Claire Holmes takes a look at how families can find balance in uncertain times and crisis situations – such as the current coronavirus outbreak. She investigates if this temporary ‘new normal’ can provide us with an opportunity to recalibrate.
The coronavirus presents us with uncertainty. As humans, we are programmed to get drawn to the “What ifs” at a time like this. This is normal – and helpful to some extent, to keep us alert and prepared. However, the challenge is to find a balance between this and keeping our families safe, remaining calm and choosing rational fact-based responses.
The constant flow of information through our devices – some accurate, some not – makes this balance difficult to strike. We lived here in Singapore in 2003 when the SARS virus hit. Back then, it felt like there was more choice with media consumption, and the sources were a lot less prolific. Today, relying on trustworthy information and choosing when we engage feels very necessary in the pursuit of balance.
This time around, I’ve noticed an increased tendency to pick my phone to check the latest statistics and search for coronavirus news articles. To be honest, I’ve not been sleeping as well as usual. I’ve been waking up at night with an urge to peek at my phone for an update.
This ‘on tap’ information feels like a constant stream always there to dip into. It can be consuming and begin to take over our lives. It’s certainly not helpful for us to get sucked into this 24/7, but it’s so tempting. Moderation is key. In an attempt to be more discerning, I’ve joined the Singapore government WhatsApp group. I’ve also given myself a window in the evening to visit the BBC website and The Straits Times rather than searching all over internet to read potentially unreliable sources many times a day. This has helped me to feel more in control. I’m certainly thinking less about the “What ifs” because of it.
Being a calm role model
As a counsellor, I’m acutely aware of the positive impact of modelling a calm, measured and rational response for my own children. Our kids just aren’t programmed to be calmer than we are; they take their lead from how we deal with situations. This is likely the first worldwide disease outbreak they’ve experienced and it’s normal for them to be worried and concerned.
How we respond to these worries is key in supporting them to manage their anxiety and find a balance too. Validating and normalising their experience is vital. Let them know that it’s okay to be worried at a time like this and that they can chat to you about their concerns anytime. Keeping the door open for those conversations. Make yourself available to chat when they need to. This will all help to reduce their anxiety.
Avoid the temptation to tell them not to worry as this minimises their experience – it may deter them from sharing with you again and it may increase their anxiety. Instead, normalise, validate and empathise with whatever they’re feeling. Reassure them that the family is doing everything to stay safe and healthy; give them examples of the common-sense precautions that you’re all engaging in day to day.
Routines and rituals
Staying safe might then begin to feel like a new normal, with routines of hand washing on arrival home, taking temperatures daily, not touching our faces and keeping a measured distance from others who seem unwell. Perhaps you and your family are more aware of immune-booting practices like eating healthily, sleeping well and taking regular exercise. It might even feel like a refreshing reset, a reminder of how to take care of ourselves in a more balanced way.
Perhaps this might be an opportunity to strengthen family unity, to set some new healthy routines and rituals in place such as family walks, eating meals together and having a movie night at home. You may even have a bit more time available at the moment as your children’s clubs, matches and events have been cancelled, this may be an opportunity to connect more with others. Encourage your children to maintain their connections with friends. Stay connected to yours too, especially those that help you to feel relaxed and provide a measured and calming approach to all this uncertainty. Positive connections are a robust coping strategy.
Feeling in control
Being cognisant of coping strategies that help maintain a balanced outlook is imperative right now. What things do you do in your day that help feel you to feel more in control of things? How do you slow things down, increasing the chances that you’ll respond rather than react? This is different for everyone. Our children may have different ways of coping than we do.
For me, spending time exercising in nature, practicing yoga and meditation, and taking time to connect my family, friends and colleagues helps me to feel centred. For my kids, being active, being with their friends, watching their favourite movies or shows and talking through their worries seems to help. Other people love to read, paint, draw, journal or garden.
Acknowledging the things that you do to help you to cope and ensuring that you and your children are still weaving them into your day is important for ongoing wellbeing. Modelling this by talking openly about how you are taking care of yourself to your children is a wonderful way of sending a message that self-care is a vital piece in helping us to cope well. Remember, the calmer and more collected you are, the more your kids your will take your lead.
A silver lining
Is this a chance to recalibrate? We could take stock of what’s important, appreciating the ways we take care of each other and arekinder to others and ourselves as we adjust to our temporary ‘new normal’. It could be that in the long run this recalibrating might help us to be healthier, more connected and more thoughtful long after the crisis has abated. It may be that you notice that some of the things that your family have put in place make a positive impact.
Perhaps this is the silver lining of all this unsettling uncertainty. And, while this coronavirus crisis presents a significant challenge for us all, it may also present an opportunity. An opportunity to appreciate each other and each moment, and be thankful for the little things and the enormous resilience of our community.
Claire Holmes is Head of School Counselling at Tanglin Trust School Singapore.
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