Social Distance Friendly Care for Yourself and Your Family
“Over the last couple of days, I’m recognizing I need to preserve my mental health to support my family, patients and colleagues. A lot of us who are caregivers and helpers, tend to have the urge to do as much as possible and often forget ourselves,” said Dr. Nicole C Brathwaite, Psychiatrist, Entrepreneur & Activist.
Moms, already Allstar-givers, have added homeschool and helping neighbors, while facing huge shifts to work, routines and income. It’s a gift to remain kind and resourceful in a crisis and with so many in need, it may be tempting to ignore self-care. Caregiver burnout is real and strategies to protect mental health, become more critical in uncertain times.
Set New Boundaries To Preserve Energy
Nicole’s career is filled with meaningful work she’s passionate about. However, with the new obligations at home, she’s intentional about balance. “I have to make sure my family is safe and I’m well rested so I can provide the best care. It’s also the advice I’m giving to my colleagues who are working on the front lines of this pandemic,” she said. As we show up for our communities and families, we need different boundaries. Nicole said, “I’m setting aside time during my day for physicians and nurses who are directly exposed to COVID-19 and are completely overwhelmed. I’ve become an advocate for my colleagues who can’t speak for themselves because they’re in the trenches. Many have been instructed not wear masks, to not appropriately protect themselves, thus putting them at greater risk of becoming ill. We’ve even lost a few health care providers who have been exposed and were not adequately protected. So, I’ve been telling them as well, if you are not taking care of yourself you cannot take care of other people.” We are making critical decisions for our families that ripple to our global community. Sheltering in place is hard, but Nicole shared effective, practical strategies to maintain wellbeing in lockdown.
Wait, Keep Your Structure!
Suddenly free from the commute and drop-offs, we may eagerly abandon schedules. However, Nicole encourages people to incorporate structure and said, “Idle time, especially for people with anxiety and depression, can be dangerous. Essentially you have the time to ruminate or dwell on those negative thoughts.” An important reminder as anxiety and depression are more prevalent in women. She said, “I’m very worried about individuals who used work or school as a distraction. Although it came with its own unique stressors, at least it got them out of their head. I’ve found many people are beginning to regress because they don’t have contact with their peer group, daily distractions or the ability to freely leave their homes. Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy answer.” Sigh. Although many are thrilled to drop mundane routines, those daily activities help anchor us through unstable times.
Yes, Structure Includes Hygiene
Nicole said, “Set a time to wake up every morning and eat at scheduled times. I ask my patients, ‘did you brush your teeth today? Did you shower today? Are you still wearing the same clothes you were wearing 2 days ago?’ More often than not, they’ll respond, ‘why, I’m not seeing any people?’ But people feel worse if they don’t manage their hygiene.” Important! She added, “…Some people aren’t as active and snacking more throughout the day. All of these things can accumulate and lead people to feel worse about themselves.” Nicole said, “Often a lot of the coping skills people use require some level of social engagement.” Technology may have drawbacks, but video and live communication have helped mitigate the difficulties of isolation.
Lean On Social Connections For Accountability
Nicole explained how important social connectedness is, “Social distancing doesn’t mean social isolation and people are often confusing the two. We need some level of human interaction to survive.” Yes! Many organizations have gone virtual. She shared, “My son’s friend attends karate, the teacher has it at the same time as before but now she does virtual sessions. The kids still get to have that structure and interaction.” Nicole’s youngest is now joining daily video calls with preschool classmates. “…Half the time they’re listening to each other and half the time they’re running around showing people their toys. But it’s something. It means we know that we have to see people on video at 3 pm, so we have to be dressed!” She said. I laughed. Nicole added, “That level of accountability helps. I encourage parents, for their kids or themselves, to have someone else with a similar schedule to check in with to make sure you’ve woken up at 9 am or made breakfast.” People are eager to support each other, especially now.
Schedule Family Connection Time & Set Expectations With Your Kids
Nicole said, “If people are in loving and safe homes, then I encourage structured family time. When safety is an issue that’s an entirely different situation. If you do feel comfortable and can tolerate being around your family, it’s something to look forward to. Maybe at 8 pm everyone watches a TV show together or you can do arts and crafts with children. Some families have had to come up with new ideas like collecting rocks and creating a rock set to decorate. As a family you can decide that at 3 pm everyday this is what we’re doing.” Brilliant! Taking some activities outside can also help. Nicole and her husband also share the daily schedule with the kids each morning. She said, “My kids are 5 and 3, so we still have to talk about what to expect. They love school and they’re desperately missing their friends and missing structure. So, we tell them ‘today, this is our schedule’ and we let them know if there are changes so they know what’s coming.” Brilliant!
Take Mindfulness to the Great Outdoors
Nicole explained, “Weather permitting, I’m encouraging people to step outside, even if it’s just for 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the afternoon. Make a concerted effort to not just spend time outdoors but to be more mindful. Whether it’s intentional or unintentional, mindfulness has been shown to reduce the impact of stress. When we’re able to do things like being focused and using our 5 senses to connect with our environment, it’s lowering our heart rate, decreasing our blood pressure, lowering our cortisol levels and resulting in an overall decrease in stress.” Excellent. She added, “When getting outside, pay attention to how the wind feels against your face. What are the smells that you’re noticing? What are the sights that you’re seeing? Also, when parents take their kids out, obviously allow the kids to run and have fun but also appreciate what you’re seeing. I like having a scavenger hunt, ‘what are the bumpy things you see? What are the smooth things you see? I’ve been really pushing mindfulness even more than I had before.” A wonderful way to counter the pressure we’re under. Many are feeling strain from the increased needs at home and needs at work.
Be Realistic and Flexible With Your Work Schedule
Nicole said, “We are very fortunate to live in a multi-generational household, so my mother lives with us and my father-in-law lives with us. He’s very ill, so we take care of him. My mother has been healthy enough to help us with the kids. We’ve created a homeschool schedule for them, she does 30 minutes to 1 hour of instruction in the morning and again in the afternoon. We have outside time, art time and TV time. Obviously, we can’t stick to it to the letter, but having that support has been invaluable. I wouldn’t be able to do anything without her or my husband.” Amazing. She added, “Because I have that support, I can keep working. I’m careful about scheduling breaks throughout my day. I am able to spend time with my kids and prevent my mother from burning out.” Bravo! Without their regular childcare her priorities have shifted. Nicole said, “My husband and I tend to work a lot, often too much and we’ve been forced to cut back because our children need us. In some ways it’s wonderful. We all have that threshold when our kids start to get on our nerves and we need to take space, but beyond that, I’m learning new things about my kids and doing things we’ve never done before.”
Please enjoy part 2 from Nicole’s amazing interview about her professional journey, Unsupported at Work? Now is the Perfect Time to Change It.
Share your experiences of how life has changed during social distance, it’s quick and the results from this study will be used to advocate better support for parents.
Dr. Nicole Christian-Brathwaite, MD is a Board Certified Adult and Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist. She has significant clinical experience with adults, children, adolescents, transitional and college aged youth. After graduating from University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, she joined the Adult Psychiatry Residency Program and then completed fellowship in the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Fellowship at Massachusetts General/Mclean Hospital. She is the former Medical Director at Riverside Community Care – a large community mental health clinic. She is the Co-Founder of SecureMeLink, a safety app to support the health and safety of clinicians and medical staff.
She regularly provides radio interviews and speaks to the community about mental health and wellness, particularly in African American communities. Dr. Christian-Brathwaite is a member of the Advisory Board for the Post Partum Depression Fund of Massachusetts. Dr. Nicole Christian-Brathwaite is a member of the Board of Directors for Families for Depression Awareness and servers as Clinical Consultant to Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Lesley University, William James College, Massachusetts School Administrators Association and numerous other public and private schools and universities.