Heart to Heart with Adele: Lockdown, emotions and your kids


Dear Adele,

Covid-19 is hijacking our family’s positivity, general contentment and happiness with life. We have been isolating and social distancing ourselves, and to tell you the truth its beginning to suck! Cabin fever has never been so contagious, all-encompassing or so overwhelming before! We need a mental health prescription fast. Can you deliver something please to quell our freefall descent into the dark hole of depression, due to the lockdown?

Freefalling Unexpectedly Fast


Dear Freefalling Unexpectedly Fast,

According to the publication Prisontalk “The ‘hole’ is a prison slang term for administrative segregation. Inmates are placed there for a variety of reasons. The ‘hole’ is usually under the prison’s first floor and is solitary confinement. (A criminal) could stay in the ‘hole’, for a week or a lifetime depending upon his crime, his attitude or the decision of the administration. It is here in the ‘hole’ that men are made and broken at the same time.” (Jul 18, 2011)

The effectiveness of solitary confinement in prisons, bears witness to how dreadfully impacting the denial of social contact and human touch can be on humans.

The coronavirus pandemic has required families to isolate and social distance themselves at home, as much as possible. While this response to the global healthcare crisis has been very helpful in slowing the spread of the world scourge, it is starting to take its toll on the mental health of men, woman and children.

Humans are social creatures with social brains. Research tells us they need physical human touch, and social interaction. They need activity, routines and a sense of purpose about how they spend their time, both alone and with others.

Jeppe Henriksen, a medical researcher with Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark, explains that people are meant to live in herds (families) and when they are deprived of regular interaction with other humans, they may live in “a constant state of mild stress.” Rob Waldinger, a Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, found that isolation and loneliness can trigger mental and cognitive disorders. Timothy Matthews and others at King’s College, London, have correlated isolation and loneliness to increased rates of depression, as well as anxiety and self-harm in younger humans. These issues can result in physical ailments, even later in life. According to the Time Special Edition, Mental Health, A New Understanding, loneliness is on par with obesity, in terms of its impact on a person’s risk of death.

An editorial in the Lancet Psychiatry, entitled Send in the therapists? (April 2020), discusses disaster-related trauma and the paucity of research around it. The good news is that “the epidemiological evidence we do have about disaster related trauma, suggests that most people are highly resilient, with longer lasting negative outcomes in individuals as a result of trauma, reflecting existing mental health problems and socioeconomic status.”

According to the National Geographic publication, Your Emotions: The Science of How you Feel, Martin Seligman’s theory on authentic well-being identified five components for happiness, which you might want to consider in planning activities for your family at home.

  • The first is Positive Emotions, increasing hope contentment and gratitude.
  • The second is Engagement, being immersed in enjoyable activities you can do well like work, sports or games.
  • The third is Relationships, nurturing healthy connections with others or groups.
  • The fourth is Meaning, finding ways to feel part of a larger whole.
  • The fifth is Accomplishment, pursuing and reaching some goals.

The article entitled ‘Happiness’, in that same publication, suggests that emotions are contagious and ripple out in circles, like waves through social groups, spreading from the closest emotional tie outwardly. The message here, is that you must surround the children and yourselves with upbeat people. You must help yourselves and the kids to avoid naysayers. You, in this situation must be the role models. You might want to take the advice of experts who “recommend creating a daily diet of happy micro-moments”.

The article entitled Happiness is People, in the same publication, says that “social support lowers levels of health-harming cortisol and activates dopamine rich areas of the brain. . . . Family and friends urge one another to do the very things that lead to a fulfilled life; exercise, hang with friends and pursue goals.”

So here are a few ideas, which reflect the knowledge we have from all of this credible research, to help you keep depression at bay and the environment in your home conducive to positive emotional wellbeing.

You, the parents must take the lead. You must teach and model for the children the right attitudes, behaviors, and interactions you expect. Setting this purpose for yourselves as adults will help you maintain optimal well-being under these most difficult circumstances. Jonathan Rottenberg, Director of the Mood and Emotion Lab at the University of South Florida in 2019, pinpointed an important predictor for participants in his study, “ who’d shown resilience in the face of depression; having an aim in life, such as a child to live for or a job that provides meaning.” Your children coming out of this world pandemic emotionally together, should provide you with superlative incentive and motivation to put some of the following ideas into play.

1. Ensure the children’s physical bodies are well nourished and exercised. Prepare and serve nutritious and well-balanced, regular meals. Create opportunities for lots of exercise, every day. If possible, take your family outside for long walks or runs, preferably on nature trails or similar settings. Outings on bicycles may be an option, too. Be sure to follow social distancing protocols should you encounter other people. If you are forced to be inside consider dancing. There are all kinds of fun dancing videos available which your family could use to learn new dances. You could also use your own CD collection or playlist of music suitable for various types of individual or group dancing. A combination of these ideas could increase the amount of exercise your family gets.

2. Meditation and therapy are proving to have equal or better ability to push back on depression versus medication. As you may be aware, mental health services are in short supply in our area at the best of times, and the demand would have escalated dramatically with this health crisis. I therefore recommend that you do everything possible to avoid the family freefall into negative emotions and depression, so that accessing health care professionals can be a last option. That puts you, parents, squarely in the driver seat, creating the atmosphere and standards in your home, that will foster positive mental health, especially during this period of lockdown.

You can research online, activities suitable for families which will facilitate meditation. At the same time check out suggestions for your family to acknowledge and share their emotions. Agree on ways that members of your family should express or deal with negative emotions which should be expected, such as frustration or impatience. These ideas will hopefully minimize their impact on others. For example, if someone is ‘losing it’ and starts to raise their voice, perhaps your family can agree on a word or signal that will tell everyone to back off. The same cue will remind the upset family member to go out on the balcony, out to the backyard, or to their room until they can regulate their emotions. Such agreements within your family are important, so that those negative emotions don’t get out of hand and then spread to the other family members. Encourage all family members to bring their best self, and sun-shiniest personality features to the areas of your home, where the family must interact together.

Should someone in your family, seem particularly despondent, and some of the ideas presented here and that you’ve researched yourself, do not seem to be adequate, professional help is available through Family Physicians, Hospital Emergency Rooms, and by accessing the Ottawa Public Health website for information on alternate, excellent sources of assistance. You will not be left alone in this province. Our leaders and healthcare professionals are doing a superlative job for us, under unprecedented conditions and deserve our utmost gratitude and support.

3. Create daily opportunities for your family to interact positively, where they can enjoy each other, doing something that everyone can be involved successfully. Agree to put the devices away during this specified time. You might consider playing Monopoly, or Trivial Pursuit with an older family. You could teach children an interesting card game such as Bridge if the youngest child is eight or older, or games like Euchre, Crazy Eights or Hearts. Children’s board games or team games like Pictionary work too. This type of activity puts your family around the table, with the focus on fun and interaction. These games provide opportunities for eye contact, enjoyable communication, and laughter, all of which offer a distraction from thoughts about the pandemic.

4. Create opportunities for human touch, daily. You might consider having the whole family snuggle up on your bed or on the couch together to watch a family movie such as The boy who harnessed the wind, or an exceptional documentary like Our Planet. Try using one giant blanket to keep everyone snuggled up together. Use one bowl for the popcorn, so people have to sit close. Remember to hug each other in the morning, and before going to bed.

5. Create opportunities for achievement suitable for each family member. For children this could be the completion of their schoolwork at the kitchen table, each day, for a specified time period. Perhaps it could be the completion of a lesson in learning a new language online for an adult, or the completion of a certain number of chapters in a new unread book that is nonfiction. Perhaps it could be the planning, preparation, serving, and cleanup associated with a meal by a team created in your family. Consider buying some art or craft kits online that everyone can enjoy. Maybe someone would like to take up a musical instrument and teach themselves. Maybe the family could read a chapter book out loud. Maybe everyone would enjoy a listening session of different genres of music each day, together. Perhaps it could be many of these kinds of things, planned with deadlines for each family member.

My experience suggests that the days will go better in families, if there is structure. Consider creating a written plan, which requires rising at a certain time and completing required morning routines for hygiene, health and household maintenance. List intellectual activities, pleasurable activities, physical activities, interactive activities, reflective activities, and solitary activities. Set times for lunch and supper meals, as well as rest and bedtime routines. Post the schedule where everyone can see it, maybe on the kitchen fridge.

6. Create opportunities for interaction with others outside of your family while respecting the need for social distancing. Consider making a list of friends and family in your network with their telephone numbers beside the names. Decide with your family, how many people you will phone every day and how long the chats will last. The whole family can be involved using the speaker feature on the phone, or individuals can speak alone to their contacts. Do not be shy to call people for a chat whom you may not have spoken to in a while, or whom you don’t regularly call. Times are different and almost everyone is isolated at home. Receiving a friendly call, even one that lasts only a few minutes, can be quite uplifting for another person, and it will definitely be helpful to every member of your family who takes the time to reach out to someone else.

Consider connecting with another person by video chat, FaceTime, Skype, Zoom or some similar program that allows you to see another person and talk with them. These apps allow for groups to connect and see each other on one screen. They can hang out together for a while, enjoying each other’s company, just as if they were sitting around the family room or on the front step. Your family could even have a meal together with someone invited to join them virtually. Simply coordinate a time, and set your screen device at the end of the table, with the camera directed at the family eating the meal. This is a perfect idea to keep connections up with grandma and grandpa or a family you cannot physically be near.

Consider a coffee party for your street, where neighbours sit on lawn chairs at the end of their own laneways, sip the coffee they’ve made in their own house, and enjoy conversation from a distance. The same idea can be used for children who live near each other. They could play skipping games or hula hoop games, each child in his/her own laneway but still able to interact with other children. A creative and patriotic group of parents in the United States, I saw on television, had their children meet outside on their laneways each morning at 9 am. They sang the national anthem and said the Lord’s prayer before they began their studies inside.

I hope I have provided you with an initial prescription for what ails your family, Freefalling Unexpectedly Fast. You are the author of your family’s story. I am confident you are capable of a prize- winning piece of literature.

I conclude with a few famous quotations to help get you through the mountains and valleys ahead:

“I’ve been to war. I’ve raised twins. If I had a choice, I’d rather go to war.”  George Bush

“Having one child makes you a parent, having two, you are a referee.” — David Frost

“There are three things that a child can teach an adult: To be happy for no reason, to be always busy doing something: And to know how to demand-with all one’s might- what one wants.” — Paulo Coelho

Sincerely, Adele

I'm looking forward to your questions! Email me at maryadeleblair@gmail.com and please put Heart to Heart in the subject line. Note that all columns will remain anonymous.

Photo: Pixabay