Atrium child psychiatrist discusses parental quarantine fatigue

Published 2:36 pm Tuesday, July 14, 2020

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While the coronavirus pandemic has already affected so many people, it has been especially difficult for parents, who often have had to juggle work responsibilities with caring for their children at home.

During a recent Zoom call with local reporters, Dr. Crystal Bullard, an Atrium Health child/adolescent psychiatrist, discussed parental quarantine fatigue and ways to combat it.

“I definitely see the parents and kids are just becoming very frustrated with being at home all the time and they’re ready to get out and do things,” Bullard said, especially during the summer, when families typically plan vacations and students attend camps.

The stress of entertaining children and managing a household while also still working, often remotely, has not been easy for parents, she said.

One tip for dealing with COVID-19 pandemic fatigue is deep breathing.

“When you take long, slow deep breaths, it sends lots of oxygen to your brain,” she said, “and it gives your brain this signal that tells your body basically to calm down and to relax and it can help release some of the tension in your muscles and provide some physical relaxation.”

Bullard said meditation, adult coloring books and listening to relaxing music are also simple ways to reduce stress.

While children are staying inside more than in summers past, Bullard said it’s still important for parents to limit their amount of screen time. She said that playing games and puzzles with them that can engage their mind are also good.

As for a household with multiple children, Bullard said it’s easy for siblings to get annoyed of each other and so it’s important for each child to have quality time to themselves.

To allow parents their own quality time, Bullard recommends creating a buddy system, where parents allow family or friends whom they trust to take turns watching their children.

Regarding vacations, Bullard said there are easy options that still limit contact with others such as going on a road trip or spending time camping or hiking.

“There’s always going to be some risk if you leave your home, but people do need to get out, they do need social interaction,” she said.

Bullard said teenagers looking for summer jobs can seek opportunities that allow them to be outside, where the virus doesn’t spread as easily. Some options, she said, include dog walking, pet sitting, virtual tutoring, mowing the grass or gardening.

She has treated several children suffering from anxiety or who feel depressed or isolated due to the pandemic.

“There’s been a lot of fear obviously surrounding the pandemic and so this provokes even more fear and anxiety in kids who already struggle with underlying anxiety,” she said.

One way to help alleviate any feelings of despair or fear is to connect with other people, whether it be through phone calls, Zoom sessions or FaceTime.

“Having those support systems from the people who care about you most, like your close friends and family, can be really helpful,” she said. “It’s good group therapy to hear other people share their experiences and it’s also a way of learning from other people about what they’re doing to manage their stress.”

If parents or children are experiencing symptoms of depression, such as prolonged bouts of sadness where nothing seems to make them happy, struggling with fatigue or having suicidal thoughts, Bullard encourages them to seek professional mental health treatment.

As the upcoming school year approaches, Bullard said it’s important for parents to educate their kids about the potential safety risks with returning to class along with what schools might require from them, such as temperature checks and wearing masks.

Most of the children she has talked with are exciting to head back to school and are “hoping that they can get back to their normalcy.”


About Chris Miller

Chris Miller has been with the SNAP since January 2019. He is a graduate of NC State and received his Master's in Journalism from the University of Maryland. He previously wrote for the Capital News Service in Annapolis, where many of his stories on immigration and culture were published in national papers via the AP wire.

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