Managing a Pandemic & Return to Learn Plans: How to Keep Your Cool

Find yourself reading every article, blog post, medical e-newsletter, etc. trying to consume as much information as you can to get a grip on the next few months? I’ve heard from many in my inner-circle that it’s all getting to be too much.

Decision fatigue, stress, overwhelming feelings, fear, and uncertainty, are all real issues right now, and likely will be for the foreseeable future. What do we do? How can we help each other?

Return to Learn Stress

Seeking expert advice, I reached out to Katie Johnson (MSW, LISW), a local licensed social worker, in hopes of garnering advice. While not all-encompassing, I hope this Q&A provides a sense of community and a place to start.

Q: We are all feeling generally overwhelmed. Do you have any tips for relaxation for parents?

A: Daily check-ins with your body.

  • Try bringing attention to your breath for a few minutes throughout the day. Notice your breath and if it could use some guidance. Regulating breathing regulates other important systems in your body.
  • Locate areas of tension in your body. Gently tighten the area for a count of five and then slowly, gently release the area. Get to know the feeling of tension versus relaxation, and watch for it.

Q: COVID-19, return to learning, illness, and death counts are all heavy topics. Do you have communication ideas for parents as they try to navigate these very serious topics with their children?

A: It is often scary and intimidating to have hard conversations with kids of any age. The most important reminders: be open, honest, validating, clear, and concise. Enter into the discussion when you are in a low level of distress to have the most constructive conversation. Be sure to honor their intelligence and personal feelings. Help them to name their emotions and share some of your own struggles. Focus discussions on steps toward safety rather than being risk-focused. Include their input in developing a detailed family plan for the school’s return. Finally, keep the line open for check-ins to help kids better understand and feel in control of their experience.

Q: Are there any easy steps you’d recommend to ease anxiety, even in our youngest kiddos?

A: Anxiety thrives on uncertainty. Right now, we have many questions and few concrete answers. We like routine and predictability in our lives, and this pandemic has robbed us of our normalcy and control. Try to maintain a day-to-day routine in as many areas as possible set regular sleep schedules, meal times, work/study times, etc. for familiarity and predictability. Create or resurrect a home tradition once a week where you all play the same board game or watch the same TV show to regain a sense of normalcy.

Q: Teenagers are especially at risk for mental health issues right now. Not only are they living in a more connected world, but they’ve also been isolated in ways we’ve never seen before. How do we help this age bracket?

A: Teenage years are typically a time of frequent disruption and change, let alone during a pandemic. Adolescents are experiencing identity formation, navigating social connections and influence, bodily developments, and a reach for autonomy. The coronavirus has removed the optimal environments and players in each of these areas. It is important to provide teenagers with a compassionate and attentive ear. Give them space to explore anger, frustration, worry, sadness, and other emotions they may feel. Try to do this without judgment and over-instruction. Ask what they need and follow their lead, while providing comfort and structure.

Q: Many of us will be facing the challenge of virtual/hybrid learning from home while balancing full-time jobs. How can we keep it all together and avoid passing this stress on to our kids?

A: The #1 rule in this pandemic is to be compassionate with yourself and your family members. Keep context around expectations for yourself and your kids. We likely won’t get the same amount of tasks accomplished as we are used to; we may be more emotional or critical of those we love; etc. In all the uncertainty, one thing is certain there will be stress and discomfort in surviving a pandemic. Identify it and manage it TOGETHER.

Other helpful resources:

  • Apps like Headspace or Calm, podcasts like Mindful Minute, or Tara Brach Podcast can assist with guided relaxation and breathing exercises.
  • Telehealth (therapy) makes mental health assistance more accessible than ever. If you have health insurance, check with your provider or your company’s Human Resources or Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to connect with someone who meets your needs.
  • PsychologyToday is a search engine specifically for locating providers in your area based on your concerns and payment method.

*Reach out to a licensed professional if you are in need of help dealing with the stress of everything going on, especially if it’s causing depression or anxiety. You don’t have to deal with it alone!


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Amber grew up Eastern Iowa. Coe College brought her to Cedar Rapids, but her love for the city and community made her stay. She and her husband of 15 years, Shannon, share a home in Marion with their two children (13 year old daughter & 10 year old son). Her passions include outdoor activities in our city’s many parks and trails, exploring unique, locally owned business, as well as all things creative. If you ask her about her bucket list, she’ll share endless travel destinations! Amber spends her days as the Director of Fundraising Marketing, leading a talented team of creatives for nearly 18 years. She is also a devoted advocate for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and other underrepresented causes.