How families can manage wellbeing during COVID-19

As families deal with sheltering-in-place, homeschooling, working from home, economic uncertainty, and a 24-hour news cycle, there is no doubt that families are feeling stressed. The global pandemic coupled with an unknown future has many of us feeling like we are living in an alternate reality. And I didn’t even mention the undue stressors like leaving the house for groceries or other necessary errands while maintaining proper social distancing.

During these high-stress times, it is easy to succumb to anxiety and depression. Even though I am able to work-from-home and I am fortunate to have a middle-class lifestyle, I too, have experienced feelings of frustration and overwhelm. When these feelings well up inside of me, I take a few deep breaths and say, “Hakuna Matata.” Although made famous by Disney’s Lion King, Hakuna Matata is a Swahili phrase meaning “no troubles” or “no worries.” Below are seven tips to help you worry less and enjoy life under lockdown.

Practicing gratitude

Every morning I start the day by “counting my blessings” or saying aloud the things for which I am grateful. It includes the obvious things like my health, my family, and having food and shelter to smaller things like having a good laugh with friends via Zoom or not having to rush to work each day. In her research on the science of gratitude, Dr. Summer Allen writes, “gratitude may combat the negative emotional processes that underpin unhappiness, burnout, and many psychological disorders.” While “counting my blessings” is my preferred method, there are numerous ways to document your gratitude. You could keep a gratitude journal or complete the Daily Dozen Worksheet. Practicing gratitude in the a.m. sets the tone for the day and should you become stressed later you can remind yourself of the all the reasons you are grateful.

Establishing a family routine

Even amidst the crisis with many of us not leaving our homes, it is important to establish a family routine (Monday through Friday). Global health expert, Chris Underhill, writes, “Implement the same practices as you would on any other day (before the crisis) – wake up, make your bed, shower, shave, eat your breakfast, etc..” Most importantly, maintaining a semblance of normalcy is healthy for children because it provides a sense of comfort. While we may not be able to control what is happening in the outside world, we certainly have control inside of our homes.

For school-aged children, a daily routine is important to ensure they are staying up on school work and assignments. Research suggests a simple rule for figuring out how long children can stay focused: Multiply the child's age by 2-5 minutes. So, if a child is 4 years old, he or she will be able to focus for 8 to 20 minutes, maximum. Parents, once you determine your child’s attention span, create a school routine based on that number. Also, don’t be afraid to speak with your child’s teachers, other parents, and family for guidance and best practices.

Planning healthy meals

Diet is the key to maintaining good physical and mental health. If you’re like my family, you probably were eating out a lot prior to COVID, and now you find yourself cooking more. Rather than viewing cooking as a chore or burden, embrace the opportunity to provide good, wholesome, homecooked meals to your family. With the wealth of recipes, cooking classes, and resources on the internet you are bound to find meals that, post-COVID, will become staples in your home.

Have fun with your meal planning and integrate a theme into your cooking. For example, Meatless Mondays, Tacos Tuesdays, breakfast for dinner, etc. The ideas are endless and a lot of fun when you embrace your inner chef. Lastly, mom, mealtime should be a family affair. Don’t be afraid to delegate tasks (setting table, gathering and measuring ingredients, etc.) and request “all hands-on deck” for clean-up.

Check out this cooking video featuring
Delaware State University’s EFNEP program.

Committing to exercise

If you’re like me, most of your days are spent in front of a computer, phone, or television and unfortunately, exercise is at the bottom of my to-do list. However, the benefits of physical activity to one’s physical and mental health is hard to dispute. To reap the benefits of exercise, just get more active throughout your day — exercise on the stairs, rev up your household chores, have a dance party with your kids, or get outside and walk around the neighborhood. No matter what you do, get your heart rate up for at least 30 minutes each day. Make it family fun with Zumba on YouTube.

Maintaining social connections virtually

Despite the negative circumstances, it is a perfect time to connect with family and friends via FaceTime, Zoom, Google Hangouts or What’s App. Humans have an inherent desire to belong and to connect with others. Even during these perilous times, it’s important to reach out daily and talk with your loved ones.

Research from the University of Cincinnati states that social connectedness can result in longevity, stronger immune system, mental well-being, lower levels of stress, improved memory. The report suggests that social connections provide intellectual stimulation and emotional support through hardships. So, although you are quarantining be sure not to isolate yourself from the world!

Having non-digital family time

Research shows the average cell phone user touches his or her phone 2,617 times per day (triple that if you’re a teenager.) In the COVID-economy, unless you’re watching puppies, the news you’re getting from Instagram, Facebook, or your feed is probably negative which further impacts your emotional wellbeing. Commit to at least an hour a day for real family time “sans cellphones.” You can play a board game, makes crafts, build a fort, make ice cream sundaes, perform a play, go through family photos (remember those), host a family prom, or bake treats to share with neighbors (more on that next). The point is to spend quality time with your family creating memories instead of posting them.

Giving back

Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love. -Mother Teresa

You don’t have to be on the front lines or a mask maker to help others during this crisis. Whether big or small, an act of kindness will change your day. Last week, I sent a pizza to my local ALDI store with this note, “Thanks for your commitment to our community.” I wanted the employees to know they are valued and appreciated and without realizing it, it made me feel good! Studies have shown that if you perform just one random act of kindness a day, you will not only reduce your stress, anxiety, and depression, but your body is flooded with the same hormones that make you and the person you've helped calmer, healthier, and happier.

As a family, you can bake cookies and drop-off to your neighbors (having you as a neighbor is a sweet treat) or make “Thinking of you” cards and mail them to friends (remember to leave one for your mailman, too). The point is there is power in kindness.

Most importantly, remember when stress comes your way to just take a deep breath and say, “Hakuna Matata!” If you and your family are COVID-free, you have much to be grateful for♥.

Ms. Quadia Ameen
Family & Consumer Science Educator

Cooperative Extension
1200 N. DuPont Highway
Dover, DE 19901