I died my hair blue. We were only 3 weeks into quarantine, but my motto has become “why not?”. There are a lot of things I can do right now that I would not normally have the chance to do. I can not control my circumstances these days, but I can control how I react to them. I can live in fear and be stressed out and make my kids need even more therapy in the future, or I can roll with the punches and try to make the most of this ‘season’. It’s like the old saying goes, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade”. A lot of things are as bitter and sour as a lemon right now. But I have the choice to add in some positive attitude and gratitude for the things I have and make some lemonade. It won’t change my circumstances, but it can change my life. Both now and for when this ‘season’ is over.

I have 3 kids who are students in the Cobb School system. I used to be a middle school Health and PE teacher in the Cobb District. But I was not prepared to teach my own children, in my own home, especially academics. It has been a curve ball for a lot of us. And I am well aware there are a lot of people who have it way worse than us. But it does not mean I have to ignore my feelings, my grief and this stress. “You feel what you feel, and your feelings are real” as the wise reindeer Sven said in “Frozen”.

We are all experiencing something that none of us have ever experienced before; all ages, all races, all over the planet. Numbers and stats and charts swirl around us, for the virus and the stock market and even digital distance learning requirements. Now more than ever it has hit me that I cannot control anything other than myself, not my circumstances or the events in the world and especially not other people. I can’t control my feelings either, but I can control how I react to those feelings; those feelings that are stirred up by all the things I can’t control. Don’t let your feelings be the boss of you, you be the boss of your feelings. You can say (out loud even if you need to), “Thank you feelings for letting me know that’s what’s going on inside of me. Now how can I best handle/respond to that on the outside of me?” Throwing things, hitting things, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, overeating or other destructive behaviors (to self or other humans or even non-living things) are not the best way to deal with overwhelming feelings. Sure, it seems like common sense to say that but often in desperate times, we can do desperate things. Instead, take a moment, PAUSE, think, ask yourself, “will that behavior only add more stress or negative consequences to this chaos I am already living in?” If so, then choose an alternative way to outwardly deal with the emotions, feelings and urges you feel on the inside. Sometimes it is hard to stop and think in the moment so have a plan in place with some options. Being prepared is half the battle in life.

Here are some things that might help get you through the days. They might seem small, but they can have a big impact.

  • Breathe. I know it sounds silly, but I often find myself holding my breath when I am stressed. Lack of oxygen to my brain does not help with decision making, much less my overall state of being. My counselor taught me to breath in deep for a 4 count, hold it for an 8 count, and then then slowly breathe it out for a 10 count. This has been a simple thing that has made a huge difference in my life.
  • Move: Exercise. Not just for weight management, but for stress relief as well. I know we have been consuming a lot more food than normal at our house, so walks are dual purpose these days. I call them my “sanity strolls”. Go for a walk outside; it is simple yet powerful. Walk around your house or apartment complex or your neighborhood. Getting Vitamin D from the sun can be so powerful in lifting your mood. If you can’t get out or it’s raining, go up and down the stairs in your house 5 times. If you don’t have stairs, just walk or skip around your house. You could also just stay in one spot and choose 5 exercises to do 10 reps of, right there in your house with no equipment needed. You could choose from pushups, plank, sit-ups, Russian twists, leg lifts, wall sit, jumping jacks, burpees, running in place, lunges, or squats, to name a few. If you don’t know what those are you can google some ideas. For more exercise ideas, you can check out your school’s P.E. Coach school blogs for resources. And many local gyms are posting and sending free work outs.
  • Move: Stretch. Even if you can’t exercise, stretching can help with blood flow and an overall physical better feeling (which can help you feel better mentally too). I got so tense from stress the first 3 weeks that my muscles started seizing and spasming and that pulled my bones out of place, and then I had to go to the chiropractor to get adjusted so I could just do my daily functions. Stretching and breathing can really make an overall difference. There are plenty of stretches you can do, and you can always modify stretches for your personal limitations. There are lots of yoga instructors that now host classes online. It might not be as restful in your home as it was in a yoga studio, but this is one of the many adaptations we can make currently. Something is better than nothing. If the word yoga scares you, just think “breathing while stretching”. I know there is and can be much more to it than that, but for now, those can be the main focal points. Here are two certified yoga instructors I follow, but you can search for what works best for you. 

Go Forth Yogahttps://www.youtube.com/channel/UCLIwBIOhRT5i5iyq_uKK8rA
Stretch and Breathe- https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8uM1VpgvX0cQI4Ene0W4Bg

Movement is one of the cheapest and best ways to deal with anxiety. I am not discrediting counseling or medications by any means. But stress can cause you not to sleep well which only leads to less sleep which doesn’t help the stress situation. Exercise can help break that cycle.

  • Find ways to socially connect, either virtually, or physically at a safe distance. Even my 81-year-old dad who does not have an iPhone, has learned he can video chat with the grandkids over Facebook messenger. There are so many ways to virtually stay in contact with people. If you need to see someone face to face to stay sane, then go stand 8-10ft away from them and have a conversation. I walked across the street one day and chatted with my neighbor, while she was in her yard and I stood in the cul-de-sac. It was not a large group and my kids were not with me (they have a hard time adhering to keeping distance), but I got to see another human face to face and it was good for both our souls. One day my in-laws sat in their driveway with their meal, and their neighbors sat in their driveway with their own food, while they “had dinner” together.
  • Journal. Writing down how you feel, getting it out in a nondestructive way, can be very helpful for mind and body. It’s also good to go back and look at what felt so overwhelming in the moment and felt like you weren’t going to make it…that that event is in the past, and you are still here. Per our school’s counselor’s suggestion, we gave each of our kids a journal (just a regular composition notebook left over from last year). I have them write in it every other day or so, or more if they want to. It’s been a place for them to vent or write down something fun we did as well. I have found that a journal has been helpful for me in the past as well. This does not need to be another thing on your to do list that stresses you out, but it can be stress relieving if done when needed.

There are so many ways to stay physically and mentally healthy in life, and especially in these trying times. Here are some additional resources that I got from my Cobb County school counselor and the ECCC PTA page:

  • From my school’s counselor: “The most important key is that how the parents handle the stress and show resilience is probably a key indicator of child adjustment. The second most important factor is to have a written schedule every day for the kids to use like in school. The 3rd factor is family self-care: hydration, exercise, managed screen time. The 4th factor is to seek telemental health consultation if parent/child is not adjusting well. 5th: find mindfulness videos to use daily for kids/adults to minimize catastrophizing”.
  • You can always contact your school’s counselors for any help needed, mental or physical. Parents can access mental health providers that are on a Cobb County Coalition from a CCSD professional school counselor. Email your school counselor for info.

Tips for parents to talk to children:

An article for grieving seniors:

Coalition to Support Grieving Students

Mental Health screening:

National PTA podcast:
episode #16 “Tackling Covid 19 Anxiety together” 25 mins long

If you need medical (mental, physical, nutritional, etc) help:

  • Email or call your primary care physician. If don’t have one or do not get a quick response, here are some online Teleheatlh resources. Many insurance companies are reducing or waiving copays for telemental health (check with individual coverage plans).
  • AmWell (Formerly American Well)
  • Teladoc 
  • MDLive 
  • Dr on demand app: This is the app my family uses. I have not tried the other ones. I am not endorsing any of these. I just want to give full disclosure that I am just trying to provide ideas of where to start looking for help.)

I can’t end this article without mentioning suicide. It’s an epidemic even when there’s not a pandemic going on. I am not a professional counselor, but I did ask a professional counselor for some information to share with the East Cobb community and Julie Davies provided me with way more info than I could fit into this article. Julie is a counselor and speaks nationwide on mental health and suicide prevention. And she is a suicide survivor herself. When our loved ones have an outward condition or symptoms of an inner problem, we get help for them. Suicidal thoughts or attempts to take one’s life, stemming from mental illness or other risk factors, should be treated no differently. Talking with and finding help for someone that may be suicidal can be difficult, but here are some tips that may help.

  • Saying “I’m here if you need me” is not enough. Most will not ask for help or open up first. Lead with vulnerability. It breeds vulnerability.
  • Be direct. Talk openly and matter-of-factly about suicide.
  • Be willing to listen. Allow expressions of feelings. Accept the feelings.
  • Be non-judgmental. Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong, or whether feelings are good or bad. Don’t lecture on the value of life.
  • Get involved. Become available. Show interest and support.
  • Offer hope that alternatives are available.
  • Take action. Remove means, like weapons or pills.
  • Refer to others as “died by suicide” or “killed him/herself.” Don’t refer to suicide as “successful”/ “unsuccessful” or a “failed attempt.”
  • Don’t allow blame talk or shame talk.
  • Don’t dare him or her to do it.
  • Don’t act shocked. This will put distance between you.
  • Don’t be sworn to secrecy.
  • Seek support

Resources and Hotlines
https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
https://www.sayshutup.com (includes teens responses to Covid 19)
https://www.afsp.org (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention)
https://www.nami.org (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill)
www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/suicide-prevention (National Institute of Mental Health)
https://crisistextline.org Txt 741-741 (anywhere in US, anytime, about any type of crisis)

My blue hair, it’s not permanent. And there are a lot worse things you could do when you are bored/stressed/fearful. It helps me remember that our current circumstances are temporary. And long term or permanent acts or choices are not what is needed right now. We will get through this ‘season’. One day at a time. One breath at a time. Just keep moving.

Survival Tips for the Covid Quarantine

{This article was written by Ashley Saunders, Health & Wellness Chair for the East Cobb County Council of PTAs; with the help of Julie Davies, Alison Ragsdale, and Sharon Lightstone. Ashley is also the Health & Wellness Co-Chair for the Rocky Mount Elementary PTA. She and her husband, Les, reside in Lassiter district along with their three kids. She taught PE at Palmer Middle and Dickerson Middle Schools before she became a stay-at-home mom that never stays at home. Her passion continues to be that “being healthy does not have to be horrible”. And yes, my hair really was blue.}