Updated: Feb 15
This one is a tough one to write because it seems off-topic. But it’s pertinent, I promise.
Looking at the image above, what feelings does it stir in you? What feelings do you think it stirs in your kids?
Similarly, when we constantly say and when our kids CONSTANTLY hear, “be safe”, it begs the question, “am I not safe?”.
For 2 years now they’ve been surrounded by messages and signs and reminders to:
Stay 2 meters/6 feet away from others
Not touch each other
Not touch this or that and absolutely sanitize after you accidentally do
Work in “bubbles” in classrooms separated by plexiglass
Sit at desks in classrooms with dividers
To have their teachers and others wearing face shields…over their face masks
Isolate, isolate, isolate
Zoom EVERYTHING, including birthday parties and playdates
What’s the message?
Be afraid. You’re not safe. Everyone is dangerous. So is everything you touch. It’s best to stay home forever and away from each other. (One of the pillars of wellness is social connection and NO social media and other online efforts just don’t count.)
What our kids know:
Believe it or not, our kids know, instinctively, from birth what’s good for them. And being around others and touching them and being in their sphere of germs actually makes us stronger. It makes us healthier. Without those microbes we eventually get sick and die. Those random objects they stick in their mouths as toddlers? Yep, it’s all to inform their developing immune system. And don’t be misled, their immune systems are robust, provided they’re eating nutritious foods and sleeping and spending time outside playing WITH other actual people.
So why on Earth am I talking about this?
First, I’m stuck on messaging because in my field words like “healthy” and “good for you” seem to be equated with “boring”, “tasteless”, “too hard to do”, “too much work”, etc. Not to mention it couldn’t be further from the truth. (That’s for another blog post.)
Second, I’m seeing more and more kids and hearing more and more from parents how their kids are struggling with anxiety since the lockdowns. Mental health is another term that gets a bad rap even though it’s trendy now. But, it’s not small and it can’t be ignored. Anxiety that goes untreated leads to more complicated health issues later, both physical and mental. (Some examples include IBS, IBD, Colitis, Crohn’s disease, depression, general anxiety disorder, eating disorders, sleep disorders, etc.). Our kids are plagued with anxiety. From the ones who can’t sleep well, the ones who get headaches, the ones who are fearful, to the ones that are indifferent or even seem fine.
What can we do about it?
Well, there are several options, depending of course on how severe you see it. Psychotherapy is always an option and seeking professional advice is always a great first step.
At home though there are a few things you can do.
First, tone down your own language and fear. We’re still acting like it’s the end of the world with this latest strain and yet most of us have gotten it and it sort of resembles a cold.* It’s not at all like the first waves.
Second, work with what your kids are eating. Being hyped on sugar never helps and with anxiety it’s worse. A balanced diet filled with as many plants as possible will be very helpful. Fiber, magnesium, zinc, B-vitamins, and antioxidants found in plant foods (including whole grains, nuts, and seeds in addition to fruit and vegetables) will help keep the gut intact which goes a long way, not just for anxiety.
Third, prioritize sleep. There’s no way around this. They need access to a full night’s deep sleep to be able to use their entire brain the next day. So do we, by the way.
Fourth, spend some time away from any outside messages (no screens!), without masks or hand-sanitizing (of course wash hands when necessary!) and preferably outside.
Lastly, COOK TOGETHER. Of course I would say this, but there is evidence that cooking can help to mitigate anxiety. It gives a sense of agency, an area they (and we) can control when everything else is so completely out of control. It promotes confidence, self-esteem, and responsibility. It is a time of connection and a time of being present.
It’s called Culinary Therapy and it’s a thing, for real. And if you think nutrition has nothing to do with mental health, think again.
The messages were necessary in the beginning…TWO YEARS AGO. It was scary then. But, we’ve all seen now that for the most part, we can live with this and be OK. You are safe. Your kids are safe. Our bodies are so full of innate wisdom and strength that science has yet to fully elucidate the wonder that is your body. (That’s what’s awesome about science, by the way. We ask questions, we look for answers, we get it wrong, we keep asking and looking for answers.)
You have choices. You can help your child (or yourself) be less anxious about this crazy world gone undeniably crazier. Watch your language, take care of self-care and teach it to your kids, eat well, which you can accomplish by cooking together.
You might be surprised by how delicious and peaceful reducing anxiety can be.
We’re not meant to do it all or alone.
You are safe. You are not alone.
*I am in no way minimizing the severity of this pandemic or virus. I have lost family to it, too. I am merely pointing out its evolution.