JFS and Federation hold webinar for families dealing with COVID-19 stress

In the second of a series of webinars about COVID-19 and how to deal with it, Jewish Family Service of the Lehigh Valley and Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley hosted a Zoom meeting with Dr. Howie Levin entitled “Family Matters” on May 6. Levin is board certified in child and adolescent psychiatry and is currently the medical director for ambulatory psychiatry services at St. Luke's University Health Network. 

Stuart Horowitz, a social worker and chair of the JFS clinical committee who spoke on mindfulness in the first webinar in the series, introduced Levin and moderated the event.

Levin started off with how to help adults to handle stress during the pandemic.

“It’s important to try to normalize the experience. It’s a stressful time for everybody,” said Levin.

He explained that it is normal to be feeling more tired, restless, achy, irritable or on edge, or to be having trouble concentrating or sleep problems. Those who already deal with anxiety or other mental health problems may find their symptoms exacerbated during this time. 

In terms of managing stress, Levin recommends limiting how much information you’re taking in every day and making sure you’re getting information from reliable sources when you do read the news. 

“Spending time on social media can be good in some aspects, but don't believe everything you read,” he cautioned.

To keep yourself busy and distracted from the anxieties of the virus, Levin said this is a great time to do hobbies, learn a new skill or work on projects around the house. The main point is to be trying to find things that bring you joy or comfort. Exercising is also important to stay relaxed and energized.

To avoid depression and loneliness, it’s also key to keep in touch with friends and family through phone calls and virtual visits. Checking in on others, especially those who may need help, and sharing how you feel with people you trust rather than bottling up emotions are very helpful, too.

For those who need support beyond just friends and family, Levin highlighted available resources in the Lehigh Valley, including JFS, NAMI and online support group Emotions Anonymous. He emphasized that people should still be caring for their physical and mental health during this time, which is made possible with most practices through teletherapy.

As for children, Levin said much of the same advice applies to them. They will do better with a daily routine and having their time structured for them. Making sure they get breaks and get outside for physical activity is ideal. 

“Giving kids a sense of control, allowing them to make choices when choices can be made such as picking out which game or TV show they want can help,” said Levin. 

He encouraged parents to “let little things go.” Children may act out with challenging behaviors when they have trouble expressing their feelings.

When it comes to actually addressing the topic of the virus with children, Levin said it is difficult.

“It’s always a fine balance of wanting to be open and honest with your children and at the same time not scaring your children about what's going on. It depends on their development level and how anxious their temperament is. If they do have questions, answer them honestly and use words and concepts they can understand.”

Levin fielded questions at the end of the presentation, addressing topics from pandemic-induced dreams to how to make milestones such as birthdays and graduations special during this time. He shared that his own daughter had celebrated her fifth birthday recently with a drive-by parade. 

“It definitely can be challenging when we’re not allowed to leave our homes, so trying to find ways to still maintain connection to loved ones is important and helps a child feel special,” he said.

To view a recording of the full webinar, visit https://jfslv.org/coronavirushelp.