Families coping with rising stress levels as fall starts and COVID rages on

BOSTON — Unfortunately, as people try to get back into their fall routines, the coronavirus is showing signs of making a stressful season even more so.

Schools are opening but not all kids are eligible for vaccines.

Some offices are bringing back workers and others are staying remote.

This requires a lot of adapting for families. All the unknowns are like rocket fuel for stress levels.

While doing some back-to-school shopping with her first-grade son Josiah, Miria Atkinson of Canton admitted all of this can get to her once in a while. “I was a little nervous because everything was new with this Delta variant. I don’t know what to expect because they also don’t either.”

There is also the challenge of relaying this to a young child like Josiah. “I tell him we’ve got to wear the mask when we go places. He’s like why, not everybody is wearing it. I say it’s because kids can’t get the vaccine,” explained Atkinson.

Being a parent is never easy, but it’s particularly stressful in a pandemic that’s showing signs of a resurgence.

“It’s always in the back of my mind. Yes, I am vaccinated but my kids aren’t because they’re not old enough, and you know, I just hope they’re going to be safe,” said Lisa Mulroy, a mother from Norwood.

“The data that’s been coming out suggests Americans are experiencing more mental health symptoms, more anxiety, more depression, since the start of the pandemic,” said Dr. Gabrielle Liverant, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Suffolk University.

She thinks the coming months could be a tough stretch for many people. “I think that’s going to be a new stressor this fall. With the rise in the Delta variant there is going to be some going back to some protocols that we had loosened up on. . . one of the things that the COVID pandemic has put front and center is some level of uncertainty about what the next stressor is may be, or when things will be resolved in a way that people feel a real sense of relief.”

Liverant says it’s important for families to keep open lines of communication through the ups and the downs. “Kids are often waiting for parents to open the door on a challenging conversation like this. . . I think it’s important to encourage your kids to ask questions. Sometimes we assume we know what the kids are worried about and we’re completely wrong as parents!”

Parents also need to take care of themselves.

“Especially when people are under such a prolonged state of stress,” explained Liverant. “They sort of get used to feeling stressed out, or anxious, or worried.”

Liverant says things like prolonged periods of sleeplessness, trouble concentrating, strains in relationships with other adults, or increased use of alcohol or other substances are all clues that a person might need professional help.

“Within the mental health community, we’re starting to talk about a mental health pandemic of just prolonged stress and how people cope with that,” added Liverant.

The Centers for Disease Control take the impact of pandemic-related stress very seriously. They put together a whole section to help people deal with stress and find resources to provide assistance.

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