Choices We Can Make in Challenging TimesFor Families and the Hartsbrook Community during these changing times:

Many changes are happening around us as our communities, our country and the world move to address the COVID-19 virus. All of the sudden our kids are home from school, many of us are told not to come in for work, we are urged to physically distance ourselves from others, and we may wonder what the next few weeks, months or beyond may look like. 

In light of these changes, we have some choices to make. I’m not talking about the “bigger” choices that may produce more anxiety, like whether to go out to the store and stock up or financial planning decisions or decisions at work. I’m talking about small, everyday choices.

These small, daily choices can make a big difference for your inner peace and wellbeing and the wellbeing and health of your family. These small, daily choices can be a huge contribution to those around you and the situation we face at large. Here are some of the important choices that we can make as parents and families:

Choose Mindfulness: Mindfulness is simply an awareness of the present moment and your place in that present moment. We can start choosing mindfulness by noticing our breathing. We can be mindful of our emotions and feelings, of body sensations, our thoughts, and judgments, our actions, our desires, our fears. When we eat, work, clean, or interact with loved ones we can choose mindfulness.

Tip: Sometimes I like to play with or “amplify” whatever I’m being mindful of as a way of gaining more insight and more agency. If I amplify my thoughts or actions and play with the speed or intensity, I can begin to feel a sense of agency instead of feeling like everything is happening to me and I can’t do anything about it. For example, I may be walking somewhere and think “I need to walk slower.” You can try walking slower (amplification can be less as well as more), or you can try and walk even faster! By breaking the “shoulds” up a bit your spectrum of choices expands and things start to feel lighter. Be creative!

Choose Nature: As it can feel like everything around us is changing, it’s important to notice all the things that aren’t changing as a way of reality checking and finding some solid ground. If you can, being outside and really noticing all the things in nature around us is a great way to do this. Notice that the birds are still singing in the morning. The sun rose again and will set. Look to see if the buds on trees have begun to swell. What are other signs of Spring we can notice? Even if you feel that nature is changing from climate change, remind yourself that nature has always been changing and use this as an opportunity to connect to the vastness of the world, the immense beauty and continual surprises that surround us.

Tip: Get to know your place a little better. Pull out or order a field guide and start learning the names of some of the trees or plants or birds around your house. A great place to start is the Reader’s Digest North American Wildlife book. Another great resource is Mary Holland’s website Naturally Curious for seasonal updates on the world outside. And you don’t need to live in the woods to see that nature is everywhere, even in the most crowded city.

Choose Routine and Rhythm: As we face uncertain times it’s very helpful, especially for the kids we care for, to have some consistency and predictability within the rhythm of the day. Your rhythms and routines may have to change with the new circumstances. Embrace this change as an opportunity to incorporate healthy routines into your day. Also if you’re someone who is very routined and disciplined, use this extra time and space to follow the deeper, natural rhythm of your body and of your family to flow with the nature of things.

Tip: Educators sometimes use the breath as a metaphor for the flow and rhythm of the classroom, and that can help us in finding the flow and rhythm of our day. You can think of the in-breath as a more focused, disciplined part of the day and the out-breath as something more freeform and relaxed. Make a plan for the whole family for the day and see if you can find some out-breaths, or in-breaths, to share.

Choose Humor: Laughter is medicine. It’s important that your children know you are serious about keeping a distance from others if you’re out, washing hands, etc. but don’t feel like you have to be serious all the time because there’s a virus looming. Try flexing your humor muscle out. Learn a few corny parent jokes. Watch something funny you like to watch. Play a silly game. Laughter does wonders for our nervous system, for connection, and it gives us perspective.

Choose Moderation: Are you on the computer a lot? Checking the news every chance you get? Ask yourself what’s your motivation? Is it to be informed, or are you feeding an anxious part of yourself? As parents we can model healthy moderation and self-regulation; we want to be informed but there’s a limit. Holding a boundary to the fear and speculation that we can easily find with the click of a button will go a long way with our families.

Tip: Schedule your screen time during the day. Decide how often you will look at the news or go on social media, and stick to it. If you find your schedule is unreasonable, change it before you decide to ignore it altogether. Find the sweet spot for yourself and support your family in doing the same.

The sudden change to our daily lives can be very stressful. However, it can also be an opportunity to reset, to find a new rhythm, to try new ways of being, to be grateful for what we have, and to connect with the people we care most about. Keep yourself and your family informed and updated, but also remember what makes staying safe and healthy so important in the first place.

Ryan Richards

Faculty of Social and Emotional Learning and Wellness