Managing anxiety around lockdown easing

This week’s blog was written by our Assistant Psychologist Gabby Donaldson.

Given the recent development in Coronavirus news, a roadmap out of lockdown, it is really important to pause and think how this will affect us and how we may be feeling because of this. In particular, like the previous blog, I want to focus on the re-opening of schools on March 8th. However, this time thinking more about how parents can both support their children with their worries about being back in school, but also take care of themselves and check in with their own mental health.

At Headspace Guildford we do a lot of work to support children and their families with anxiety and low mood. Many children throughout the pandemic have experienced anxiety or low mood, resulting from fear about the virus (I am worried about catching the virus or I am scared my family will catch the virus), anger at not being able to see friends (I am fed up with being stuck indoors, unable to see my friends), or worry at missing school (what if I have missed too much schoolwork and fall behind). Sometimes, children can be good at hiding their feelings and keeping these worries to themselves, which could make it hard for parents to recognise their child’s feelings and support them.

Now that schools have re-opened, it is really important for parents to talk to their children and get an understanding of how they are feeling. Some children may be feeling really excited to be back in school; however, for others, the thought of being back in school when COVID is still around may be rather scary and create a lot of anxiety. I spoke in the previous blog about ‘The Stress Bucket’ and this is an excellent analogy which can be used when talking to your child about worries.

It is important to try and have a conversation with children about how they are feeling. Specific time should be dedicated for this so that no-one feels rushed in expressing their emotions. You may find that some children are more open to talking about their worries and simply bringing up the topic of school will be enough for them to explain how they feel. For other children, they may be more reserved with their feelings. If you find that your child isn’t opening up about this, you could initiate the conversation:

“I wonder if you are feeling a little bit worried about being back in school? It can feel rather scary because this is part of the first stage of the lockdown easing”

“I wonder if being back in school is making you feel rather scared about catching the virus? It is understandable that you are feeling this way because COVID is scary, but they wouldn’t have re-opened schools is they didn’t feel it was safe to do so”     

“I wonder if you are feeling a bit anxious because of the amount of face-to-face teaching in school you have missed? I wonder if you feel as though you are behind and have a lot to catch up on? It is OK to have these worries, but remember that everyone in your class is in the same position and the teacher is there to support you all with your learning”

By initiating the conversation, recognising the feelings a child may have and speaking them aloud, you can show your child that you understand the feelings they may be having and are empathising with them. This will help children to feel supported, rather than ashamed of feeling a little wobbly.

Other strategies for opening up about feelings could include having a worry jar for children to use, encouraging them to draw their feelings if they struggle to verbalise them, and taking the time each day to spend some quality time with them to help them feel grounded, supported and nurtured. This could be really simple things like reading a bedtime story, letting them help you cook dinner, sitting down together to talk about the day or helping them with some schoolwork.

I also want to express the importance of parents looking after themselves as well during this time. We are all adjusting to a new way of living and this can bring about many different emotions for ourselves. Parents have experienced turbulent times throughout this pandemic and although we are on the path to the ‘new normal’, we are not there yet and have some more challenging times ahead. It is a very stressful and anxious time and it is so important to remain kind to yourself and make that time for some self-care. You could try mindfulness and relaxation each day to help you unwind and focus on your breathing. Even just 10 minutes of mindfulness each day can make a big difference. Continue to do the things you love and enjoy, whether that is reading, listening to music, going for a run, or having a warm bath. Whatever it is that helps you to relax, make the time for it and take care of yourself too.

With schools now re-open, everyone is experiencing different feelings including excitement, fear, worry and even low mood. From all of us at Headspace Guildford, we hope you and your family are doing alright during this challenging time and, as always, please contact us if you are in need of any further support.