Maggie Moore, UI Employee Assistance Program
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The unprecedented circumstances surrounding the emergence of COVID-19 have created a great deal of stress and uncertainty for individuals, families, communities, and healthcare providers. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected multiple systems and layers of our society and has shaken our sense of what is known and what is not known. Families, in particular, are experiencing a shift in how they conduct their daily lives. They might be managing with fewer resources, less square footage per person, and more anxiety. Routines and social contact have been shattered. In times like these, it is normal for children, teens and young adults and other family members to have strong reactions and they may feel sad, irritable or confused, or have sleeping problems, which left unaddressed can result in disorders of sleep. We know parents are struggling to balance work, child care and self-care while trying to keep their own worries as well as their family’s worries under control (https://nyulangone.org/news/wearing-three-hats-balancing-life-parent-teacher-employee-during-covid-19 ).
Interestingly, although we are all experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic, we are not all experiencing it in the same way. Our responses to the COVID are as unique and diverse as we are as a society and as the virus itself. Long-standing socio-economic, racial, and ethnic disparities have been exacerbated during the pandemic. This has been manifested in disparities in disease and death rates, disparities in access to safe physical distancing, gaps in internet service, and family and medical leave, and access to health insurance. Understanding the ways that COVID-19 is impacting families can help better serve the diversity of needs. (https://www.obgyn.wisc.edu/dei/covid). Compounding these factors is the social injustice of racial and cultural disparities in our nation and the economic toll that COVID has taken causing an exponential compounding of the above-mentioned complexities.
We are dealing with two contagions — the virus itself and the emotions it generates. Negative emotions are every bit as contagious as the virus, and they’re also toxic. Fatigue, fear, and panic can undermine our ability to think clearly and stay focused on work. When stress becomes problematic, our mind and body can be affected. The fear and uncertainty fueled by the COVID-19 crisis can lead to more stress, fatigue or burnout as professionals but also as a family member. Human beings often identify as part of a group and physical distancing has led to social distancing in COVID. Many of the rituals, weddings, graduations, funerals, that bring families together have been set aside due to public safety concerns. Families whose loved ones die during the COVID-19 pandemic face unprecedented restrictions and challenges. (Amy Cunningham, funeral director and owner of Fitting Tribute Funeral Services in Brooklyn, NY) Social connections brought about by involvement in athletics, arts, camps and church, that can mitigate stress for families are likely altered or unavailable. These changes can affect us developmentally, as when a young adult who has fledged a new social network away from their family is not able to return to work or college.
Additionally, as we know that the pandemic has affected people differently, families are also very diverse. Some would say that a family is who they say they are. Some families may be simultaneously working from home while caring for children who are not able to attend school or have a college student who returned home because their campus closed. A family can experience role confusion or tasks of family development thwarted. Families may experience a heightened stress level, domestic discord or financial insecurity. Families struggling with domestic violence are further isolated. The financial stress can especially affect marginalized communities or those with inadequate resources.
The University of Iowa will need to be ever more agile in meeting the diverse range of needs that families, faculty and students will have, both personally and professionally. As we move through the first phase of COVID, budget constraints and racial injustice are added stress for our families, faculty, staff and students. In order to persevere, the University will need to recruit and retain a family as much as an individual employee or new student.
Families who are members of our UI campus and community will present with differing needs. Some families might include faculty and staff who are working remotely, or they might be in the office/classroom with the ability to flex their time. Some families do not have flexibility because they are hospital based or have other 24-7 obligations. Some families might have parents who are students, while also working and caring for children and young adults who are also students but attending school online or some combination of all. Families have a great deal of responsibility for the individual development of its members while moving through the changes associated with COVID-19 and thus, will require resilience and focus on wellbeing.
Because our campus includes diverse family structures as well as multiple developmental needs and roles, focus on the fundamentals of wellbeing can be powerful in efforts to build resilience to effectively cope and be successful.
- Sleep is one of the most important things that families and individuals can do regardless of where they work or how they work. But sleep is often disrupted either because of late night studying, shift work or childcare responsibilities that might be intensified if socially or culturally isolated. The UI EAP and Student Wellness both have numerous resources to help with sleep. Refresh, powered by sleep rate is an effective app to improve sleep for most everyone. Both EAP and Student Wellness also offer in person sleep assistance.
And sleep can be a family affair, so turn here for more information
- COVID is posing budgetary challenges for families through cutbacks, job loss or increase in housing costs. The Consumer Finance Website as well as the Department of Labor can offer information. Additionally, the University of Iowa has information for faculty and staff here. Students will likely also struggle and may receive some assistance from the Office of Care and Assistance
- Family development is a foundation of individual development. The stress posed by COVID-19 can disrupt family development and structure. Families are encouraged to discuss how each member is coping.
- Families can consider taking inventory of what each member’s needs are and determine if there are ways to create a “coronavirus bubble” of sorts to ensure safety while also building in safe family activities. This bubble may be developmental, meaning children of different ages and temperaments may need more or less time with friends than others.
- For families who are welcoming adult children or college students back into the home, due to COVID, discuss expectations and how stay socially connected with peers, what that means and how it would affect your lifestyle at home
- For families with younger children at home:
- Children as well as adults struggle with worries about the pandemic. What works for younger children can also work with multigenerational households. How to talk to children about the pandemic. For help for multigenerational families
- If Children are worried about family members becoming sick, talk through how to keep in touch with loved ones. Children may also worry about a grandparent who is living alone or a relative or friend with an increased risk of getting COVID-19. Video chats can help ease their anxiety.
- Model how to manage feelings.Talk through how you are managing your own feelings. (“I am worried about Grandma since I can't go visit her. The best I can do is to check in with her more often by phone. I will put a reminder on my phone to call her in the morning and the afternoon until this outbreak ends.")
- Tell your child before you leave the house for work or essential errands. In a calm and reassuring voice, tell them where you are going, how long you will be gone, when you will return, and that you are taking steps to stay safe.
- Look forward.Tell them that scientists are working hard to figure out how to help people who get ill, and that things will get better.
- Keep healthy routines and reevaluate existing routines. During the pandemic, it is more important than ever to maintain bedtime and other routines. They create a sense of order to the day that offers reassurance in a very uncertain time. All children, including teens, as well as most adults can benefit from routines that are predictable yet flexible enough to meet individual needs. If you are student who is working and parenting a student, establish new daily schedules and managing safety while living in close proximity, CDC Tips for Safety
- Need Help?
- If you are working remotely, a hybrid or or fully back at your workplace, tune into Supervisor Training and Other Learning and Development Options: https://its.uiowa.edu/working-remotely-iowa and https://hr.uiowa.edu/development/learning-and-development/working-learning-and-leading-remotely
- If you are a supervisor or a faculty member who wants to know more about their options to work while also caring for family members, talk with your Human Resource representative to learn more about how flexible work arrangements might be helpful in supporting you and your family. Or about concerns that a health condition in self or family might affect one’s ability to work, see Faculty Staff Disability Services
Additional Resources For Children And Families
If you or yours are struggling with how to move through the stresses of COVU+ID 19, please consider accessing any of these campus resources:
- Free family counseling at EAP. The UI EAP is open to faculty, staff and their families and can address family relationships, depression, anxiety and substance abuse resources.
- EAP also offers information on working remotely and social distancing, grief and loneliness. It also offers a free sleep app called “Refresh” powered by sleep rate.
- LiveWELL: Working with the LiveWELL program can help you establish health routines and cope with stress. LiveWELL can also assist in connecting to the Mindfulness Programs at UIHC.
- UCS: Broad range of mental health supports and resources
- Student Wellness: Much like LiveWELL but for students.
- Family Services: Information on child care, subsidies for childcare for students and elder care.
- UI Parent and Family Network: Connecting parents to the University of Iowa
- Dean of Students Care and Assistance: Student Care & Assistance provides assistance to University of Iowa students experiencing crisis and emergency situations. We know that students may experience a variety of challenges during their college career. Student Care & Assistance is a central location that provides coordinated efforts along with campus partners to assist students with overcoming challenges to be successful and continue towards graduation.
- The University of Iowa Department of Psychiatry is renowned for its expertise in caring for adults and children dealing with major mental illness. We also provide comprehensive care for women who are experiencing mental health concerns related to pregnancy, childbirth or reproductive health through the Women’s Wellness Counseling Service; mindfulness programs; and offer integrated care for those with co-morbid mental health and medical conditions. University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital provides a full range of mental health services to children and adolescents. Our mental health staff members offer services ranging from outpatient care to acute inpatient treatment. Services include medication management, educational consultation and testing, psychological testing, individual therapy, and family counseling.
- Families of LGBTQ+: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/covid-19-and-the-lgbtq-community-rising-to-unique-challenges-2020043019721
- BIPOC Families coping with COVID
Information about responding to the COVID-19 virus and pandemic changes rapidly. For up to date information, consider the Centers for Disease Control Website: