In these uncertain times, stress and anxiety are at an all-time high. By some estimates, over 70% of Americans are experiencing increased stress as a result of the pandemic. And parents are reporting worsening mental health during the pandemic, according to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Many working parents are now juggling their full-time jobs with homeschooling and caregiving, and doing it all with less support.
“Good Morning America”’s Ginger Zee has been very open about her mental health challenges in the past. Here, in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, Zee talks to Thrive about how she is coping during COVID-19, and sharing the strategies that are helping her protect her well-being.
Thrive Global: We are a couple of months into the quarantine now. What have been your biggest stressors while parenting during the pandemic?
Ginger Zee: Even though it’s pre-K, my 4-year-old son’s half-hour Zoom meeting is the most stressful part of the day. I swear I never have the right glue stick or colored pencil available for him. It is difficult for him to feel involved, he is always behind and the technology is far from perfect. It’s also been hard trying to explain to my 2-year-old that he can’t go to the places he loves. We used to go to this playground near the house so often that it’s disrupting his routine — it has shaken him. He just doesn’t understand why we can’t go there, and to the library for music class. These small disruptions are big in their lives, so they can act out, and we have been seeing some of that behavior.
TG: How do you know when your mental batteries are in danger of being depleted?
GZ: My stress triggers are usually big transitions — so I would say this time we are living in is a solid trigger. I immediately start reverting to my nostalgic and comfortable reaches for control: anorexia and self-hate. I have to say it out loud as soon as I feel one of those start to creep in before it spirals. That honesty with myself, and then immediately with my husband or a loved one, is the only way I survive.
TG: When you feel that stress or anxiety bubbling up, what are some of the things you do to ease that?
GZ: I have jumped on the meditation bandwagon, and there’s a reason the wagon is around. I do 10 minutes a day and have committed to exercising each day, too. Those activities ward off some of [the stress and anxiety]. Most importantly, I have kept my virtual appointments with my therapist. I am so grateful that I have the ability to do this. I keep trying to find ways for others to get free help during this time and going forward. Everyone deserves health care, including mental health care.
TG: With so many changes, I am sure you’ve experienced a lot of challenges as a parent during the pandemic.
GZ: Yes! The other night I put Miles, my 2-year-old, on the changing table and he started doing his arching back, trying-to-leap-off act. He was kicking and screaming and after a day of a dozen timeouts, my limit had been met. I was just about to let a filter-less “Why are you being such a psycho?” type response out, but then I laughed. Which he didn’t love, but I took a moment to see the levity.
I thought about myself 20 years from now never remembering this moment. I looked in his eyes, full of tears and instead of feeling terrified of how I would get through another fit, I felt empowered and grateful. I am not saying this happens every time, but try adopting the mantra “Will this matter a year from now, or will I even remember it?” — that’s a great place to go if you can.
TG: Is there anything you’ve had to give yourself permission to stop doing as a parent in order to protect your mental health, and how did you make this mindset shift?
GZ: I still have this “I am causing them to be behind” feeling when it comes to school and learning six languages that some kids are already into. I have allowed Miles to watch Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory once a day. It helps him chill out and has become his pacifier of sorts. He isn’t learning another language, but he knows all the words to the “Oompa Loompa” song, and that’s OK for now.