We are now midway through the second month of social distancing and if you’re a parent
struggling to stay motivated under an avalanche of worry and daily responsibilities, you
are not alone. Think all the way back to mid-March, when there was a flood of freshly
anointed homeschooling parents flexing their creativity on social media. Most of us gave
it our best effort to make the best of a bad-but-seemingly-temporary situation. Flash-
forward to today, just six weeks later, and that momentum appears to be waning. Or
worse, it’s now a distant memory.

Mental health professionals at Oasis: The Center for Mental Health, a full-service mental
and behavioral health practice based in Annapolis, are continuing to actively “see” and
treat patients through virtual telehealth appointments. Over the last month, providers have
noted several commonalities among those seeking treatment since the March 13
shutdowns in Maryland. Many patients report feeling surges in anxiety, depression and
insomnia– and its not just parents who are suffering. Small children and adolescents are
struggling, too.

The stress from juggling work (or joblessness) in addition to homeschooling and social
distancing from peers has left parents and families feeling like they’re not making
progress in any aspect of their lives. The danger that arises from feeling “stuck,”
unmotivated and anxious all of the time is that families are letting good habits slide and
bad ones become more prevalent. Oasis’ providers offer the following suggestions for
combatting depression and anxiety that comes from social distancing:

1. Keep to a schedule and routine

Astronauts in outer space are taught to do this, as our submariners living at sea. Now, it’s
what is being prescribed to families isolating at home. Oasis’ providers recommend that
parents and children should start with waking up at a reasonable time and getting dressed
each and every day. While it’s not necessary to put on the exact type of clothes one might
wear to work or school, simply changing out of the clothes worn to sleep denotes a
feeling of “getting ready” for the day and helps to maintain a semblance of normalcy in
our daily lives. Also, having a routine reduces anxiety. When kids know what to expect
each day, it can reduce their worry.

Kids are also anxious about transitioning so quickly to online school and having to learn
a new way of learning. They’re stressed about missing an assignment, forgetting things
they’ve already learned, and confused about what is expected of them. Remind them this
is new for everyone, even their teachers. Therefore, as we’re all learning how to
assimilate together, mistakes will be made and that’s okay. There is, and will continue to
be, a learning curve for all parties involved. Making sure they are checking school emails
and assignment postings at the same time each day will help to curb the stress from
uncertainty.

2. Movement is critical

Parents and children need to make sure they’re engaging in 30-minutes of physical
activity each day. Remember, kids are used to gym class, daily recess and sports after
school. Parents might be used to going to the gym before work or getting a lot of steps on
the job. Like recess is scheduled on your child’s classroom wall, make scheduled time for
simple physical activity such as walking, doing a Just Dance video, or taking a bike ride.
This should be a standard part of your routine each and every day as movement is proven
to reduce stress and enhance cognitive functioning.

3. Social distancing does not mean social isolation

Connecting with friends and family regularly on video chats is important for adults and
children. Talking about our feelings reduces the emotional charge we carry around and
therefore can be cathartic. Even though nothing in our lives has changed, it makes us feel
better to express what we are feeling. It’s also refreshing to just talk and laugh with
others outside of the house to break up the monotony.

For middle-scholars and young teens, social distancing has been particularly challenging
because regular socialization with peers is so important. They’re also the age group that
is less likely to try something new and different –like taking a family bike ride or playing
a board game with parents. So much of their regular schooling is about socializing and
being a part of a group, in addition to being in the same room as their teachers.

At school, they’re stimulated by many different parts of their surroundings and it’s so drastically
different than being home at the kitchen table with mom or dad. Try allowing kids to
video chat with classmates so they can work together on assignments (when applicable).
This way, they’re able to combine the social element of school with academics to make
things feel a little bit more like they’re used to.

4. How therapy can help

Telehealth therapy sessions have allowed Oasis’ providers the opportunity to reach out to
kids in their own home environment. Also, checking in with a professional to ask, “Is this
normal?” can offer parents and kids some reassurance that it’s going to be okay.
Oasis’ providers say families seem to really benefit from having someone outside of their
family offering a different perspective and making suggestions. Therapy can also be a
break from the boredom and allow both parents and children an opportunity to consider
new ideas that they may not have thought of to help their current situation. Also, kids can
be surprisingly receptive to ideas coming from someone else other than their parents and
many actually like talking to a person who is focused on listening to them and what
they’re experiencing.

5. Behaviors that are cause for concern

Mental health professionals advise parents to reach out for help if they notice any
significant changes in behavior or mood that is visible with their child. For example,
differences in sleeping patterns, appetite, or if they’re isolating themselves and unwilling
to leave their room or engage with family. These are the signs that it’s time or the parent
to “check in” with the child and talk to them more about what they might be feeling.
Oasis also offers free online screenings for depression and anxiety directly on their
website.

We are all going through something new, different and scary, so there isn’t any one
“normal” way children should be reacting in this situation. There is also nothing wrong
with checking in with a professional if your alarm bells are going off and you’re noticing
changes that seem “off.” For example, some of the children in treatment at Oasis have
said they’re extremely worried about relatives and grandparents catching the virus. Keep
in mind your children could also be feeling worry, sadness and grief over the things
they’ve lost (seeing friends, sports, canceled events they were looking forward to) or
can’t control, and it might be overwhelming them. Children don’t always know how to
appropriately express or manage these complex emotions.

Parents should immediately call 9-1-1 or a crisis hotline if they feel there is any risk of
self harm or harm to others. Specifically, if a child says they are thinking about harming
themselves, if they’re saying “how” or express a plan, or if you notice signs of them
hurting themselves (i.e. cutting) then, you need to call 9-1-1 or take them to an
emergency room immediately.

Many thanks to Oasis: The Center for Mental Health for being a contributing guest writer for Annapolis Moms Network.

This article has been provided by Kerry Weber, Oasis.
About Oasis: The Center for Mental Health

Oasis: The Center for Mental Health, located at 175 Admiral Cochrane Drive, Annapolis, MD 21401, provides immediate access to mental health care for patients of all ages. Our team of specialists are available 6-days a week, 8am-9pm (Monday-Friday) and Saturdays from 9-4pm and telehealth appointment requests can now be made online. (NOTE: In-office visits and walk-in clinic have been temporarily suspended and the office is only scheduling telehealth video visits with providers due to concerns from the coronavirus outbreak). Free screenings for depression and anxiety are now available online on the Oasis website for patients ages 14 & older.

Founded in 2004, the practice is equipped with a team of more than a dozen board-certified, licensed psychiatric professionals. We invite you to utilize our services to get critical support for a variety of mental health afflictions that could include: anxiety, depression, relationship issues, anger and stress management, grief and loss, substance abuse and addiction counseling, bipolar disorder, behavioral problems, ADHD, mood disorders and much more.

For more information, visit www.oasismentalhealth.net or call 410-571-0888.

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