Q. The time this article is published I hope the Corona pandemic is over, but for now my question feels very relevant. I’m a father of four children trying to keep my head above water during these terrifying times. However, I’m finding it difficult to “keep it together.” I recently lost my job and feel like I have to keep my wife and children afloat both financially and emotionally. Moreover, while I’m struggling with the fear of the unknown, I’m constantly trying to break up fights between my children and help my wife at home all while trying to maintain my own sanity. I also worry constantly about my father who lives alone and suffers from a compromised immune system. How do I cope during these trying times when people I know are sick, the world is turned upside down, and I’m trying to be the role model my family expects me to be?
A. I am certain that you are not alone in this dilemma and that many others can identify with the painful and multifaceted question you present. I think the first step is to normalize every aspect of worry and confusion you bring to the table. Everyone I know, including myself, is struggling with a tremendous amount of fear related to the known and the unknown. To some extent, we are all in this together. Simultaneously, the unique set of struggles you present can cause feelings of isolation and a lack of homeostasis. In order to improve your ability to cope I’d like to suggest some tools.
First, I’d like to introduce the concept of spirituality as the most important tool. According to Deborah Cornah in her article “The Impact of Spirituality on Mental Health,” spirituality helps one embrace any form of adversity as well as promote one’s feelings of hope. She also states that spirituality enlarges one’s focus and control and helps sustain psychological wellbeing. You might find it difficult to hold onto spirituality and religion during this dire time as shuls are closed and social distancing is crucial. However, you can find unique ways to hold onto your spirituality and grow as an individual and as a family. This includes waking up early to daven, turning on energetic spiritual music, and listening to a Torah class while helping out.
Another tool you can utilize during this difficult time is creating a routine. According to Brianna Wiest in The Thought Catalog (2018), routine creates a steady and safe feeling in your subconscious mind. Wiest also states that your routine habits improve your mood and your daily experiences. Therefore, I recommend creating a daily schedule infused with spiritualty and self-care as well as specific times you can be available to your wife and children.
You mentioned that you worry about your father on a daily basis. Perhaps you can call in grocery orders that can be delivered to his door and Facetime him on a daily basis to reduce his level of loneliness.
In addition, you mentioned that you worry because you lost your job and wonder how you’ll support your family. This must feel terrifying. You are not alone. This is the time when it’s most appropriate to ask for help. Many community organizations have been offering financial assistance due to this colossal crisis. If possible, you can carve out time daily to search for telecommuting employment to ease your financial stress.
Lastly, you mentioned feeling that you have to be a role model for your family during these difficult times. Perhaps part of being their “rock” is normalizing their fears by being somewhat transparent with your own fears. An example of a statement you can make is: “It’s normal to be afraid of the unknown, but we can get through this together.” You can also ask your wife and children: “How can we take this challenging time and grow as a family?” If your family senses your authenticity and observes your positive changes, they will be sure to follow.
In conclusion, it’s completely understandable to feel that your world has turned upside down, because it did. Therefore, remember to hold on to your sense of spirituality and routine. Learn to ask for assistance when necessary while being transparent about your feelings with your family. May we all hear good things and may Hashem bestow upon us a speedy redemption.