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        woman at a table with concerns swirling around her like masks, soap, COVID, school, work

        Ask An Expert

        When things feel unpredictable, focus on what you can control – like your doom scrolling habit. Clinical psychologist Dr. Nanika Coor, shares seven ways for managing parental stress in the time of Delta.

        Written By
        Dr. Nanika Coor
        Emily Isabella

        Here we are again at the beginning of a Covid-tinged school year. Protests and politics around masking. School reopenings and concerns about safety measures. Worries about reverting back to the hellscape of remote-learning, extra housework, the constant making of snacks, and constant togetherness. Or - fear that there won’t be a remote-schooling option. When will my under-12 child be able to be vaccinated? Do we need to figure out a family pod again? Is it even really safe to send the kids to school with the Delta variant raging? The questions, concerns and unknowns are keeping you up at night. Things feel unpredictable and outside of your control.

        It can help to lean into what is in your control, like your ability to keep your unvaccinated kids safe by getting vaccinated yourself. You can reduce their exposure to unvaccinated folks. You can be outdoors when spending time with people from other homes. When your kids are indoors with others - you can make sure they’re wearing a properly-fitting mask, physically distancing and regularly washing hands. You probably know how to limit your family’s exposure to covid at this point - but you have less of a road map when it comes to managing your own anxiety.

        7 ways for parents to manage anxiety in the time of Delta:

        Consistency, predictability and flexibility are key: Routines are your friend. Daily rhythms keep us calm because we know what’s coming next. If we’ve learned nothing else during the pandemic, it’s that conditions can change rapidly. Have back up plans at the ready even as you try to maintain your and your kids’ daily routines. The predictability will help you all stay more regulated.

        Stay informed, but don’t “doom scroll”: Understanding what and why things are happening increases your felt sense of control over your situation, but losing yourself down internet rabbit holes of fear and angst don’t serve you or your stress levels. Find out the facts and keep it moving - and limit the news media your child is exposed to.

        Lead with patience, and be conscious of what you’re communicating nonverbally: Reacting to your child’s stress-driven challenging behaviors in punitive ways creates a feedback loop that escalates you both. Try responding with empathy, which is more likely to calm both of your nervous systems. When stressed, your brain perceives the world as more negative and more dangerous. You become particularly sensitive to micro-changes in others’ body posture, facial expressions, movements, gestures and tone of voice. To avoid increasing your children’s stress, pay attention to what you may be unintentionally communicating, and try to appear calm and in control of yourself.

        Prioritize connection: Spending time with supportive and caring people lowers our stress and helps our brain and body feel safe. Check in with others about your emotional experience and check in with your kids about theirs. Reach out for support from family, friends or a mental health professional if you need to talk. Having someone bear witness to your deep emotions or pain helps your nervous system move closer to equilibrium.

        Practice self-compassion: When certain structures of our brain detect something in our present environment - a sound or a scent, for example - that’s even slightly reminiscent of a previous traumatic experience, we get triggered. Our nervous system reflexively goes into fight-flight-freeze survival mode. This might look like yelling, using the “silent treatment”, or not feeling able to get out of bed all day. Pandemic life means you’re more likely to be dysregulated and have less control over your emotions and impulses, so you might behave in ways you later regret. Taking responsibility for your actions and initiating relational repair with others will keep you from falling into a shame spiral, which only increases stress. Speak to yourself with kindness, forgiveness and understanding. You won’t make yourself behave better by making yourself feel worse.

        Turn to cultural resilience practices: Your anxiety related to pandemic back-to-school time may also be influenced by factors like restricted access to basic needs and services, systemic racism and oppression, identity-based marginalization, historical and intergenerational trauma. Remember the cultural strengths, rituals and traditions of the communities you belong to and identify with. Spaces where you can be in solidarity, togetherness, grief and celebration with those who share your identities can be a protective buffer against the impact of mental health distress.

        Focus on staying regulated: Make sure you’re taking care of yourself. Get the sleep, nutrition, exercise, sunshine, connection, etc. that you need to keep your “cup” full. Set aside time each day for mindful, grounding practices like intentional breathing: Inhale through your nose for 4 counts, filling your belly with air. Hold for 7 counts and gently but audibly exhale through your mouth while drawing your belly button to your spine, pressing all of the air out of your body. Repeat 10 times. Taking time to be intentional about self-regulation can keep you from projecting your anxiety onto your children, and also models the kinds of emotional coping and calm you want your kids to embody too.

        Preparing to send your children back to school as the pandemic rages on might mean an increase in stress levels for many parents. You can reduce your own anxiety by establishing routines, not overwhelming yourself with news media, and being intentionally patient and mindful with stressed out kids. Connect with others who care about you, don’t forget to be gentle with yourself, and draw resilience and strength from cultural traditions. But ultimately the best thing you can do to reduce stress is to take care of yourself. Ground yourself with mindful practices that give you the calm confidence to help your kids deal with the excitement and nervousness of starting a new in-person school year with the Delta variant floating around.

        Dr. Nanika Coor is a Brooklyn, New York based clinical psychologist, respectful parenting therapist and consultant helping cycle-breaking parents who don't want their childhood history to become their parenting destiny. Learn more about her work at her website; on Instagram; and on her podcast.