Stay calm, stay connected during COVID-19 pandemic

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March 11, after my plane landed in Chicago for a short business trip, the couple sitting next to me got a panicked phone call from their son. He was in Spain on a school trip, and he had heard the news that travel to the U.S. from Europe had been banned.

His dad coached him through what to do: try to find a ticket before the ban officially started, contact school officials. His mother told him to take a deep breath. This ban changed his plans, but he would be OK.

(It turns out, the ban doesn’t apply to U.S. citizens, who can be readmitted to the U.S. if they don’t show signs of the virus, but they didn’t know that.)

Here’s the irony of this COVID-19 pandemic: we may be scrambling to isolate, but we need each other. In times of stress, human beings do better when we’re connected.

We’re all being affected by this situation. Whether we’re afraid of the illness itself, or we’re already economically impacted, or we’re just annoyed at the disruptions caused by the situation, we’re all feeling this.

Children are being affected by this, too.

With the possibilities (or realities) of school closures, loss of parents’ income due to canceled work, canceled activities that provide social support and positive experiences, and general uncertainty, families are going to experience (and are already experiencing) a lot of different stressors.

When stress goes up in a family, the risks of negative impacts on children — like abuse and neglect — increase.

We can buffer that stress.

The first way we do that is to keep ourselves self-regulated. Self-regulation means being able to calm ourselves down. Here’s the reality of having a human brain: We do our worst thinking and behavior when we are stressed. We do our best thinking, planning, and processing when we’re self-regulated

We can do this in many ways. Maybe it’s taking a deep breath.

Maybe it’s taking a break from the news.

Maybe it’s venting to a friend.

Maybe it’s connecting to someone through conversation, humor or a smile.

Which brings me to the second way we buffer stress: keep connecting to each other, and keep on connecting to families. Social connections are protective to families and children.

We may need to physically socially distance ourselves, but this isn’t the time to disconnect — this is a time to get creative with how we connect.

Do things that help you stay centered. Check in with parents that you know.

Let’s get through this thing together.

Be well.

Claire Louge is executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Arizona. Learn more at pcaaz.org.

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