Handling Stress in Times of Crisis

sky at sunset

With COVID-19, everyone seems to be experiencing some degree of stress. Further, stress can be hard to manage, especially with limited resources and time. As you may have already experienced, compared with other parents, parents of children with disabilities and delays are already at greater risk for increased stress. Thus, the current circumstances may be compounding your stress level.

It is often how we cope with stress that determines the effects of stress on our parenting, health, and overall well-being. Research shows that, in response to stress, a more active (versus emotional) coping style leads to better outcomes for children and their parents.

In this article, we suggest ways to cope with stress. Notably, each person is different and may resonate with different coping mechanisms—that is alright! The purpose of this list is for you to find the coping strategy that works best for you.

Suggested action-focused coping strategies:

  • Reach out to your social network: Especially in a time of social distancing, it’s easy to feel isolated. Reach out to friends and family. Communicate with one another. Such communication could be through text messaging, e-mail, phone calls, and video conferencing. Our social networks often provide great stress relief.
  • Prioritize tasks: With multiple competing priorities of work, childcare, housekeeping, and other responsibilities, your to-do list may feel never-ending. It is easy to get overwhelmed by all of the things you could be doing. Prioritize your tasks. Identify just a few, feasible tasks to get done. Remember—not everything needs to get done on your to-do list.
  • Gather information and problem-solve: If you are facing a challenge, take an active approach. Gather information from the Early Intervention Clearinghouse, your early intervention providers or service coordinator, and reliable Internet sources. Information can be empowering and can help you to overcome challenges. Then, identify several potential solutions to a problem. You may feel better once you have identified a realistic solution to the challenges that face you or your child.
  • Eliminate stressful activities: Consider your daily routine. Are there activities that you engage in that are stressful? Can you eliminate these activities from your routine? If you cannot eliminate them, can you reduce them? This may include watching the news and/or attending to social media. Although potentially informative, limiting your time with the news and social media may help reduce your stress.

Notably, it can be important to pair action-focused coping strategies with strategies to address your own well-being. While action-focused strategies can provide sustained relief, the strategies we mention below may help provide immediate relief in those moments when you feel overwhelmed and stressed.

Here are some short-term strategies you may consider:

  • Take deep breaths: When encountering a stressor, take a moment. Close your eyes. Take several deep breaths. These breaths can help you collect your composure and begin to tackle the stressor.
  • Exercise: Even brief amounts of exercise can help overcome stress. This may include taking a short walk outside or doing a few yoga poses. Remember, it isn’t necessarily the time that you put into the exercise but rather the break the exercise provides you from the stressor itself.
  • Go to your happy place: Facing a stressor? Consider your favorite place. This may be a vacation spot or a childhood memory. Take a few moments. Close your eyes. Visualize yourself in that place. Your “happy place” may give you a few moments to escape from the stressor, regroup, and then face the stressor with newfound energy.

Finally, cut yourself some slack. With any crisis situation, expectations need to be adjusted. It is alright to give yourself time, effort, and attention.

Publication date: 2020
Originally published in the EIC Newsletter: Volume 33, Issue 2