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Adjusting to the new norm during the coronavirus outbreak

Maintain mental health with fresh routines, experts advice

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Amid the rapid spread of coronavirus, staying inside for a majority of the day has quickly become the norm. Parents are working from home and children, who are out of school, are “distance learning” — doing schoolwork remotely.

This sheltering can take a toll on mental health. To avert such problems, a trio of experts said that maintaining psychological stability during a time of sudden change begins with predictability and creating a new orderliness to life.

Dr. Laurie Zelinger and Dr. Fred Zelinger are married psychologists in Cedarhurst. They both said that routine and organization are essential for families. “It’s important for parents to try to maintain a schedule for their children that is consistent with their school schedule,” Laurie said. “An example would be having them eat lunch at the same time they would if they were in school.”

Fred added that the pressure is on parents to establish new routines for their children. “It’s important to establish an organizational structure such as a bedtime, wakeup time and learning time,” he said. “Families should sit down on a daily basis to talk about plans for the day, since parents will be working as well.”

Fred suggested that those wondering whether the pandemic will ever end should limit their television watching. “There should be no obsessive watching of news all day long,” he said. “News only frightens kids and mesmerizes parents.”

Laurie released a YouTube video on March 15 titled “Please Explain Coronavirus To Me: A Video for Kids,” which aims to educate children about the pandemic. Parents should not divulge too much information to children, she said.

“Ask children what they do know about it and what they want to know about it,” she said. “I wouldn’t give more information then they’re asking for. Kids don’t need every single detail of information.”

Rabbi Dr. Saul Haimoff, a clinical psychologist and the head rabbi at the Brandeis School in Lawrence, noted that people must accept the current reality in order to handle it better. “This situation is forcing everyone to make major lifestyle changes, and trying to fight it will likely lead to frustration, at best, and despair, at worst,” he said. “Once we accept that this is a worldwide crisis that is out of our control, then we relinquish the pressure to try to fix everything.”

There are positives for both parents and children, according to Haimoff. “Children are very resilient, and actually can benefit a lot from this new lifestyle,” he said. “For instance, many children are experiencing better mornings, since they don’t have to wake up as early to go to school and don’t have to rush to eat their breakfast.”

Haimoff added that it can be great for parents to spend more time with their children. “Parents should embrace this opportunity, rather than trying to maintain the schedule from before the pandemic,” he said. “You can use these days as opportunities to become more involved in your child’s schoolwork. You can also make time for special activities such as cooking, art and outdoor exercise.”

Laurie Zelinger noted that even with social distancing, people should remain in contact with family and friends. “You should keep the same contact that you had before with your support group, as feelings of isolation can suppress an immune system,” she said. “People also should still reach out to their therapists, even if it’s a quick phone call or text-message conversation.”

Families spending time at home together may be a good thing, but couples with a history of domestic violence can be at risk for further incidents. The National Domestic Violence Organization stated that social distancing can be a negative for these couples. “It’s already an intense situation when a survivor is isolated by their abuser,” the organization tweeted on March 20. “When social distancing during this time, staying home may compromise their safety further.”

Fred Zelinger acknowledged that couples who had problems prior to the pandemic could potentially make them worse. “I think it depends on how long this goes on,” he said. “People prone to stress, and relationships that have flaws to begin with, are more prone to domestic violence — unless they can come together and realize that this is an emergency situation.”

County Executive Laura Curran tweeted on March 18 that mental health services remained available to residents. “If you’re struggling with depression, addiction, or domestic violence at home, know that we are still here for you,” Curran said. “Nassau County’s mental health care and support services continue to be accessible to our residents virtually.”

The county’s mental health crisis phone number is (516) 227-8255. To view Laurie Zelinger’s video, go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nF_F3OSLLqY&feature=emb_title