Feeling connected to the people and world around us is a key part of good mental health. After months of social distancing for COVID-19, families are still spending less time with others as the pandemic continues. If cancelled summer plans like festivals, family reunions, and other gatherings have made it challenging to keep your family’s spirits up, you’re not alone. Here are some simple ways to help boost everyone’s mood during the pandemic:
Sunshine can help brighten mood. Try to spend 30 to 60 minutes outdoors daily with your children and other members of your family, whenever possible. Bright lights, especially in the early morning, can also help.
Get plenty of sleep
Try to help your children stick to bedtime routines so they get enough sleep each night. Some ways to help promote relaxation and a good night’s sleep:
- A shower or bath before bed
- A story, song, or relaxing music
- A back, hand, or foot rub
- A cool, dark room
- Using the bed just for sleep (not using your phone, watching TV or doing work or homework)
Talk it out
Talk with your children and teens regularly and be a good listener. Parents can also benefit from finding a friend or family member to discuss worries and disappointments. If conversation cannot be in person because of social distancing, then connect by phone, video calls, or other virtual connection.
Help your Family Eat Wisely
- Include protein-rich foods for breakfast and lunch. Protein helps keep your blood sugar stable and gives your brain the fuel it needs. Also, if possible:
- Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Sources include fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring); plants (flaxseeds, chia seeds, dark leafy vegetables, kidney beans, pinto beans, soybeans, walnuts, tofu); and certain oils (canola, soybean, walnut). Research suggests a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids may help support mood.
- Choose plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. They contain vitamins, fiber, and minerals your brain needs.
- Limit junk food and fast food. They’re often full of fat, cholesterol, salt, and added sugars, which can cause spikes and slumps in energy that may leave us feeling irritable.
Go for gratitude
Focus on the positive. For what do you feel gratitude or appreciation? Research shows that regularly expressing gratitude helps boost overall happiness, leading to lower rates of stress and depression. Help your child write down at least three people, places, events, or things each day that make them feel thankful. Keep your own gratitude journal, too!
Step it up
Help your children to exercise or play so hard they break a sweat every day. When we exercise, our bodies release chemicals that can help boost mood. Remember to choose activities that help them stay at least 6 feet away from people outside your household. Also, try to avoid anything that involves sharing equipment such as balls, bats, and playground equipment.
Lend a hand
Helping other people makes us feel better about ourselves. It can be as simple as calling a neighbor or family member who is home alone or putting up a sign thanking people who deliver the mail. Help your children come up with at least one kind act each day. Keep a journal of all the things you and your family do for others—even the little things.
Manage screen time
Make a family media plan and limit your family’s exposure to TV and internet ads suggesting that buying things can make people happy. This will help limit messages about happiness that are false or unrealistic. It will also help you manage your family’s exposure to upsetting news. Consider instead: reading, playing cards or board games with family members, working a puzzle as a family, playing music or singing together, making a video to share, cooking together, or taking a family walk or bike ride.
Keep in mind: our electronic devices can also be used to create and maintain healthy social connections during the pandemic. You and your children may consider participating in online educational programs, virtual visits with grandparents and loved ones at higher risk from COVID-19, and participating in virtual online community events. It’s also good to become familiar with telehealth options offered by your doctor and your child’s pediatrician in case health questions arise.
Try meditating as a family or other relaxation techniques such as yoga to help everyone decrease stress and improve mood. There are helpful mobile apps that that offer reminders take deep breaths and other tips to relax. Time in nature may help too.
What if your child’s mood doesn’t improve?
Sometimes, steps like these aren’t enough to improve your child’s mood or reduce their anxiety. Be sure to contact your pediatrician if you are concerned that your child is struggling with stress or anxiety or if you are worried they might hurt themselves or someone else. Your pediatrician can also help determine if underlying health conditions or medications may be causing mood problems. They can also connect you with other health professionals such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, or social worker.
By Kathi Kemper, MD, MPH, FAAP, a professor of Pediatrics at the Ohio State University College of Medicine. She is member of the AAP Section on Section on Integrative Medicine and is the author of Mental Health, Naturally: The Family Guide to Holistic Care for a Healthy Mind and Body published by the AAP. Last Updated: 6/24/2020. Source: American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Integrative Medicine and Mental Health Leadership Workgroup (Copyright © 2020). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.