How can families find balance in these uncertain times – does this temporary ‘new normal’ provide us with an opportunity to recalibrate?
By Claire Holmes, Head of School Counselling, Tanglin Trust School Singapore (Guest contributor)
The Covid-19 virus 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 that’s accurate and some that’s not makes this balance difficult to strike. We lived here in Singapore in 2003 when the SARS virus hit, then media consumption felt more choiceful, the sources a lot less prolific. Today relying on trustworthy information and choosing when we engage feels very necessary in the pursuit of balance. This time round I have noticed an increased tendency to pick my phone, to check the latest statistics and search for news articles. To be honest, I’ve not been sleeping as well as usual, I have been waking up during the night with an urge to take a sneak peek at my phone for an update. This ‘on tap’ information feels like a constant stream always there to dip into. This 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 feels key. In an attempt to be more discerning I’ve joined the Singapore government What’s App group and 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 and I’m certainly thinking less about the “What ifs” because of it.
As a counsellor, I am 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. It’s likely that this is the first worldwide disease outbreak that they have 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 is 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 and making yourself available to chat when they need to will help to reduce their anxiety. Avoid the temptation to tell them not to worry as this minimises their experience, may deter them from sharing with you again and increase their anxiety. Instead, normalise, validate and empathise with whatever they are feeling. Reassure them that the family is doing everything to stay safe and healthy, give them examples of the common-sense precautions that you are all engaging in day to day.
Staying safe might begin to feel like a new normal, 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.
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 and our children may have different ways of coping than we do. For me, spending time exercising in nature, practicing yoga and meditation as well 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 kids your will take your lead.
Could this be a chance to recalibrate? To take stock of what’s important, appreciating ways of taking care of each other, being kinder 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 whist this crisis presents a significant challenge for us all it may also present an opportunity. An opportunity to appreciate each other, each moment, be thankful for the little things and the enormous resilience of our community.
Dr. Suzanne M. Anderson is a mental health counsellor and crisis responder and trainer in Singapore.