“When will things get back to normal?”
That’s a question being asked all over the world in the wake of COVID-19.
The coronavirus crisis and associated response have turned lives upside down in short order. Restaurants are drive-through or take-out only. Schools, colleges, and universities are closed. Church activities are limited to online streaming services. And more and more people find themselves working at home—or at least trying to. We’re starting to experience anxiety about the consequences of quarantine.
In the early days of the crisis, well-meaning moms and family-focused ministry organizations did their best to put a good spin on the situation, posting on social media easy-to-follow schedules, craft projects, engaging activities, and even fun date night ideas. “Think of the added time together as a blessing from God,” one mom wrote on Facebook.
But for those children for whom school and church are their safe places—and for men and women in abusive relationships—increased time at home with their abusers is anything but fun and refreshing. In fact, it can be downright dangerous.
Victims of abuse are at an even higher risk
While the daily coronavirus press briefings focus attention on health statistics, mitigation strategies, and the economic fall-out, there’s another story being played out all over the world—an uptick in domestic violence and child abuse. Under the watchful eye of abusers, victims can feel even more hopeless and powerless than they typically do.
The numbers are particularly troubling to professionals like Beth Light, a trauma therapist at the Child Safety Center in Searcy, Arkansas. “We’ve already had one of our busiest years. The numbers are tracking high even in the first quarter.” The center is part of the Children’s Advocacy Center network that interviews and investigates suspected or reported abuse.
Light says that the scope of the problem is overwhelming to think about, especially considering that so many reports normally come from school teachers and counselors, occupational therapists, and others whose contact with children and families has been cut off or severely limited.
And like many other businesses and organizations, the number of staff members in the building at one time has been limited, and employees are working some at home and some at the office. Among the questions Light and other team members are trying to answer: “How can we continue to serve our clients? How can we continue to be present for the kids we know are going to need us?”
At Little Rock’s Center Against Family Violence, executive director Angela McGraw says the economic impact of the public health crisis is exacerbating the situation for already-stressed families. And guidelines and communication from government officials and school leaders far too often assumes a best-case scenario for families.
“Not every child has access to WiFi or even a device,” McGraw said, “especially if the parent’s phone has been disconnected because they couldn’t pay the bill.”
Anxiety about the consequences of quarantine is affecting everyone
The struggle is real for parents who are trying to work from home while at the same time trying to keep their young children focused on their school work. Multiple children, of course, means multiple teachers. And alternative methods of instruction—often involving the use of web- or phone-based mediums like Zoom—can unfortunately pit one sibling against another if they’re sharing a device.
The reality is even more sobering for those teachers who are wearing many hats—like trying to teach from home via the internet while also doing their best to help their own children keep up with lessons and assignments.
A friend of mine in Alabama, a single woman, works as a nurse. Her job is considered essential. When she adopted a child several years ago, she never imagined a season of life that would be this complicated.
“I can’t leave my young son home by himself,” she said, “but I definitely can’t take him to work with me.” But with many daycares closed, including her own, she has had to be creative in making adequate arrangements for him.
No one is immune from feeling anxiety about the consequences of quarantine.
We’re all trying to manage, but it’s just hard
No matter where you go, there’s an overwhelming sense of “We’ve never done this before.”
The overall situation in the country is compounded by the fact there’s virtually no area of life that is untouched by the crisis. Everyone is experiencing heightened stress and struggling to manage life as best they can. Blue-collar workers. White-collar workers. And everyone in between. It’s just hard.
At no point since the Great Depression have so many Americans felt such a sudden and shocking loss of control over their ability to provide for their families. In a capitalist market, the customers have always determined which businesses stay open and which ones close. In this situation, the government has made those determinations.
Across the country, lines at food banks back up for a mile or more as an increasing number of workers find themselves unemployed or their hours significantly cut. Add to that the surge in alcohol and gun sales, and the situation seems even more grim.
Mental health professionals like me worry less about the stats related to the virus and more about the long-term effects, which will inevitably include traumatized healthcare workers and a spike in anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and suicide.
We know we’re all in this together. But to be honest, sometimes that just falls flat. We need some clear, concrete directions—and an idea of just how long the chaos will linger in our lives.
So how can we deal with the anxiety caused by the consequences of quarantine and a global pandemic?
1. Turn off the news. The 24/7 news cycle and constant phone notifications can drain mental resources and increase anxiety levels. Choose one or two programs to watch at different times of the day, and leave it at that.
2. Be mindful of what social media content you are consuming. Ask yourself if the information is helpful and actionable—or merely driving fear. Pay attention to how you feel when you’re listening, reading, or watching content.
3. Recognize your emotional state and the impact it has on those around you. This is especially important if you have kids, because their emotional state will often mirror your own.
4. Learn a new skill. Deep breathing and simple grounding techniques can be helpful because they bring you back to the present moment and help regulate your central nervous system.
5. Shift your expectations. Children will have meltdowns and tantrums. Focus on meeting basic needs each day, and spend time outside when weather allows.
6. Practice gratitude. Notice even the little things around you—the sun shining, flowers blooming, air to breathe. Being grateful for anything can help shift your mindset and improve your emotional state.
7. Keep in touch with safe people in your life. Social distancing should not mean total isolation. Make a point to call, text, or FaceTime friends and family members.
8. Show lots of grace to people—including yourself. The middle of a global pandemic is not the time to strive for perfection. Adopting a ‘good enough’ benchmark can be freeing—whether you’re applying that standard to your work, your kids’ schooling, your homemade dinner, or your housekeeping.
And specifically for those who find themselves in at-risk situations:
9. Seek safety. Do your best to create a safe place in your home—a room where it’s okay to cry, scream, or throw a fit. Children and adults need this—and need to know it’s okay to do.
10. Call for help. If you are in danger, call 911, seek help from a local domestic violence shelter, or connect with a safe chatroom manned by a state agency or community organization. Utilize local resources for assistance, such as food and financial aid.
Copyright © 2020 by Garrick Conner. All rights reserved.
Garrick D. Conner is a licensed professional counselor, licensed marriage and family therapist, ordained minister, and freelance writer. He serves as discipleship pastor at Park Hill Baptist Church in North Little Rock, Arkansas. You can read more from him at garrickdconner.com. Find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.