A Mom’s Guide to Tantrum-Free Social Distancing: 7 Steps to Get it Together, Separately

Just a few days into social distancing as a mom of a two-year-old and the meltdown was pretty epic.

Embarrassingly, the meltdown was all mine and not my daughter’s. After a pretty successful weekend of staying busy at home, today was the first workday and I lost it. Some moms get mad and yell—not me, I break down emotionally—imploding rather than exploding. My thoughts get scattered; my mind jumps from thought to thought with a racing heart and tears ready to fall. I overreact and make snippy comments to no one about the laundry, the mess, the DOG POOP on the FLOOR! I lash out at whoever is around—not in a violent way- but in an impatient, unkind, martyr-like way. Not my best look.

It was a wake-up call that something needs to change and that something is me.

To survive the next few weeks, I need stop thinking about being in survival mode. That will lead to outbreaks like today. I need to focus on my being healthy in mind, body and spirit so I can care for my family.
I work in the health industry; I know what I should do. But I’m also a working mom, which means that I put myself last, pretty much all the time. And that’s not going to cut it for me or my family during this time of upheaval—and it won’t for you either.

So here’s the plan.

1. Manage my stress—I immediately set up an account with an online meditation app. I commit to doing at least one guided imagery a day. The recommendation is one to two times a day for 20 minutes. Today I could only do two minutes before my racing thoughts overwhelmed me, but tomorrow I will do better. And I know from my past experiences with guided meditation that it takes practice. Dr. Jonas has taught me the importance of learning to induce the relaxation response. He calls it “mental fitness” because it takes practice just like physical fitness.

How do you relax and manage stress? First and always is breathing. A few breaths deep into your belly only takes a few seconds yet changes everything. Perhaps you have other techniques to add to that. Is it through exercise, prayer, journaling? Here are some resources for mind-body approaches:

2. Self- care—I took a half hour today for some self-care. My usual self-care means getting ahead at work, but that isn’t going to cut it in this environment. Instead, I asked for help from my family so that I could take a shower, wash my hair, and blow it dry. Simple things but a luxury for a work-from-home mom. For others, that might mean, exercising, writing, reading, laughing, etc.

Ask yourself: what does it mean to be well? Write it down and ask those around you for ideas to help you make that happen. These are times to be creative. Is it learning something new? Cooking schools are offering free subscriptions, free online courses are popping up, libraries offer downloadable books, and museums have free online tours.

3. Go outside and get moving—Fifteen minutes of fresh air does everyone a lot of good. If you can’t go outside, science shows even just looking at pictures of nature is good for you and builds resilience.

My neighbors set up a scavenger hunt for shamrocks on St. Patrick’s Day, but this can be done on any day if you have ties to a community. The kids decorated shamrocks and put them in their windows. During our walk, we looked out to see how many we could count. It required no contact with others and was an adventure, especially as I worked up a sweat pushing the stroller up and down the hilly streets. But it was also exercise.

Getting in 150 minutes per week of moderate- intensity activity plus 2 or more days per week of muscle-strengthening activities takes creativity during a social quarantine but it’s possible especially with all the fitness on demand options available. Maybe you have more time because you are not commuting. Take that time to get out and move!

4. Maintain a schedule—There are a lot of schedules circulating on social media for parents with kids of all ages. As you can see from the photo, I tried to write one up for my family. Nailed it! You will see my daughter helped me write it up—mostly by crossing things out—but it’s legible and it’s a start. Mostly, it helps me communicate with my family who is on lock-down with me.

It’s somewhat of a written agreement that things will not always be so crazy and when preschool starts back up, we will be ready.

5. Feed myself—I realized that I hadn’t eaten since 9am, and it was 4 pm and that was a problem for me. I ate a cookie- ok- so don’t be like me- this was not good- but I resolve to do better and eat healthier- nuts provide a healthy, quick snack. Food is critical to health. I make sure my daughter’s meals are balanced and plentiful, but once again, I put myself last as most caregivers do. I know eating well can help me stay healthy not just for this crisis but for the long-run to reduce the chances of getting chronic conditions like diabetes, and heart disease.

Inflammation-causing foods (like cookies) don’t help the immune system do its job like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins and good fats do.

Here are some resources:

6. Maintain social connections—Being stuck home with just a two-year old, my work and my racing thoughts doesn’t help anyone. I need to find creative ways to connect with family and friends. I’m finding that more resources are popping up each day. A favorite singer of mine is holding virtual concerts on Facebook. My church is streaming daily prayer sessions. I asked my friends to have a daily check-in on a text string. A few neighborhood moms and I are using a video app called Marco Polo to send recorded videos of our kids to their friends. We found this works well when my husband or I travel for work because the videos don’t delete immediately like SnapChat so my daughter can watch them over and over.

7. Journaling—Last night I dug my journal out of the bed-side table. Journaling is a self-care technique that can help you heal, grow and thrive. It helps bring order to your deepest thoughts and fears. It creates order out of chaos – something much needed right now. Also, journaling acts as free therapy and can be done at home. It helps you have a conversation with the person who knows you best: you. You can go back and track your progress. Read what you’ve written and see how much progress you’ve made on your journey. Some find joy in knowing their words help others, so they share their healing. But whether you share your work or not is up to you.

I hope that by sharing my experience, you will give yourself permission to take care of yourself during this chaotic time. Misinformation is rampant. And it’s hard to know what’s evidence-based. Dr. Jonas recommends visiting the CDC’s website for information on prevention and treatment.

Rather than get caught up in the anxiety of the news, focus on the good and take advantage of the free resources out there and don’t ignore your health. Now, more than ever, our mental, physical and social health is critical to getting through this together…but separately.