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Walking through the COVID-19 pandemic: Healthy coping mechanisms for parents and students

Walking through the COVID-19 pandemic: Healthy coping mechanisms for parents and students

Since March 2020, our lives have halted to a near standstill. COVID-19 has upended our way of life, and students feel it just as much as the parents stuck at home.

We know parents have become teachers and transitioned to home offices – if they are lucky enough to have a job. However, students are suffering — and some are suffering in silence.

High school seniors lost graduation. All students lost the end of their school year. They lost the normalcy of their routine, their community and, for some, their sense of belonging.

It is normal for students and parents to struggle in the midst of an unprecedented situation. The future is uncertain, and we are collectively grieving the way things once were.

Is this grief?

It may seem strange to label our current feelings as grief, but that’s exactly what it is. Allowing grief to become part of our COVID vocabulary can help parents and students find ways to cope with losses effectively.

Before learning to cope, it is important to understand what happens in our brains when we experience grief.

Dr. Lisa M. Shulman, neuroscientist and professor of neurology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, studied the way the brain responds to grief. She notes the areas of our brain in charge of danger perception, emotion regulation and memory kick into overdrive during loss.

With our brains working harder than normal, Shulman says, “Triggers in our environment, such as daily reminders of loss, may repeatedly activate the body’s fight-or-flight response.” This overactive response leads to trouble sleeping, nightmares, overthinking and hypersensitivity to our surroundings.

In the midst of stay-at-home orders and disruptions to our sense of security, those environmental triggers are all around us. They can be something as small as watching the news.

 If day-to-day life seems difficult, even in the mundane of staying home, finding healthy ways to calm down our brains is crucial.

Healthy coping mechanisms for parents and students

Suppressing emotions offers consequences for our mental health. When we allow ourselves space to express and evaluate our grief, we can manage it better.

Students and parents can participate in these healthy coping mechanisms together:

Exercise

Regular exercise is good for the mind and body, even without the presence of a major stressor. Exercise releases endorphins, the brain’s natural, feel-good chemical.

What parents can do with their students: Go on a bike ride, walk around the neighborhood, follow an in-home exercise video or play an active video game like Just Dance.

Call loved ones

In the age of video chat, talking to loved ones virtually has never been easier. Human connection is not gone just because we can’t be together physically.

What parents can do with their students: Set a designated time to call a loved one each day or week, and stick to it. This will keep connection alive and establish a sense of routine.

Journaling

Writing down our feelings helps us understand them better. Journals also serve as windows into history, even if no one else ever reads them.

What parents can do with their students: Follow a daily journaling prompt and allot time to share the responses with each other.

Remember this is a shared experience

There is comfort in knowing we are all affected by the COVID-19 crisis. Our shared experience lends itself to empathy and genuine conversation.

What parents can do with their students: Talk to them, and be intentional. Ask them specific questions, engage with their responses and don’t be afraid to talk about the hard stuff.

Hang in there. We’ll get through this together.

Lauren Stockam
Lauren@safeandsober.org

Lauren is the Public Relations intern at Safe and Sober. She is a graduate student at Missouri State University.

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