Beating the Isolation Blues

~ By Dixie Andelin Forsyth, 05/08/2020

Of all the people grappling with the difficulties of this Covid-19 lockdown, one of the more common challenges I’ve seen for mothers is keeping children home when they’re normally expending energy and socializing at school. My heart goes out to those who struggle to keep their kids from going stir-crazy in isolation, who feel intimidated by suddenly needing to understand school curriculum (I especially empathize with mothers who have difficulty with algebra and geometry!), who feel judged by neighbors when taking their young ones out for some much needed exercise and sunshine, or who miss the support of adult friends to have grown-up conversation with. Having raised seven children, believe me when I say I’ve been there.

Mothers, it is in your DNA to survive this. We can all get through the next few weeks, and we can do it with flying colors. Women have survived and conquered much more than forced isolation since the beginning of time. Who hauled water in buckets to wash clothes and dishes with when plumbing was not a thing? Who fought off wild animals to protect our children when our husbands were out hunting for food? Who gave birth for centuries with nothing but a stick to bite down on when the pain got too intense? We are survival machines, designed for greatness. Never doubt your limitless value to the human race.
How does your worth translate into not just white-knuckling through a pandemic but thriving in it? First of all, being born a female means you were born to understand the needs of others. Look around to find the needs you can fill in the lives of others.

Are your kids feeling lonely because they don’t have social time with friends? Now is the time to really bond with them, the way mothers are especially good at doing. Ask them questions about their friends, their thoughts, dreams, frustrations, obsessions. Listen with full attention, refrain from judging, validate what they say and follow up on specific things later to show them you care about and remember what they told you. Find activities you can do with each child. Hug them, cuddle them. Laugh with them, teach them important life lessons their school never will. You may end up looking back on this time with fondness years from now. This is a great opportunity. I was recently able to have two of my daughters and their children with me more than usual, and this was only due to the pandemic. We created memories that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise, and despite the frustrations of the lockdown, I’m grateful for that part of it.

Happy hormones will help you get through any difficult time in life, and there are several ways listed in Timeless that I mention to help yourself get “upstairs” and start basking in dopamine, the primary happy hormone. What I’m going to do is tailor this list for you and make it apply to having your children at home during the Covid-19 crisis. But you can use these suggestions anytime, they don’t expire. And they all bring a nice dose of dopamine to your system.

In no particular order:

1. Physical activity. Children need even more of this than we do. Help them find ways to harness that energy into great activities like dancing, gymnastics (protect your lamps!), cooking, yoga, working in a garden. Search YouTube for interesting physical activities people do in other countries, like games and hobbies. If you’re lucky enough or able to go outside, take your children to a place where they can run without danger. Or take them on a walk through an area with beautiful things to appreciate, like trees or buildings. A lot of kids will actually find they enjoy cleaning and working around the house during isolation (or on a rainy day) more than they expect, because physical activity helps you stop thinking about unpleasant ideas, fears and disappointments. It also gives you the rush of feeling like you accomplished something.

2. Distraction. When people are under pressure, sometimes the only way to get their minds off it is to distract them. For children, this can come in the form of asking them to help you with a task. See if they can sort buttons or other objects into piles according to size or color. Ask them to untangle something. Point to something outside and talk about it, or bring up something they’re interested in and ask them questions about it. Start a task yourself, such as sewing a tablecloth, and have your children sit near you while you do it. They will often be fascinated by the movements of your hands and the finished product. I used to sew dolls and dresses for my daughters, and they never seemed to tire of watching me do that. Not all kids will be fascinated by the same things, but this is where your efforts in sleuthing will produce information about each child’s personality that you can then use to find the perfect distractions for them.

3. Breathing. Believe it or not, simply stopping to take stock of the speed and evenness of your breathing can have a big impact on your feeling of well-being. Isolation and social distance can have a negative impact on young ones, especially if they value socializing with others their own age and can’t get that. Help your children learn to calm themselves through breathing exercises. There are books, apps and YouTube videos you can use to teach these valuable methods. Make it special by putting colorful mats on the floor, or wearing something comfy while you do it. Play relaxing music and perhaps light candles to bring an even more peaceful mood.

4. Humor. Everyone needs to laugh, and children especially do. Find funny pictures to show them, or silly songs or videos you can all watch together. Use the apps that manipulate photos to make your kids look older or younger, have large eyes or animal ears. My grandchildren are entertained for hours watching pictures of themselves morph into crazy funhouse images. Watch a movie together that you know makes your kids laugh, and laugh along with them. Look for the humor in ordinary situations, and discover how much better you and everyone around you feels.

5. Spirituality. Whether you believe in God or not, you can find deeper meaning in life. Being able to talk about your thoughts on the meaning of life, the purpose of death, or any profound philosophy with your children will be a very bonding and meaningful activity for you to engage in with them. Discuss your ideas about what it means to be a good person or to live a full life. Ask them for their input. How often are you able to delve into this subject with your family during your normally hectic schedule? Being stuck at home together is the perfect chance to learn more about each other, and to impart wisdom to your kids. Having a sense of purpose in life helps everyone get upstairs.

6. Service. Do something kind for someone else. This is a wonderful opportunity to show your children how good it feels to help other people. Do your kids have a grandparent, aunt or uncle that could use cheering up? Write letters to them. Provide colorful paper or white paper and crayons or colored pencils, stickers or even flowers you’ve picked and pressed, then tell the children about this loved one and how nice it would be for them to receive a real letter in the mail, and maybe a nice drawing. Or you can find funny stories or jokes or pictures and send them online. Ask the kids to help you choose these before attaching them to a message, then involve them in any replies you receive from the loved one. If you have friends or family more close-by, offer to help them with their garden or lawn, clean out their car, or run an errand for them. Let the kids be part of the activity, perhaps even helping you decide what act of service to do for them. Teach them to look for ways to help their daddy, if possible. Set the example by doing the same thing yourself.

7. Physical Touch. It’s probably not surprising that touch can help people get upstairs and feel more positive energy. Simple hugs can be enough. Sometimes even a pat on the head or a hand rested on the shoulder can encourage a child to find their way out of a sad mood. Learn what comforts them physically and what is too much for them. Some children need a lot of cuddling, while others prefer minimal contact. You might only be able to get some little boys to arm wrestle with you. But all children need touch, and a gentle, loving gesture can help a child feel safe and cared for.

8. Creativity. A lot of people have discovered this outlet during the Covid-19 pandemic. Facebook and Instagram are filled with images of family projects. I know a family who all baked cinnamon rolls together. That’s a perfect activity for children because each child can take a task, and they enjoy working together to produce something they can eat later. Try something new that you’ve never dared attempt, now that you have the time. Buy some tracing paper and copy photos of your children, then watercolor them. Your kids will watch you, spellbound. Go through family photos and organize them. Google games your family can make or play indoors, and let each child choose one to focus on. Watch YouTube tutorials and learn a new skill like poured acrylic art, 2×2 gardening, resin jewelry mould-making, paper flowers, etc. Go wild, and make sure it’s not something that can be finished in two minutes. Make it last.

9. Gratitude. Perhaps the best way of all to summon those happy hormones into your bloodstream is through active gratitude. I added the word “active” because doing something about the things you’re thankful for helps you feel them more, helps you develop better habits, and teaches others how valuable the practice is. Throughout your day, search for small (and large, if you can find them) things to be happy about. Then express them out loud so that others can both see and benefit from the dopamine you’re drumming up.

“Wow, look at the colors in that sunset!”

“I’m so glad it’s not too cold/hot today. Doesn’t this feel nice?”

“That was an amazing apple. Been a long time since I had one that good.”

“Ohhh, this is a great song. I love this part. So glad you picked this one.”

“We are so lucky to live here because ________”

“Never enjoyed cleaning the bathroom, but I do love polishing the mirror because it looks amazing when I’m done. See?”

“You did that really well. Thanks for helping me with it. Couldn’t have done it alone.”

“Don’t you just love this cozy blanket?”

Whatever you do, make sure you really mean it. If you’re not normally a positive person, start small and build up to the gushing stuff. People, especially children, need to hear good things about the world they live in. Leave the negative reporting to the cynics and curmudgeons out there.

Make your home a refuge, a place people feel cozy and loved in. Get those happy hormones pumping in everyone’s systems, encourage positive talk and mood-improving activities. Value those kids of yours—they’re a priceless gift that won’t be with you forever, and a joy some people never get to experience. Times like this are difficult, but you have the power to see it as an opportunity or a burden. The choice is up to you, and I believe you will choose well.

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