In the blink of an eye, the Pikes Peak region — and the world — changed due to the coronavirus.
Residents sheltered in place or self-quarantined. Workers deemed essential continued working under new conditions, while others have been laid off or furloughed. Restaurants, coffeehouses, breweries and other businesses shuttered their doors. Parks and trails remain open, but visitors’ centers and gathering places are empty. Schools turned to remote learning. Grocery stores have limited hours and the number of people allowed inside at one time. Residents are wearing masks in public, maintaining a 6-foot distance from each other and are paying more attention to personal hygiene. COVID-19 has been the dominating story in the news.
This change can take a mental and emotional toll. It’s why Pikes Peak region organizations are reaching out with tips for how to cope during this time of great change and uncertainty.
The Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments’ Area Agency on Aging is offering “practical tips” for seniors on “things that you can do while staying safe.”
Some tips include:
• Staying in touch: Make a phone call to someone you know who is in quarantine or who is experiencing extra isolation. Write a letter to friends or family members. Use technology to send an email, do a video call, or even just send a text letting people know you are there.
• Staying informed but not overwhelmed: It can be difficult to filter through the amount of information on the virus to find the important bits and things you need to know. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment provides regular updates and information in an understandable way. Visit covid19.colorado.gov. Additionally, if you are staying up late to listen to the news, or waking up early, take a break. Set aside times of each day where you don’t listen. Remember that important information will be repeated.
• Stopping fraud: Do not give out bank account information. Scammers might call you about COVID-19 stimulus funds or about Medicare services. Never give out your personal information. Secondly, do your homework before donating to a charity or crowdfunding site due to public health emergencies. Last, be cautious if purchasing medical supplies from unverified sources.
UCHealth Memorial Hospital’s director of spiritual care has also offered advice on helping children and families cope with stress during the pandemic.
“Our children don’t need us to be perfect,” said Nathan Mesnikoff, the hospital’s director of spiritual care. “They do need us, though, to be good role models and sources of support and information.”
Mesnikoff, a father, offered these tips:
• Parents should be role models: Demonstrate good self-care, honesty about your feelings, and compassion for yourself and others. “Our kids are always watching how we react. It’s good for our kids to see we feel worried, sad, or frustrated, but keep control and show how we can deal with those feelings in healthy ways. If you need to have a meltdown, try to do that ‘off-stage.’ Model kindness for family, friends and community,” Mesnikoff said.
• Connect with your children: Put the phone down, step away from the computer, and just be with them. “Support connection (through technology for example) while still keeping them safe,” he said.
• Provide age-appropriate, accurate information about the pandemic: Ask if your children have questions. “Uncertainty makes stress worse. There’s a lot of bad information out there, especially on social media. Turn off the TV. Kids can misinterpret what they hear and get needlessly frightened. Empower them with ways to be safer: physical distance, masks when appropriate, handwashing/hand sanitizer,” Mesnikoff suggests.
• Give them love and validation: Mesnikoff says children’s stress can manifest in various ways, including regression, acting out, crying, or being defiant. “They likely will need more hugs, attention, and support. Listen to them. Let them know that feelings of stress, worry, anger, and frustration are normal. Then show them healthy ways to deal with their feelings by talking, journaling, exercising, and accepting help and affection.”
• Set realistic expectations about schoolwork: “Most parents don’t have the time or expertise to re-create anything resembling a normal classroom,” he said. “Academics are important, but emotional support is more critical right now. Learning right now may be more about coping skills than calculus.”
• Have some fun and distraction: Mesnikoff suggests families spend downtime together. Work on puzzles, build LEGO, play games and watch family movies, he says, to provide healthy outlets and distractions from the worries of the day.
• Get extra help when needed: “If you’re concerned about your child, get help. Pediatricians and counselors can be tremendous resources. Watch for signs that the stress is becoming overwhelming: significant sleep problems, repetitive behaviors like excessive handwashing, or inability to be soothed/need for continuous reassurance.
Kids with underlying mental health challenges may need more proactive support,” he said.
Both the Agency on Aging and Mesnikoff also suggest people of all ages stay healthy and keep a schedule, including going for (socially distanced) walks, sitting outside when weather allows, opening the windows and letting the sun in, trying virtual workouts (ppymca.org/about/virtual-workouts), and making sure children get exercise daily and that they keep relatively normal bedtimes and rules about snacking.
The Agency on Aging suggests residents wake up at the same time, get dressed and do what they can for the day. Mesnikoff suggests parents also make sure their kids get up, get dressed, complete chores and schoolwork and play on a regular schedule.
Lastly, Agency on Aging suggests seniors keep up with their health. Part of that includes virtual visits to the doctor instead of in-person visits.
Seniors are encouraged to confirm whether their doctors’ offices are utilizing telehealth efforts, and use them when possible.