- How do I deal with the loneliness of social distancing and home quarantine? First, look at your loneliness—look at it differently. Take the time you now have on your hands to have more thinker moments, where you just switch off to the external and let your mind wander and daydream. These moments give the brain a rest and allow it to reboot and heal, which increases your clarity of mind and ability to deal with a tough situation (which we all need right now!) So, be intentional about creating “thinker” breaks throughout your day by taking a few moments every day, or when you are feeling alone, to switch off and just daydream or meditate on Scripture.
You can also use this time as a chance to build and repair relationships by talking on the phone rather than just texting, spending time healing from “hurry sickness”, observing the world around you again, and become a good listener—we are all going through stuff, so take the time to call someone or connect. Just listen and support them, and be there for them. A massive cure for loneliness is to get over yourself and reaching out in love. This not only helps you feel less lonely, but it also increases your chance of healing.
- How do I “turn my brain off” at night from worrying so I can sleep?The quality and quantity of your sleep is largely affected by your state of mind, so mind management is critical if you want to sleep well at night. Anxiety causes high beta activity, but anxiety always has a cause, so take the time to find the cause and you will help yourself switch into sleep mode at night. Embrace, process and re-conceptualize your thoughts!
During the course of the day, you need to self-regulate your thinking and choosing during the course of the day. Chaotic and toxic thoughts need to be embraced, acknowledged, isolated and compartmentalized in order to be processed and re-conceptualized in a healthy fashion—they should never be ignored or suppressed. You can do this proactively by getting into a regular 7-15-minute mind detox routine. Just 7-15 minutes a day of quieting your mind can improve your sleeping patterns because you are cleaning up the mental mess in your head and getting your mind right before bed, which helps your brain and body regenerate at night. Confession of sin and praise will help you greatly.
Do not allow yourself to lie in bed panicking about not sleeping. Instead, get excited and embrace the fact you are awake. Think that “this is going to be a nice, quiet time, where I am not bugged by texts, emails or people needing something. Think of something fulfilling you CAN accomplish. This excitement lowers your cortisol levels, balances the HPA axis (the “stress axis”) and makes stress work for you and not against you, activating your resilience and changing your genes in a good way. So, when you can’t sleep, develop a positive expectation mindset that this is a special time just for you, and you will use it wisely. This will help you get your panic under control and improve your health. A negative expectation mindset, however, is just going to damage your brain and make you feel worse—it’s not worth it! See my book Think, Learn, Succeed for more on this.
- I’m struggling to sleeping and to concentrate. How do I find peace while expressing my feelings? I cannot say this enough: thoughts are real things with information and emotions, and if you try to suppress them or shove them “under the rug”, they will explode, and can damage your mental and physical health—including your ability to sleep and concentrate. These thoughts will come As I said above, you need to acknowledge how you feel and reconceptualize it: see it from another angle or perspective. You can only redesign your thoughts when you have acknowledged them!
- How do I talk to my children about the situation without scaring them, while making sure they are taking the right precautions like washing hands? I don’t believe in pussyfooting around issues with children – they are smart and can read your body language. Remember, 50% of communication is non-verbal, and your children know when you are anxious or sad. Children between the ages of 2 to 10/11 don’t really have the language to express themselves either, so if you don’t help them express and process the anxiety they have picked up from you or others, they can embed it as toxic stress in their bodies—the more traumatized you become, the more they will become.
I know that talking to them places huge responsibility on us as parents and guardians, and we definitely need to speak to them in the right way, but hey, that’s what we signed up for! So, my advice, based on 25 years of clinical practice and having four children of my own, is to be honest. Explain what is going on at the level they are at, giving them just enough information (don’t go overboard) and tell them the adults are working on this. It may be a good idea to show them pictures of the virus, giving analogies that are age-appropriate. For example, “this virus is like a dangerous animal. You keep away from those as much as possible, and with the virus we have do that by washing our hands and staying indoors till they ‘catch it.’”
- How do we deal with and help with anxiety and angry outbursts from kids?Outbursts come from frustration, which comes from a lack of understanding and fear, so calm your children down by explaining what is going on, like I mentioned above. But it is also important to remember that we are stuck together for longer than usual and this situation is new for everyone, so it is inevitable that we will get frustrated with each other.
I recommend having different “spaces” in your home to deal with frustration and all the other emotions our children are dealing with right now—don’t be frightened or irriatted. This is actually a blessing in disguise because you have a great opportunity to teach your kids to learn how to process through the issues in their life, a skill they will carry into adulthood! Allocate an area of your kitchen, for example, where your children can express their frustration in a safe and non-judgmental space. You may not always like what you hear, but you may need to hear it to help them. Set some basic rules, like no-one is allowed to physically touch anyone else in that space, no-one hurts anyone or calls anyone bad names there. When they come out that space, and when they are ready, hug them and tell them you love them. This will calm them down and is great for the mental health.
Remember, God is in control. He will give you strength and wisdom for every situation you face!