Lockdown wellbeing: 7 ways to stay happy and calm at home
Whether you’re cut off from people you love, worried about a vulnerable relative or parenting a newborn and home-schooling your older child at the same time: everyone is facing their own challenges at the moment.
“We’re all dealing with a lot of anxiety at the moment: money, work, loved ones. But not only that, there’s a lot of disappointment too,” explains Dee Holmes, a Relate counsellor specialising in family, young persons’ and children’s counselling.
At a time we all feel slightly powerless, focus on the things you can take ownership of.
“This is a time your children are always going to remember and you want those memories to be good as possible,” says Dee.
Here’s Dee’s 7-step calm plan…
1. Chat about how you’re going to deal with difficult situations (before they happen)
There will be tension, it’s how you deal with it that counts, explains Dee. “We have to be kind to one another but rows will happen; you will lose your temper, you will get cross, you will say ‘for heaven’s sake stop whingeing’ to your kids.”
“It’s a really good idea to talk to the adults in your life about how you’re going to deal with situations before they happen.” But remember: everyone deals with stress differently and your way isn’t the only way.
If you’re co-parenting, you will have to step up and work together.
"It is difficult enough for children when their parents are apart without all this going on, so you’ve really got to think about what’s best for them.”
And when conflict arises (either at home or over the phone): “Relax before you react: pause, count to ten and take some deep breaths,” adds Dee. Taking a break outdoors can really help, whether that’s on your daily walk, a balcony or backyard.
2. Keep talking to your children about what’s happening
Be open and honest with your children and because things are changing all the time, keep checking in. Do this when you're feeling calm and rational.
Children learn from how we deal with conflict so if (or rather when) tempers get frayed, do apologise, says Dee.
“It means a lot even to a young child for a parent to say: ‘I’m sorry, I’m really worried about something today – it’s me being silly, I’m wondering how I’m going to manage this and that’. You don’t have to give a full explanation, just an acknowledgement and apology that it wasn’t their fault.”
3. Find an outlet for your stress
Long baths, baking, maybe even cleaning: we all have ways we like to relax – and they’re more important than ever at the moment, says Dee.
“It’s quite useful for us all to think about what our coping strategies are, and recognising what’s possible at the moment,” says Dee. For example, if you miss your regular exercise class, find a YouTube alternative. And get the kids involved too: you could have a dance party with your four-year-old or try a workout with your baby.
Be present and block out distractions when you are relaxing. “So, if you decide to watch a TV show or film with your children, really watch it. Put your phone away and avoid rushing in and out of the room. Watch it and then maybe pause from time to time to chat about it.”
4. Stay connected with your support networks (and maybe build new ones)
“Talk with your friends and family and work out what kind of support you can offer to each other,” says Dee. Maybe they live close and you can still wave through the window or you can stay in touch using technology. Don't be afraid to ask for help or to offer it too.
Video chats are a great alternative to actual face-to-face contact – plus you can get your kids involved. Maybe someone you know is great at entertaining but is feeling isolated at the moment? So, could they could try an activity like a singalong or a puppet show with your child? Or how about filming your little one’s progress on your phone or taking pictures of their artwork and sharing with loved ones?
Communities have really pulled together at times throughout the pandemic, so now might be a great chance to remotely meet your neighbours by joining a local Facebook or WhatsApp group.
5. Ration your news updates
Constantly scrolling on news sites or social media? There’s a lot to be said for rationing news and muting alerts, says Dee.
Decide what time you’ll get the news or check social media every day – and try stick to it.
Remember, children hear and pick up on headlines, adds Dee. “If they ask questions about the news, acknowledge them but avoid telling them too much if they don’t want to know more.”
6. Keep up your routines
Your usual routines probably went of the window a bit over the course of this year, but there are some activities you are still doing that can give structure to your day like taking daily exercise and sticking to your regular mealtimes and sleeping patterns.
You might find it helpful to create a weekly picture calendar and put it up somewhere everyone can see it.
Structure can be good for you as well as your children, says Dee.
Children need comfort and when you’re giving your child comfort and love, you’re feeding it back to you too.
7. Cut yourself some slack
“We all need to be kind to ourselves, so there’s no need to run yourself ragged 24/7. None of us are perfect parents and under stress we’re even less perfect, but the important thing here is to be able to acknowledge that,” says Dee.
Don’t feel you have to be a constant ray of sunshine or always doing and planning activities.
“If you think at 4 o’clock: ‘I just need to sit down for an hour’ – do. Even if you’re watching the TV, listening to calming music or looking out of the window with your kids, you’re still sharing an experience and that’s the important thing.”
The Institute of Health Visiting also has plenty of guidance for parents during the pandemic, including tips on connecting with other parents and what to do if your child is ill.
If you need a hand explaining coronavirus, there are specially released books you can look at with your little ones: