Commentary: Comforting items, retreat spaces can be therapeutic in difficult times

By Drew Henderson DLA Land and Maritime Employee Assistance Program Manager

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Editor's Note: In this week’s blog, DLA Land and Maritime’s Employee Assistance Program Manager Drew Henderson offers recommendation for maintaining good mental health as a family.

A Marine father holds two decorated eggs during a family day with his daughter.
Children rely on routines constructed by others to make them feel safe and to know what comes next. Expect increased anxiety, worries and fears in younger family members as you navigate social distancing. Focus on strengthening the connection through time spent following their lead, through physical touch, through play, through therapeutic books, and via verbal reassurances that you will be there for them in this time. (Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Margaret Gale)
A Marine father holds two decorated eggs during a family day with his daughter.
Family
Children rely on routines constructed by others to make them feel safe and to know what comes next. Expect increased anxiety, worries and fears in younger family members as you navigate social distancing. Focus on strengthening the connection through time spent following their lead, through physical touch, through play, through therapeutic books, and via verbal reassurances that you will be there for them in this time. (Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Margaret Gale)
Photo By: Lance Cpl. Margaret Gale
VIRIN: 180326-M-ES894-213C
Hello Land and Maritime! Well here we are – still at home and still social distancing.  If the stress of this situation becomes difficult, I encourage you to consider giving me a call or sending me an email.  Below I’ve included more ideas for maintaining good mental health.

Mental Health Wellness Tips for Self Isolation:

Develop a self-care toolkit

This can look different for everyone. A lot of successful self-care strategies involve a sensory component (seven senses: touch, taste, sight, hearing, smell, vestibular (movement) and proprioceptive (comforting pressure).

An idea for each: a soft blanket or stuffed animal, a hot chocolate, photos of vacations, comforting music, lavender or eucalyptus oil, a small swing or rocking chair, a weighted blanket. A journal, an inspirational book, or a mandala coloring book is wonderful, bubbles to blow or blowing watercolor on paper through a straw are visually appealing as well as work on controlled breath. Mint gum, Listerine strips, ginger ale, frozen Starburst, ice packs, and cold are also good for anxiety regulation.

For children, it is great to help them create a self-regulation comfort box (often a shoe-box or bin they can decorate) that they can use on the ready for first-aid when overwhelmed.

Whatever you put into your toolkit make sure it speaks to you on a personal level. It is your mental health and you know what works best for you.

Spend extra time playing with children

Children will rarely communicate how they are feeling but will often make a bid for attention and communication through play.

Don’t be surprised to see therapeutic themes of illness, doctor visits, and isolation play through. Understand that play is cathartic and helpful for their mental health — it is how they process their world and problem solve, and there’s a lot they are seeing and experiencing in the now.

Give everyone the benefit of the doubt, and a wide berth

A lot of cooped up time can bring out the worst in everyone. Each person will have moments when they will not be at their best. It is important to move with grace through blow-ups. To not show up to every argument you are invited to. Not hold grudges and continue disagreements.

Everyone is doing the best they can to make it through this.

Everyone find their own retreat space

Space is at a premium, particularly with city living. It is important that people think through their own separate space for work and for relaxation. Identify a place where everyone can go to retreat when stressed – especially for children. You can make this place cozy by using books, music, blankets, pillows, scents, cushions, scarves, beanbags, tents, and “forts”.

It is good to know that even when we are on top of each other, we have our own special place to go to be alone.

Expect behavioral issues in children and respond gently

We are all struggling with disruption in routine, none more than children, who rely on routines constructed by others to make them feel safe and to know what comes next. Expect increased anxiety, worries and fears, nightmares, difficulty separating or sleeping, testing limits, and meltdowns.

Do not introduce major behavioral plans or consequences at this time — hold stable and focus on emotional connection.

Focus on safety and attachment

We are going to be living for a bit with the unprecedented demand of meeting all work deadlines, home-schooling children, running a sterile household, and making a whole lot of entertainment in confinement. We can get wrapped up in meeting expectations in all domains, but we must remember that these are scary and unpredictable times for children.

Focus on strengthening the connection through time spent following their lead, through physical touch, through play, through therapeutic books, and via verbal reassurances that you will be there for them in this time.

For more information on the Employee Assistance Program, be sure to visit the program page here.