Although I cannot speak from personal experience, I have a sneaking suspicion that keeping up with all the COVID-19 news as a parent is more-or-less the same as riding a rodeo bull. A wild force seems hell-bent on throwing you off, the crowd gasps at every unexpected move, and you just try to hold on for 8 seconds (or two weeks).
But, unlike other beloved San Antonio traditions, COVID-19 can’t be rescheduled to a better time.
Shopping at HEB for the first time during this crisis was surreal! Certain areas were abuzz with energy as the focused staff kept wide-eyed shoppers moving. Other sections were barren. At one point, standing between the two empty aisles where milk and eggs should have been, I locked eyes with another customer and an uncontrollable laughter doubled me over. Is this really happening?
I sat in uncomfortable reflection as I drove home from that grocery trip. The fearful confusion emanating from my community members was like nothing I’ve encountered before. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs suddenly lost its top and no one quite knew how to handle it.
Or so I thought.
When I got home, my neighbors were outside grilling dinner in their usual spot. Their extended family comes over often, enjoying the fresh air while burgers sizzle and their kids burn off energy.
This time wasn’t all that different. The kids were riding figure eights through the grass and a few lawn chairs were already out. However, as I walked by, I saw everyone was standing just a bit further apart than usual. If I didn’t walk past these gatherings so frequently, I wouldn’t have noticed the change at all. Everyone was quite bright and social… just a few steps further apart.
My neighbor greeted me warmly from six or seven feet away. Without prompting, she checked if I had enough food and supplies. A friend had told her how picked over things were. She has been getting an extra this and a spare that for a while, she informed me, so they have plenty. Her voice was self-assured and maternal. I could tell by her steady gaze and relaxed smile that my neighbor was doing what came naturally to her: caring for her community.
It was such a small moment. Just neighborly chitchat. But the sincerity of my neighbor’s actions made an impression on me.
We are all stressed – and rightfully so! These are trying times for everyone. Yet there is a calm, mentally healthy path to follow through all of this. For people like my neighbor, that route comes naturally. If you are like me, however, you might require a bit of outside guidance to find the route.
Social Distancing Doesn’t Mean Social Isolation
It’s easy to agree that routine is important during the good times. No one argues with a well-oiled machine! During a crisis, however, it’s easy to let those schedules fall by the wayside. Thanks to COVID-19, everyone’s calendars suddenly cleared up and the void created by those cancellations is easy to fill with anxiety and fear.
I have no doubt that those frequent cookouts are valuable to my neighbor’s family’s mental wellness. As long as they take reasonable precautions (keeping a safe distance from others, washing everything thoroughly, etc.), there’s no reason not to enjoy the sun and breeze before dinner!
When everyone is pulling away, it’s important to remember that social connections are hugely important for our mental wellness. You don’t have to hug every person you cross paths with to be connected! That brief face-to-face conversation with my neighbor left a big impact. Experiencing a casual conversation after a full day of nonstop jitters was incredibly valuable to me.
Similarly, I don’t doubt that the kids in my neighbor’s family are fairing far better than the children around town who are cooped up with nothing but their smartphones and anxieties. Children look to adults to see how they should react to unknown situations. Taking sensible precautions is helpful, but a panicking parent will have panicking kids.
Find a way to keep your kids connected during this pandemic. That could mean making regular video calls to friends or family who can’t come around, or maybe doing crafts projects within your household. Even riding circles on a bike through your lawn can be fun when it’s with people you care about. Play is so important for kids’ mental wellness!
Look Out For Each Other
Fight or flight isn’t a kind, caring state of mind. When you are afraid of the immediate future, your whole world narrows down to what is in front of you. I know that unsure buzzing feeling too.
Yet, for all the opportunities to be selfish (and hoard toilet paper), COVID-19 is uncovering a deep caring for those around us. Across the planet, everyone is working together to flatten the curve! And, next door to me, a family is keeping an eye out for their neighbors during a difficult time.
Protect your family’s physical health, but remain mindful of their mental health as well. One in Five Minds is going to be posting blogs related to the challenges facing families during the COVID-19 pandemic. Make sure to sign up to receive our emails so you don’t miss out!
Wishing you the best,