they may have some positive emotions as well and that’s ok too.
- Let them know that though the situation is hard, you believe they can do hard things. Ask them what they do that helps them feel better, share coping strategies you have used or stories of strategies others have used, and help them come up with additional coping strategies that could work for them.
- Remind them what you are doing as a family to stay safe and that this is temporary. Assure them they will be taken care of if they get sick.
- Talk about all that is being done in the community to take care of people and if/when you realistically see positive aspects to the situation (e.g., spending time together as a family), be sure to share those as well. Problem-solve things your child(ren) or your family can do to help out.
- Realize they may be exposed to episodes of bias or scapegoating online. Address any misconceptions and reiterate that COVID-19 doesn’t recognize race, nationality, or ethnicity and that people all over the world are working to stop its spread.
- It’s important to try to have conversation when you are able to remain calm and be reassuring to them. They will take their cues from you and if you are upset, they will likely become upset too.
- Respect their wishes if they don’t want to talk, but keep an open invitation to do so.
- Read more from the National Association of School Psychologists and National Association of School Nurses