During an online town hall with about 50 members of Congregation Beth Tikvah, two local experts encouraged participants to acknowledge their feelings when coping with the COVID-19 outbreak and to stay grounded in the present.
Moderated by Rabbi Rick Kellner, the meeting featured two members from the Worthington congregation: Columbus-based psychologist Cheryl Colvin, who treats children, teenagers and families, and Dublin-based psychotherapist Eric Lichtenfeld, who specializes in anxiety, trauma, loss and grief.
The discussion began with an acknowledgement that loneliness is a common feeling in situations like this.
“Having strong emotions are OK,” Colvin said. “Being able to talk about how you feel can be very therapeutic.”
With adults and children home from work and school, Lichtenfeld said it’s easy to lose track of the daily routine. He suggested getting dressed in the morning and eating at regular meal times.
“Break time into manageable pieces,” Lichtenfeld said. “Think just a few days at a time, and set realistic goals and expectations.”
Both experts agreed that now, more than ever, is the time to reach out to people with telephone calls or cards.
“Little gestures to connect are going to be very important now,” Lichtenfeld said.
When it comes to helping pre-teens, teens and young adults survive this unprecedented period, Colvin said it’s important to understand that being cut off from their friends is “the ultimate nightmare.”
“You may see more grumpiness,” she said. “They need privacy and space. Check on them and make sure they’re OK.”
Young children may not understand why their parents are working from home. They will undoubtedly want adult attention, and parents need to create a structure that allows for creativity, flexibility and time outside.
While schools are making opportunities available for parents to teach their children at home, Lichtenfeld said it can create a lot of pressure, and he encourages parents to relax.
“It is possible to get overwhelmed by the good things too,” he said, noting that children may not remember what they learned during this extended spring break, but “they will remember how they felt.”
Rather than creating strict schedules, Kellner suggested making a checklist instead.
“It’s a completely valid way,” Lichtenfeld said. “Whatever’s helpful to you is what you should do.”
If children ask questions about how long it will be before life gets back to normal, Colvin advised parents to be honest.
“It’s hard to look at the big picture when you don’t know what the big picture is,” she said. “This will pass like everything else passes. What can we do to make this experience pleasant?”
Lichtenfeld said anxiety is typically about the future and depression is usually about the past. To remain grounded in the present, he suggested putting together a kit that contains objects to engage all the senses.
Similarly, Colvin suggested a mindfulness technique called “5-4-3-2-1,” in which people acknowledge five things they see, four things they can touch, three things they can hear, two things they can smell and one thing they can taste.
“If they’re really panicking, it’s to bring them back to the present,” she said.
When it comes to caretakers who aren’t able to visit relatives and friends in nursing homes, both experts said phone calls are important but, Colvin said, “Give yourself some space to relax and rejuvenate. You still have to make sure you’re taking care of yourself.”
Lichtenfeld said we should think about the COVID-19 pandemic as “an opportunity to live through history” and quoted a colleague who told him, “Living through history is rarely comfortable.”
“It can be seen as a privilege to be sharing a generational story,” he added.
In the end, Colvin said people should be easy on themselves; be patient with their children, spouse and parents; and allow things to “just be.”
“You’re not going to be able to control everything that happens. You’ll figure it out day-by-day,” she said. “And, reach out if you need help.”
As the meeting concluded, Lichtenfeld reminded participants that “comparison is the thief of joy.”
“Don’t compare how you’re handling it to how anyone else is handling it,” he said.