Almost half of parents with children aged less than 18 report their stress relating to the COVID19 pandemic is high.
A survey from the American Psychological Association (APA) found the pandemic is taking a toll on the mental health of parents.
“In addition to the typical stressors parents face, COVID-19 has added a host of additional factors on to the pile including such things as worries about job or salary loss, obtaining resources for the family, managing children’s online/distance learning, balancing working while watching children, concerns about children being cared for if parents get sick, and many more,” Dr. Raquel Halfond, a child psychologist and director of clinical guidelines in APA’s Practice, Research and Policy department, told Theravive.
“We have never experienced a global pandemic of this scale before so parents along with everyone else are having to learn as we go,” she said.
46 per cent of the parents surveyed said their average stress level related to coronavirus was high. Just 28 per cent of adults without children reported similar stress levels. With schools across the country closed, 71 per cent of parents said that managing the distance or online learning for their children was a major source of stress.
“Parents are playing multiple roles simultaneously. There used to be clear boundaries between two or three activities, but now they must be parent, teacher, employee, friend, custodian, hall monitor, detention supervisor, and lunch lady,” Dr. Shane Owens, a psychologist and Assistant Director of Campus Mental Health Services at Farmingdale State College told Theravive.
“Many people are facing significant financial setbacks as well, which exacerbates an already stressful situation,” he said.
The survey found that those with children were more likely to report stress accessing basic needs than those without children. 70 per cent of parents said ensuring basic needs like access to food and housing was a significant source of stress, compared with 44 per cent of those who didn’t have children. 66 per cent of parents were worried about access to health care, compared with 44 per cent without children.
“It is concerning that parents are feeling such a high level of stress right now. We know that parents’ own stress and mental health impacts the whole family. Children might react to their parents’ stress with acting out behaviors or internalizing behaviors. And high stress is problematic for anyone – chronic levels of stress can cause serious health consequences,” Halfond said.
She argues that parents need to ensure they are looking after themselves in this period of high stress.
“Self-care is especially important during this time of high stress. Many people have probably heard the analogy of being on an airplane and how you should put on your own oxygen mask first and then help others. Parents need to take care of themselves in order to be able to take care of their children and families,” she said.
“Self-care can include most anything that makes you feel replenished – but largely rests on getting enough sleep and exercise or activity, eating healthy and social support. Different approaches work for different people, but could include such things as taking a shower, going for a walk, watching a favorite show, listening to music, calling a friend, or having an online get together with your extended family.”
Dr. Owens says establishing a routine might also be helpful.
“Setting and sticking to routines and schedules are the best ways to build a foundation that will stand up to stress. A schedule helps you to consider and plan for managing interruptions and gives you actions to return to when life gets knocked off-track. It’s important to include in your schedule specific times for rest and recreation because those are as vital as getting your kid’s math homework done or a Zoom meeting,” he said.
It is possible some people will experience ongoing negative mental health effects due to the pandemic, which is why Owens says it is so important to find ways to cope with stress.
“Prevention is incredibly important here. If you can find healthy ways to manage your stress from the current crisis while it’s ongoing, you can either prevent or significantly decrease the intensity and duration of any future related mental health problems,” he said.
Elizabeth Pratt is a medical journalist and producer. Her work has appeared on Healthline, The Huffington Post, Fox News, The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, The Sydney Morning Herald, News.com.au, Escape, The Cusp and Skyscanner. You can read more of her articles here. Or learn more about Elizabeth and contact her via her LinkedIn and Twitter profiles.