COVID-19 Stress Management Tips for Working Parents

stressed woman at work

During these unprecedented times, we are all experiencing co-existing stressors that can feel really difficult to manage. While there is no one-size fits all for how to cope with this unique and evolving situation, here are some strategies to try on to see how they work for you, your family and your work. While so much of what’s happening right now is outside of our control, what is within our control is how we cope and adjust to the evolving situation.

1. Calm your body.

Make a list of things you can do to physically calm your body. These may include deep breathing exercises, listening to relaxing music, taking a warm shower, or sitting quietly with a cup of tea. As you feel yourself getting more anxious or stressed, turn to this list and try some of these suggestions. Don’t wait to feel your max stress level to implement these strategies; use them preemptively to keep levels at bay.

2. Calm your mind.

Stop What-IFing: It’s common for people to think of all the “WHAT IFs” and worst-case scenarios when they are feeling anxious. By playing out all these scenarios, you are likely only increasing your anxiety. Instead, ask yourself, is there anything I can do that’s within my control about this now? If the answer is “yes,” try to do it. If the answer is “no,” we want to label this as worry and find ways to manage that worry. Strategies such a setting aside specific time to allow yourself to worry/watch the news/focus on COVID-19 information and then redirecting your attention elsewhere when that time is over can be very helpful.

Talk to Yourself As You Would a Friend: It can be hard to know things to say to yourself to help calm yourself down, however, when it comes to calming other people down, we may be more easily able to do it. Ask yourself what you would say to a friend in this moment? How would you validate them, support them, and calm them? Now let’s turn this on you. Make these your coping statements. One example is: “Yes, this does feel hard right now, but I’ve been through hard before and gotten to the other side of it, this will be no different.”

3. Structure yourself and your home.

    • Find as quiet of a place to work as you can. If space is limited, try to be creative! This may be a walk-in closet, a parked car, or a balcony.
    • If this place does not have a physical boundary (like a door), find a way to let other people know you are working (like an open/closed sign). It may sound cheesy, but many people may be unknowingly stepping into your work zone if the boundaries are fluid between work and home. It can also be helpful for you to mentally differentiate when you are wearing your “home” hat and your “work” hat.
    • Set a schedule for yourself. You are not expected to be working 100% of the time just because you are working remotely. Even in the office workers don’t work 100% of the time. Keep this in mind!
    • Make a list of the important things you need to get done for the day and when you plan to do them. Schedule high priority items for the times of the day when you tend to be most productive. If you have kids at home and you are able, have those times be either times when the kids are not awake or when we know that they can be doing something independently from you or when someone else can be with them (tag your partner!).
    • Chunk your time. Alternate working time and taking breaks (45 mins work and 15 mins break). By chunking our time, it makes the time we are working more productive and focused, as our breaks give us a time to mentally/physically refuel our engines. With the kids at home, the breaks are a great time for you to spend time with them (jumping-jacks as a family, a short art project, eating lunch together, or just chatting/hugging/connecting).
    • Set a schedule for your kids—when will be they be sleeping, eating, doing homework if they are older, playing, watching video, being active and socializing virtually? Not all these things will happen each day and that is OK! Try to align the things they need the least supervision with, with your most priority items of the day. Find time in your day when you will be able to team up with them to have focused attention on one of their to-do items. Think of this structure as a fluid structure that will need constant adjustment. Giving everyone a rough idea of how the day is going to look can help everyone navigate it a bit easier.
    • If you have babies at home, try strategies like wearing your baby (which has benefits of bonding and soothing for both parent and child), working (or sleeping!) while the baby is napping, and sharing/alternating time with a partner.

4. Manage expectations.

    • For Yourself: You are in survival mode. If this situation lasts for an extended period of time, we are going to find ways to help thrive through it, but for starters, let’s focus on surviving the beginning. From an expectation perspective, that means:
      • Let it Go! Letting go of things that are not high priority/super important, and focusing on the things with work, home, health, etc. that absolutely need to be attended to.
      • It will be Bumpy. Roll with It. Things will not go as planned. The kids may cry while you are on a conference call, things on your to-do list will take longer than you think, your tasks may suddenly change. Try to find HUMOR in those moments and try to OWN People understand.
    • For your Kids: This is a huge adjustment for them on many fronts. They are figuring out the new normal, just as you are figuring out the new normal. They may have (many!) moments of boredom or frustration and that’s ok. Empathize and validate how they may be feeling. They also want to connect with you and know that you are there and they are safe and OK. Hugging them, having some silly time with them, getting them excited for the times you will be able to spend with them, can be just a few ways to connect. Try not to stress about whether you have created a completely balanced day for them, or if they learned everything they could have, or if you are being the perfect parent. Just be there (physically or emotionally) and show them love. That is enough.
    • For Others: Know that people around you are all trying their best to navigate this new norm. Try to be reasonable with your expectations of them and be clear and communicative about what you expect of them and what they should expect of you. No one can read your mind nor can you read theirs. Let people know if you need help or if you need flexibility on something. We are all in this together.

5. Try to stay positive.

    • Acknowledge and focus on the wins each day!
    • Redirect your attention away from beating up on yourself.
    • Stay in the Moment.
    • Limit News Watching—get educated but not panicked.
    • Social Distance, but don’t socially isolate.
    • Look for the Silver Linings.

You’ve got this, Momma! We are here to support you. The first days of new parenthood, naturally made us all feel like a deer in headlights and unsure how we were going to get through it. Yet, we did. We will get through this, too.

– Dr. Stacey Lessans is Chief Psychology Advisor and brings with her extensive experience helping people effectively manage the multiple and often competing work and personal roles in their lives. Dr. Lessans is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, with a private practice in both Manhattan and on the North Shore of Long Island.