How to Keep Yourself and Your Family Calm During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Psychologist and Chair of the Graduate Program in Jewish General and Special Education, Dr. Jeffrey Lichtman, Offers Tips on Managing Stress, Controlling Panic

March 18, 2020

Coronavirus is dominating the news, changing our daily lives and challenging us in ways we never expected. Parents are working from home. Children are taking classes online. The stress and anxiety can feel overwhelming. Here is some advice for managing day-to-day coronavirus stress and for helping your family stay calm. These tips are meant to help. However, if your stress occurs to a degree that feels all-consuming and makes it hard to function, seek help from a mental health professional.

How do I know if I am over-reacting to coronavirus news?

Each of us is unique and we may all react differently. It is 'normal' to be concerned with something that is taking up so much of the world’s attention. It is also normal to experience some level of anxiety around the unknown, and to experience anxiety around significant changes in routine.

Try to stay focused on the facts and stick to a routine as much as possible. Try to redirect your focus by engaging in an activity that absorbs your attention. Start writing your Pesach shopping list, read a book that pulls you in, or listen to your favorite music as you imagine yourself sitting in your favorite getaway location.

I can’t sleep or concentrate because I’m worried about coronavirus. What can I do?

Good sleep in itself can help curb and reduce anxiety. Try taking a warm bath or shower to relax your muscles. Read a good book or magazine (but don’t read about the virus.) Melatonin or other over the counter sleep aids may be useful for one or two nights to get back into the 'routine' of sleep.

My teenager is panicked about coronavirus. How can I help him?

Find out how the school is addressing it and see if they have guidance for parents. You can also look up recommendations from your local health agency. Remind (don't lecture) your teen of the facts -- they are at very low risk for serious medical concerns.

Let your teen know that you are available to discuss any fears with them. Sometimes, just talking about it can help reduce anxiety. Try asking if they have any concerns or questions about it. Their answers may surprise you. It is also okay to acknowledge your own anxiety.

How can I teach my child about coronavirus precautions without worrying him?

Look at this as a teachable moment. The precautions for Coronavirus prevention--washing hands with soap and water or hand sanitizer, covering our faces when we sneeze or cough and social distancing-- are the precautions we should follow regularly. 

Teach them to your children calmly and model good habits on an ongoing basis. Remember that you cannot completely control the behavior of young children. You cannot keep them from touching their faces. Remind them calmly whenever needed and make sure to keep plenty of tissues and hand sanitizer around. 

My kids’ school was canceled and my husband and I are both working from home. Everyone is stressed. How can I handle the situation?

This scenario breaks your familiar routine, which can be stressful in the best of times. Whenever possible stick to as much of your routine as you can. Establish new regular schedules for yourself and your children. 

Sit down with your spouse (or a friend) and plan for how you will handle your work and how will you handle childcare. Discuss the details, like who will make lunch and who will help with schoolwork. Once you have a plan in place, share it with your children and ask for their input. They may have some great ideas.

Remember, this could be a valuable opportunity for your family to reconnect and learn to share responsibilities. As a family, you may want to clean up the backyard to get ready for spring, clean out closets before Pesach, cook dinner together or just have a family Boggle game or puzzle time.