Q&A with Dr. Jolie Silva: Parenting, Body Image, & More of Your COVID-19 Questions Answered

In the last video series, I discussed a number of topics having to do with COVID-19 and back-to-school. I realize it’s a very complex time, so today I want to cover more of your questions.

I’ve heard many of you voice concerns around things like: 

  • Body Image
  • Social Isolation
  • Feelings of overwhelm
  • Pregnancy
  • Parenting during COVID-19

It’s a lot, but we can go through your questions together. Let’s get started.

I’m pregnant and incredibly anxious about COVID-19, especially my delivery since I am due in the Fall. What can I do to manage my anxiety and feel better? I’m sure this can’t be good for the baby.

So, this has come up a lot. It is completely understandable to feel what you’re feeling at this time, during the global pandemic, during your pregnancy.

The first thing we want to do is validate. You want to validate yourself that it is okay to be feeling what you’re feeling.

The second thing I always recommend that you would want to consider is if you’re experiencing a very high level of anxiety regularly daily, or even if it’s every other day, it’s never a bad idea to seek a consult from a mental health professional. Maybe some kind of mental health treatment like therapy would help you during this time.

I always like to say that when I hear the word anxiety. It might not warrant treatment, but there’s no harm in going and getting an evaluation from a mental health professional just to see if that’s something that would be helpful to you.

I will lay out for you two avenues, some practical things you can do:

  1. Relaxation Techniques
    These physiologically relax your body and put your body in a calmer state temporarily. Now, this isn’t a magic wand, but there are certain things you can do to just relax your body a little bit and you can do it multiple times throughout the day.

    I always also recommend to make sure you are getting regular sleep, exercising as much as your physician recommends, and eating as healthy as you can. Those are the basics.

  2. Rehearse Coping Statements
    Something else you can do would be to rehearse coping statements that you find helpful. For example, ask yourself:

    What are the facts of the situation, right? Validate your anxiety, say, “it’s completely natural and normal for me to feel anxious during this time, but some of the facts are, I’m going into a hospital that is following the the strictest safety protocols and procedures there are, COVID-19 infection rates in hospitals are lower than in the general population, etc.”

My heart goes out to all of you out there and we we will get through this and you will get through this.

I used to exercise regularly. I can’t motivate myself anymore, especially with the stress of taking care of my kids at home and continuing my job responsibilities. I’m eating too much and drinking more alcohol. I’m gaining weight and it’s depressing me. How can I get back on track?

This is super common. We’ve heard of “gaining the COVID-19,” right?

First things first. Say to yourself, “We can’t do it all. I am doing the best I can.”

You are doing the best you can with what you have right now. If your resources are completely diminished (and when I say resources, I mean internal resources), and you wind up going for a bag of chips and eating the whole bag, that was the best you could do in that moment.

There’s only so much you can do. In every domain of your life, you’re going to fall short in some. You’re not going to have everything set up for the kids all the time. You’re not going to eat “perfectly” every day.

You have to practice some self-forgiveness here. This is like nothing you’ve ever experienced before, so that’s number one.

Now, this question involves exercise, eating healthy, and drinking.

For exercise, sit down with yourself and figure this out. What is a realistic schedule for you to put aside some time for yourself to exercise? It could be 10 minutes of day of high intensity interval training, it could be 10 minutes a day of yoga.

Small steps. We’re not training for a marathon! When people exercise even a little on a regular basis, research has shown that their willpower overall increases. So, just exercising alone might help with some of these other areas.

The second part is the eating. What is the eating behavior that’s problematic to you?

Is it you’re grazing and snacking too much throughout the day? Is that you’re binging on sweets at night? Is it that you’re eating large portions?

First, you need to identify what behaviors specifically you are engaging in. They’re different for everybody. Then, you need to set aside time and specifically decide how you’re going to change that behavior.

Again having a consult with a mental health professional to sit down with you and specifically talk about strategies you can use to change behaviors would be a good idea.

For example, if one of the behaviors you would like to change would be that you tend to go into the pantry pull out the cereal box and eat straight out of the cereal box, an alternate behavior you can do would be to take the cereal and put it in separate baggies. Portion it out, and put them back in the box. This way, the next time you go for that cereal, you’re pulling out a baggie instead of the whole box.

It brings your awareness to the behavior. You’re not mindlessly eating, because now you have to open the baggie and you’re reminded of your goal.

Of course, the last thing I’m going to mention, because I am a huge proponent and practitioner of mindfulness, is to learn about mindful eating. It involves eating slowly and experiencing the food as you eat it.

Lastly, this mentioned alcohol. Again, it’s about setting up small goals for yourself. You could do a cold turkey and cut it out entirely, if you think you’re drinking too much. I’m going to mention a consult with a mental health professional, just to make sure that your consumption’s within a normal range and not going into a substance abuse category.

Just like before, this is about small goals and validating and being kind to yourself. If you think you’re drinking to avoid certain negative emotions like anxiety or depression, once again, you might want to seek help from a mental health professional to make sure there’s not an underlying anxiety or depressive disorder.

After what happened in NYC when COVID-19 first hit, I am constantly worrying that things are going to be terrible again or even worse. I am completely preoccupied with this to the point that I am unable to manage it and I believe it is impacting my children as well. How can I manage my fear so as not to make them feel the same way?

High levels of anxiety during this time are normal. The baseline of everyone’s anxiety has gone up.

Most of us are walking around with heightened levels of emotions. Frustration. Anger. Irritability. Anxiety. Nervousness. Sadness.

All this stuff is heightened. So, number one, you validate yourself. Then, we really want to break it down and say, what is it that you’re scared of?

What are the things you’re defining as terrible? Then, step back and say, “those are bad. those are uncomfortable but are they actually terrible?”

Social isolation is bad, and it’s very uncomfortable, but is it really terrible? Think about the language you’re using with yourself.

Now, if you’ve had something catastrophic happen, like people close to you have passed on from COVID-19, then that’s quite different, isn’t it? You may have been traumatized in some way, in which case seeing a mental health professional for support may be helpful.

For the other concerns, practice more of an acceptance and more of a self-validating approach. You can say, “This is the situation. There are things I can change and things I can’t change. Something I can’t change is the status of the global pandemic, but I’m not going to let it stop me from moving forward in my life.”

If you truly do have this outlook and this kind of self-talk, you will model that for your children. The question is also about not passing these fears along to your kids. With the pandemic, we need to be honest with our kids about what’s going on, but we don’t want to be panicked.

We know they’re like sponges and they absorb everything that’s going on, so you really want to be mindful of how you are expressing your anxiety in front of your kids. You really want to try to do things to relax yourself and in a measured and calm way explain to them what’s going on.

My husband and I are fighting all of the time. We usually have such a great relationship but us both being at home with the kids is causing a lot of stress. We both work and we no longer have childcare. I feel like I am taking on more of the responsibilities with the kids, especially managing homeschooling, and I am resentful. How can I get him to pitch in more?

Marital discord has gone up big time during COVID-19. First thing is, in your own mind, make a list. A rational list of the sticking points between you and your spouse.

What is it that you’re having a hard time with? Have a discussion with your partner about it.

The next step, I know that sounds like common sense, but this is not easy to do: you have to have the discussion when you’re both in good moods. You cannot have the discussions when either of you are irritable, feeling stressed, or experiencing high levels of any kind of emotion.

You might say to me, “well, good luck, we’re like that all the time now because of this craziness.” But, there there are going to be times when the family’s playing outside in the backyard and both of you are smiling, right?

Go watch a comforting Netflix show and then have the conversation. When you’re both in good mood, you can sit down and say in an assertive way, “these are the things that I am concerned about. How can we work through this together?”

Assertiveness involves using a lot of “I” statements about how you feel.
“When this happens, I feel this way, because I tell myself these things. How can we work this out?” You’re saying how you feel.

I have two young toddlers and I’m at my wit’s end, losing my temper every day. I need a break but can’t get one. How can I be a better, less stressed mom for them?

Look, this isn’t easy. Have compassion for yourself. Allow forgiveness to yourself.

This is not easy, moms! Historically, moms who stayed home with the kids did not have to do everything around the house, work from home, and multitask in this way. This is this is not the way that we’re hardwired. There is so much going on right now.

Self-compassion needs to happen. Place your hands on your heart and say things like, “I love myself. I am here for myself. I want to take care of myself.”

You have to really do that everyday. Some of the things I recommend are taking small breaks throughout the day. When I say small, it could be 30 seconds.

I know 30 seconds is even hard, I get it. You can go into the bathroom and take 30 seconds to do some deep breathing exercises, just to calm yourself a little bit.

Self-awareness of when you feel the irritability coming is absolutely key. You could just be on autopilot if you’re irritable. If you’re aware of the irritability, you can provide some space and allow yourself to step back.

Another thing I want to point out to moms with young kids is how crucial it is to just set aside some time for yourself. It’s got to be a priority. You have to sit down with your partner, if you have one, and say, “Listen, I need 10 minutes every morning to myself to do something that fulfills me, that refreshes me.”

Some things I recommend would be yoga, meditation, exercise, writing in a gratitude journal every day, etc. Have social time for yourself, whether you’re doing your zoom happy hours, whether you’re going for a walk with a friend in the neighborhood, etc.

It’s so helpful to be able to bounce things off of other moms and so you understand like we’re all in the same boat. We’re all doing this together. You’re not crazy for feeling the things you feel. It’s so important to have a community of other moms, or even if it’s just a couple of friends, where you can have that connection.

My husband and I used to spend a lot of time with other families on the weekends. The numbers are too high to do so and I’ve noticed a few families have started “quaranteaming” together and we aren’t included. I feel isolated and hurt. Any advice?

This is a tough one. It’s happening all the time and it brings you back to middle school.

It’s really hard to not personalize when people don’t include you. It seems like people are doing whatever they think is best for their families at that time.

Often, it’s not personal. Do your best to try to not personalize it and to say something like, “We are in a global pandemic and a situation that is unlike any other. People are going to do what is within their comfort zone and it doesn’t have anything to do with me. It has to do with what they want to do with their lives.”

Trying not to personalize it and thinking is anything wrong with you would be the first thing I would recommend.

Additionally, take the step to reach out yourself to other people. Maybe you can start a little quaranteam with another friend. If you have a fear of rejection, that’s your job to push through that fear, to take the risk. The worst thing that can happen is they say, “No, sorry, I have some other plans,” and you continue reaching out to people.

My young toddlers aren’t great at wearing their masks when we walk around the city. They often touch things and put their hands in their mouths. I know that spending time outdoors supports their well-being, but how can I manage my anxiety when I take them outside?

It’s hard to have toddlers wear the mask. The first thing I recommend is having them practice when they’re indoors. They’re not going to like it, but that’s really what we have to do. We have to practice having it on their face so that eventually they habituate to it and it’s not such a big deal.

Doing something like a reward system would be a good idea for something like this.

So, if a toddler is able to keep the mask on for maybe one song, then they would get a star sticker. If they get three stars, they get a small prize.

A couple of things with toddlers that I just want to mention, though, is if you’re going to do a reward system, they need immediate reinforcement. They need that star right away, because toddlers don’t conceptualize delayed gratification the same way that older children do.

Also, depending on their level of ability and being able to comprehend and understand language, explaining to them the reasons why they have the mask on is helpful.

Thank you so much for joining me, I hope you found this even just a little bit helpful. If you have any questions or any comments, please feel free to reach out to us.

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