Juggling more balls than before, is that even possible? As a working mom and caretaker, everything has changed in a matter of days.
All business transitioned to working remotely, your kids are out of school and fear is mounting about the impact of the COVID-19 virus. You struggle to figure out remote technology and fill your kitchen with healthy food, all while your children are running loose, because childcare options are non-existent.
A health crisis of this scale is unimaginable and triggers our greatest fears. Naturally, our bodies activate the fight or flight stress response. This means our adrenals kick in cortisol to help us stay focused and maintain a high energy for what’s in front of us. But that’s not sustainable long term. The only problem is that many people have a difficult time turning off this stress reaction, which in turn lessens the effectiveness of systems responsible for skin repair, autoimmune effectiveness, reproductive hormones, and digestion.
What matters most here is that in the COVID-19 case, our lives depend on our immune systems. The very stress response, which is trying to keep us and our families safe is actually compromising our ability to fight the virus. Talk about ironic.
As working moms, leadership consultants, human resource executives and a former humanitarian crisis advisor, we focus on the unique struggles of women leaders. We understand the emotional and physical toll of a crisis and want to share key factors for you to consider as you navigate this situation.
How to Cope with Your Stress
As a working mom, coworkers and kids are looking to you to figure out how they should respond, so it’s even more important for you to manage your own stress so that you can maintain calm for others. Take a piece of wisdom from the airlines and put on your own oxygen mask before you attempt to help others. Here are some tips:
1. Keep healthy.
Exercising, eating well and getting plenty of sleep are critical in keeping your immune system strong. Avoid too much caffeine, which can amp up your stress response, and alcohol, which makes us feel tired and depressed. Drink plenty of water, which helps eliminate toxins in the body.
2. Focus on what you can control.
There’s a lot that feels out of control right now, but you can control your actions. Disengage from the constant barrage of breaking news, which is designed to keep us in fear mode. Focus on the most urgent tasks at hand and give yourself permission to ignore everything else. Make time to connect with friends and family you can share your fears and frustration with. This will give you the capacity to be there for others.
3. Take an internal inventory.
Notice what physical signs of stress you are exhibiting and the pattern of your thoughts. Take these steps to counter stress:
- Breathe fully and deeply five times to calm your nervous system and flood your system with fresh oxygen, which helps you to think creatively.
- Sit still with eyes closed, quiet your mind and scan your body. Release tension wherever you notice it.
- Do some yoga to get the blood flowing and access a different perspective.
Now for the kids, how to help them:
As a parent, you set the tone within your family. Children are hypersensitive to Mom’s emotions and thrive when they feel safe. Despite your uneasiness with this situation, it’s important to keep a calm head around your children. They internalize fear and can exaggerate thoughts by making up irrational stories. Here are some suggestions to help:
- Update them regularly on what’s happening with age-appropriate info.
- Keep them away from constant news sources. Sounds and images can be too vivid for children to absorb. Stick with basic facts: “The experts have asked us to remain at home and wash our hands frequently, that will help us all stay healthy.” “As soon as I hear something from your school, I will let you know”.
- Instill confidence that their parents are doing everything possible to keep them safe.
- Watch your conversations with other adults as you discuss your own fears. It’s not helpful for kids to overhear their parents freaking out.
- Listen to how they are feeling and what’s on their mind. Not minimizing their responses, but providing clear statements of reassurance.
2. Each child is different:
Watch for signs that the stress might be too much for some of your kids, such as a change in normal behavior: acting out, being unusually quiet, not eating or hurting themselves. People manifest stress differently, so make sure to connect with each child individually to check in. Often the quiet one is the one that is internalizing the stress most.
3. Establish routines:
Kids feel more settled with a schedule they can count on. Like yours, their home and school lives have changed. It’s important to set daily activities they can count on: Regular wake-up and bedtimes, meals and a set daily time to video chat with their grandparents or other family members.
4. Have fun!
- It’s an opportunity to be creative and enjoy your time together.
- Use virtual technology like it’s never been done before. For instance, collaborate with other moms on how to host neighborhood playdates online. Initiate a community baking contest based on appearance and share images.
- Get that energy out. Construct a clever obstacle courses in your yard and throughout your house.
- Ask each child to come up with a fun activity that the family can participate it. You might be surprised by their ingenuity.
- Engage your kids in healthy cooking and baking.
- Laugh, be silly and cherish your family time.
For now, life as we know it is has changed. But like any other crisis, in time, we will adjust and learn new ways of coping. This is an opportunity to build your own resilience muscle and model behaviors that will help your children develop theirs, and most importantly, keep your family emotionally and physically strong.
Ellen Keithline Byrne, Ph.D., Karen Kirchner, M.S., P.C.C., and Denise D’Agostino, C.E.C., are the Co-Founders of Her New Standard: The Playbook for Women Leaders, a leadership consulting firm focusing on advancing women in leadership. They designed a six-month boot-camp for Women Leaders on the Rise. Find them discussing strategies for women leaders on LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook. Join their webinar, Friday, March 27, 2020 from 10:00-11:00 a.m. for additional tips on coping with stress, Strategies and Stress Relief for Women Leaders during COVID-19.
In addition, as it relates to the COVID-19 response, Ellen worked on crisis teams (9/11, Sandy Hook, Storm Sandy) and as a resilience advisor on a Global Leadership Development Team for Save the Children and the Center for Humanitarian Leadership. Denise was the Head of Human Resources for Bayer Healthcare where she managed the organization’s crisis teams.