Coping During the COVID-19 Health Crisis

Published: 5/4/2020

Disclaimer: This material was not written by a therapist, but was put together by people in the healthcare and social work fields who reviewed multiple reliable sources, such as the CDC and Unicef. If you or someone you love needs help, please contact a counselor, healthcare provider, clergy person, or any one of the Help Lines:

24/7 HELPLINES: 

What Stress May Look Like:

Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations. Here is what stress can look like during an outbreak:1

  • Fear and worry about your own health and health of your loved ones
  • Changes in sleep or eating patterns
  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
  • Worsening of chronic health problems
  • Worsening of mental health conditions
  • Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs 

It is important to notice and accept how your feelings change over time. Taking care of your emotional health during this outbreak will help you think clearly and better care for you and your family.

How to Cope:

It’s very important to take care of yourself during difficult times like this. Here’s what you can do to cope with stress:1,2,4

  • Take care of your body. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, and get plenty of sleep. Avoid alcohol and drugs. 
  • Notice, label, and accept your emotions. Putting a label on what we feel helps reduce our concern. For example, when you feel anxious, just quietly say or think to yourself, “OK, there’s my anxiety again.” Keep things in perspective and take note of the good. 
  • Connect with others. Share your concerns and feelings with a trusted friend or family member. Maintain healthy relationships and build a strong support system. 
  • Take breaks. Make time to unwind by doing activities you enjoy.
  • Stay informed. You may get stressed when you feel like you’re missing information, so regularly watch, listen to, or read the news from reliable sources for updates. 
  • Avoid too much news exposure. While staying informed is important, it can be upsetting to repeatedly hear about the pandemic. Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories.
  • Seek help when needed. (See helplines listed above)

Ways to Support Your Children & Help Them Cope:

Regardless of their age, your child or teen may feel upset or have other strong emotions during this COVID-19 outbreak. Some children react right away, while others may show signs of difficulty much later. Children react, in part, on what they see from the adults around them. Parents can be more reassuring to others around them, especially children, if they are better prepared.3

Not all children and teens respond to stress in the same way. Some common changes to watch for include:3

  • Excessive crying or irritation in younger children
  • Returning to behaviors they’ve outgrown (e.g. toileting accidents or bedwetting)
  • Excessive worry or sadness
  • Unhealthy eating or sleeping habits
  • Irritability and “acting out” behaviors in teens
  • Poor school performance or avoiding school
  • Difficulty with attention and concentration
  • Avoidance of activities enjoyed in the past
  • Unexplained headaches or body pain
  • Use of alcohol or drugs

Here are some ways to support your child or teen:1,3,5

  • Talk with them about the COVID-19 outbreak. Listen to them, answer questions, address rumors, and share known facts about COVID-19 in a way that they can understand. Keep it simple and appropriate for each child’s age.
    • For children under the age of 7, try using COVIBOOK by Manuela Molina: https://www.mindheart.co/descargables. The purpose of this short book is to help support and reassure younger children regarding the outbreak, and it is available to download in many languages!
  • Reassure them that they are safe. Let them know it is okay to feel upset. Share with them how you cope with your own stress so they can learn how to cope from you. 
  • Limit your family’s exposure to news coverage, including social media. Children may misinterpret what they hear and get frightened by something they do not understand. 
  • Try to keep up with regular routines. With schools closed, create a schedule for learning activities and fun or relaxing activities. 
  • Be a role model. Try to take breaks, get plenty of sleep, exercise, eat well, and implement good hygiene practices. Connect with your friends and family members, and encourage your children to do the same. 

How to Keep Kids Busy:

Keeping kids busy during this time can be a challenge, so here are some tips to keep your kids busy:6

  • Stick to a routine! Make a schedule with your kids for meal times, learning, play, chores, and down time. 
  • Keep kids engaged in learning! Virtual field trips and live events from museums, zoos, and places around the world. 
  • Take advantage of free time! Have your kids try new things or do family activities you normally wouldn’t have time for, such as play a musical instrument, cooking together, doing crafts, and more!
  • Get fresh air & exercise! Family walks and bike rides are great options! Just be sure to stay 6 feet away from each other. 
  • Consider how to help others! Check in on neighbors, senior citizens, or people living alone. Consider donating old toys and clothes.
  • Step away from the news. Try reading a good book, listening to music, or journaling to relax. Or get moving by dancing indoors or trying online fitness routines such as yoga. 
  • Manage screen time, but remember it’s important for kids to stay in touch with friends and loved ones. Help them connect with others through video chats or playing online games with friends during free time. 

Adjusting to a new routine takes time. By finding safe ways to connect, learn, and spend time together, you will be doing all you can to help your family and community.

How to Help Kids Get Used to Masks:7

Children may react differently to seeing and wearing masks, depending on age. Older kids may not react to them at all. Some kids may even be eager to wear a mask and embrace their new look as a medical superhero!

However, for babies, toddlers, and young kids, it may take some time getting used to seeing people in masks. They may feel cautious at first. They might need to take a few minutes to look and watch to help them get used to it. A parent gently saying, “It’s OK” can help them relax. For some babies, toddlers, and young kids, they may feel upset or afraid of masks, leading them to cry, hide their face, or cling to a parent. Try soothing words and comforting them to help calm them. 

Young children may feel scared of masks because masks hide part of people’s faces. Young children rely on faces for signals to feel safe. When faces are partly hidden by masks, kids can’t see the friendly smile or familiar look that usually puts them at ease. This makes it harder for them to feel safe, and it’s natural to feel scared. Parents can slowly and gently help their kids feel more comfortable with masks. Help them learn that something that may seem scary at first isn’t so scary after all.

For many more children-specific COVID-19 articles and videos (in both Spanish and English!), please visit this website provided by Rady Children’s Hospital.

References:

  1. “Stress & Coping.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/managing-stress-anxiety.html.
  2. “Taking Care of Your Emotional Health.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 13 Sept. 2019, emergency.cdc.gov/coping/selfcare.asp.
  3. “Helping Children Cope with Emergencies.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 11 Oct. 2019, www.cdc.gov/childrenindisasters/helping-children-cope.html.
  4. “Coronavirus (COVID-19): Calming Anxiety (for Parents) – Rady Children’s Hospital – San Diego.” KidsHealth, The Nemours Foundation, Mar. 2020, kidshealth.org/RadyChildrens/en/parents/coronavirus-calm.html.
  5. “How to Talk to Your Child about Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).” UNICEF, www.unicef.org/coronavirus/how-talk-your-child-about-coronavirus-covid-19.
  6. “Coronavirus (COVID-19): Keeping Kids Busy (for Parents) – Rady Children’s Hospital – San Diego.” KidsHealth, The Nemours Foundation, kidshealth.org/RadyChildrens/en/parents/video-coronavirus-kids-busy.html.
  7. “Coronavirus (COVID-19): Helping Kids Get Used to Masks (for Parents) – Rady Children’s Hospital – San Diego.” KidsHealth, The Nemours Foundation, Apr. 2020, kidshealth.org/RadyChildrens/en/parents/coronavirus-masks.html.
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