When the pandemic first began earlier this year, it seemed like if we could just hunker down until perhaps summer, things would get better and we’d be able to get back to life as usual (or at least something similar to life as usual). We were in survival mode: we cut corners and made do, broke some parenting rules, and otherwise made choices we would never usually make. Because that’s what you do when you are in survival mode.
It’s now very clear that the pandemic is here for at least this school year, and survival mode is taking on a whole new meaning. It’s time to make new habits and routines specifically for the pandemic. It’s time to make better and more durable choices that can help keep us healthier — and happier.
Some things obviously aren’t about choices. If you have lost loved ones, are struggling financially, are living in a dangerous situation, or if you or anyone in your family is having thoughts of self-harm, please reach out for help. Your doctor may be able to direct you to resources in your community.
What I am talking about is practical, daily life choices that we can make in a different way that may help us feel and live better. Be proactive — and do it as a group activity with your partner and family, so that everyone feels heard and invested.
Identify the pain points and tackle those first
Think about the past few months, and literally make a list of everything that was particularly hard. Lack of structure? Too much screen time for everyone? Problems getting kids to do their remote work? Problems getting your own remote work done? Feeling isolated from friends and family?
Work together to come up with ideas to tackle these pain points. They might include:
- Clear daily routines (use something like a white board so that all are on the same page). Along with those routines, have rules about screen time limits.
- For those doing remote work or remote school, create spaces they can use that approximate school or work spaces (no school from bed, for example).
- Come up with some non-screen activities for all of you. Books with pages, for example. Blocks for kids, arts and crafts, dollhouses, and other things that spur imagination.
- Set up regular remote contact with friends and family that you haven’t seen. Consider widening your “bubble” to include some select friends and family that you trust to be safe and take precautions.
- If you have a partner, work out the division of labor in a way that feels fair to both of you.
Identify activities that make you happy, and build them in too
We really need this now; it is crucial, not optional. We need to be deliberate in this. Identify both things that people can do alone, and things that you can do together, and make them part of your routines. Maybe it’s some alone time for each of the adults, a date night (light some candles at a table after the kids go to sleep and put your phones aside), a family game night, some daily silliness… whatever makes you smile, build it in.
Identify ways to become healthier, both physically and mentally
This too is crucial; it’s not something we can put aside anymore. For example:
- Be sure everyone is getting enough sleep (at night, not during the day, unless someone works a night shift).
- Eat healthy foods. I know, pandemics seem to justify comfort food. But too much cookies, ice cream, and chips catch up with you eventually, and start to make you feel bad instead of good.
- Get exercise. Every day is best, but do it at least five times a week — and make sure everyone in the family does it. It could literally be dancing in the kitchen, or a YouTube exercise video. If you can get outside, even for a short walk, all the better — we need to be places that don’t have ceilings sometimes.
- Be mindful of your alcohol and other substance use. That little bit to “take the edge off” can be a slippery slope.
- Build in time for communication with each other. It could be as simple as device-free family dinner and at least one device-free check-in with your partner.
- Reach out to your doctor if you or anyone in your family is feeling particularly sad or anxious. There are many resources available. Lots of counselors offer virtual sessions. Don’t wait, hoping things will get better. They may only get worse, and at the very least will get better with help.
We will make it through this. The choices we make today will make all the difference in who and how we are when we emerge — so let’s make them proactively, wisely, and with kindness.
Follow me on Twitter @drClaire