Tag Archives: Dr. Joshua Eudowe

Managing Emotions As The Pandemic Continues

Dr. Joshua Eudowe is a clinical and forensic psychologist in Westport specializing in child, adolescent and adult trauma, and high-risk patients. A threat assessment and crisis consultant to schools and businesses, and a first responder for more than 30 years, he serves as clinical director of the Connecticut Critical Incident Stress Management Team, and the COVID-19 Special Response Team. He writes:

Over a month into the pandemic, and for most of us, our emotions are changing.  The initial wave of anxiety is transforming into perhaps fear, anger, loneliness or sadness.

Managing these ever-changing emotions can be difficult. We spend a lot of time waiting and wondering what may come next. Protests are fueling some, while others struggle with increased fear.

While this happens, it’s natural for people to need to displace what’s building inside. For example, we may be more likely to argue with a spouse or child for something small. We may need time alone but can’t find “our” space in a house filled with others. Coping with isolation is grueling.

Dr. Joshua Eudowe

At the risk of sounding like every other monotonous self-help article, I’ll say it anyway. Two incredibly important aspects of managing our mood are diet and exercise. Eat healthy and exercise. Find an empty room and create your routine.  When we exercise, our body releases chemicals that can ease anxiety and depression.

Of course, you already know this. So what else can be done?

It is important to know is that these feelings are normal during traumatic times.  Whether you’re worried about a loved one, your family’s health, your job or business, financial instability or all of the above, those feelings are normal.

Go easy on yourself, and on others. Understand that while one person’s experience may be frightening, someone else’s may be intolerance or anger.

When trauma enters our lives our perceptions change. This can have tremendous influence over our ability to regulate our emotions.

For example, if a month ago we noticed rubber gloves on the ground, we’d shake our head and wonder why people aren’t more caring about the environment.

Today we see a pair of gloves on the ground and are filled with rage and anger. We think about the risks and the deplorable carelessness of others. The stress of these times can cause us to lash out in ways that are not normally part of our personality. This is something to be mindful of when interacting with others – especially children.

Traumatic experiences cause us to feel out of control. The more control we can create for ourselves, the more grounding it will have on our emotional state.  Although it may feel as if we have little control at the moment, we do. If you’re stuck, search for ways to have more control.

As adults and parents, we frequently need to set aside our emotions and help our children cope with growing uncertainty. Interestingly enough, during this time (on the surface) children may appear calmer. The anxieties or depression once prevalent most days may appear to have dissipated. They may be less argumentative and less “teenage” (insert laugh here).

It’s highly likely that some of their symptoms have eased due to a dramatic change in their environment. Social pressures have been nearly removed; parents are less concerned about behavioral issues, and therefore less strict.  Distance learning, while challenging, is also manageable, and without face to face contact with teachers, children are typically less anxious about the work.  Sports are canceled, and nearly all activities rescheduled. The number of “unknowns” have been removed. Therefore, many children are able to let go of some of their anxiety.

Anxiety is caused by a lack of control. In our lives, we use boundaries to create structure. We have expectations at work, school and home. We rely on our significant others to be consistent and predictable.

All of these create invisible structure, allowing our children to freely operate with the understanding of what’s expected (consistency) and what will happen (predictability).

Over the past month, our environments have been far more consistent and predictable in our day to day lives. What’s happened? Anxiety has decreased.  This is why parents may be seeing quasi-improvements in their children’s mental health.

Sheltering in place with a friend. (Photo/Nicole Klein)

However, don’t be fooled. When life returns to normal, so will expectations, fewer boundaries, less consistency and far less predictability.  Self-esteem issues will return — and could be worse.  Social anxieties could become more exaggerated, and pressure to succeed may become overwhelming.

Spend time talking to your children about this. Illustrate for them how their own feelings have changed during this time. Ask them to reflect on their anxieties as compared to several months ago.

It’s a helpful tool in building insight and self-reflection, as well as helping children recognize empathy when discussing those less fortunate during these times.

Stay safe. Stay strong. Be consistent. Be predictable.

Talking To Kids About Traumatic Events: Part 2

Last week, Westport psychologist Dr. Joshua Eudowe offered insights into why parents must judiciously ground their children in age- appropriate, trustworthy facts in order to prevent irrational fears from developing.

Yet besides having discussions with children, what else can be done to lower their anxiety?

In Part 2, Dr. Eudowe says:

  • Explain what the Center for Disease Control does, and why they direct us to do what we do. Talk to children of all ages about the importance of complying with the CDC’s recommendations, and why it’s important to listen to them. Explain the global effort to contain this, including positive facts about treatment initiatives, containment, etc.

 

  • Consider giving children tasks to oversee during this time. For example, assign a child the job of ensuring soap is available near all sinks. Someone may be assigned to organize food or cleaning supplies. Even tasks that aren’t needed can be helpful, like creating a list of movies to watch or researching something online. Giving children responsibilities makes them feel more in control, connected to those who provide safety and security, and involved in the family’s collective effort.

 

Caring for pets is a great task.

 

  • Don’t be surprised if children aren’t taking this seriously. They don’t have the life experience adults have, or possess the bandwidth for intellectual reasoning that adults do. They can’t pull from prior experiences, nor compare to even slightly similar situations in life to know they’re safe. It’s not their fault they lack the experiences and perspectives that adults have. Most of us see our children as being older than their chronological age. Therefore we expect them to comprehend situations that are nearly impossible. Remember how old they actually are. I often tell parents, “She/he is only 12 years old. Developmentally, their capacity for intellectual processing is limited – despite how mature they seem.” Even though a child may appear sophisticated enough to comprehend the gravity of situations, developmentally they simply can’t decipher what’s needed to avoid irrational thinking.

 

  • While common for parents to talk to their children as a family, be mindful that conversations with different age groups can sometimes be inappropriate. Don’t sit down with your middle schooler alongside your high schooler to discuss facts or expectations. Questions and fears may arise during conversations that could prove troublesome to younger members of the family. Also, discuss with older siblings the importance of not saying things to instill fear in younger ones. It’s a point that must be stressed with consequences. This is a time for families to work together.

 

  • Remain consistent for your children. Consistency, particularly now, is critical. An inconsistent parent drives a child towards a state of uncertainty. An example most of us can relate to is screen time.  Parents may bend rules and say, “Okay, but just this time” to avoid a frustrating confrontation. This leads to children remaining in the “unknown” – not being sure whether consequences will be enforced or ignored. I tell parents, “when the door opens, children need to know who’s walking in. When they don’t, anxiety will develop.”  While parents are certainly allowed to have bad days, remain as consistent as possible.

Can I get away with this today?

  • Divorced parents must work hard to communicate to ensure consistency during transitions and visitation. Despite the difficulties that arise in these situations, children must come first. Creating environments that promote similar expectations during traumatic times is critical to avoiding excess anxiety. Transitioning to the other parent’s home is already difficult, and often a process filled with anxiety. An inconsistent parent who verbally or behaviorally devalues the rules of the other home will intensify irrational thoughts, and can make children feel responsible for their own well-being – something to avoid at all costs. Remember that children continue to see both parents as their “parents,” although you may not. Neither parent should ever speak negatively about the other, or behave in a way that invalidates the other. Doing so will cause children to worry for the other parent’s safety, resulting in increased difficulty in transitioning, and likely significant behavioral problems such as anger, disobedience, avoidance, and an unwillingness to continue to transition.

 

  • Take a break from the news. We all need to step away from television and online media from time to time. While it’s vital to stay informed, adults and children can easily become overwhelmed and transition into irrational thinking. When this occurs it’s time to play a game, watch a movie, do something fun, and ground ourselves in positive thinking.

 

As parents, we constantly model for our children. Remember: The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Remain calm. Carefully and attentively listen to your children’s concerns. Don’t be engaged in other activities while your child is sharing fears or asking questions. Don’t be on your phone while yelling at them to get off theirs. Listen to them. Validate their concerns by saying things such as, “I can see how scared you are, and I know it doesn’t feel good,” or “There are many things we don’t know right now, but we’re doing everything to be safe.”  Don’t invalidate their fears by saying things like, “You have nothing to worry about.” It’s not true, and they know it. You will become a less trusted source for information.

Kids need us. Be there for them!

Symptoms to watch out for during any traumatic experience.

Avoidance. This is the number one challenge in treating trauma. People don’t want to discuss or even think about frightening events. Therefore, adults and children avoid discussions. In terms of communication, be careful (or ask a professional) if your gut tells you that your child is avoiding a conversation, rather than merely being uninterested. A parent’s intuition is usually correct; trust it. Either way, conversations should occur frequently.

Also:

  • Shock, denial, or disbelief
  • Confusion, difficulty concentrating
  • Anger, irritability, mood swings
  • Anxiety and fear
  • General and/or separation anxiety
  • Guilt, shame, self-blame
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Changes in appetite
  • Feeling sad or hopeless
  • Feeling disconnected
  • Insomnia or nightmares
  • Overly fatigued
  • Being startled easily
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Edginess and agitation
  • Aches and pains
  • Muscle tension

Dr. Joshua Eudowe

If your child exhibits several of these signs to a point where they interrupt normal functioning, seek professional help as soon as possible. Unlike some other mental health conditions, trauma can intensify quickly. Left untreated, it can worsen considerably. The COVID-19 pandemic will create enormous amounts of fear and anxiety, in all of us. Early intervention is the key to moving past this global pandemic. When the virus is eventually contained and treated, the wake of emotional dysregulation will grow exponentially. Now is the time for proactive measures.

With COVID-19 spreading at a rapid pace, many therapists are working remotely. While not ideal, even phone or video sessions can be invaluable in preventing symptoms from worsening. Please seek professional guidance; don’t wait until your child exhibits significant symptoms.

At least 5 young people in Fairfield County have been hospitalized because of suicidal thoughts related to anxiety during the coronavirus crisis. If you or someone you know is having a difficult time, reach out for help. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. or click here for additional resources.)

Westport Psychologist: How To Talk Your Kids About COVID

Dr. Joshua Eudowe is a Westport psychologist Westport specializing in child, adolescent and adult trauma and high-risk patients. He is a threat assessment and crisis consultant to schools and businesses. Dr. Eudowe also serves as the Clinical Director of the Connecticut Critical Incident Management Team. He shares with “06880” some thoughts on talking with children about the current coronavirus crisis. This is Part 1.

Many parents struggle with how to their children about what’s happening today.  We naturally work to shield them from issues we believe will unnecessarily intensify their anxiety or cause a misperceived level of vulnerability. However, withholding information can often deepen the very concerns you’re trying to prevent.

Dr. Joshua Eudowe

I am writing not only as a clinical expert in the field of psychological trauma and crisis, but as a father and local resident unequivocally dedicated to the welfare of children.

Children listen to and witness everything – more than we realize. They watch our eyes, body language, moods, and certainly eavesdrop on conversations we have with friends and family, especially during times like this.

Why? For information. The more “in the know” we are, the more in control we feel.  This translates into less anxiety stemming from the “unknown.”

Like adults, children need information and reassurance to manage their anxiety.  In their absence, imaginations can take over, and the scariest thoughts can become immobilizing.

Depending on age, children don’t yet possess the intellectual development to differentiate between rational and irrational fear. So when something frightening occurs, it’s more difficult for children to engage in healthy self-talk in order to find an accurate perspective in order to lower their level of anxiety.

Adults can say to ourselves, “The noises I hear in the house are likely the heat or water running through pipes.” But a child may say, “Our house is not safe.”  The inability to transition irrational fear into rational thought can quickly develop into generalized anxiety that will worsen over time.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a textbook traumatic experience that can cause years of anxiety, and skew perspectives that change the way children analyze and perceive future situations. Left untreated, experiences that result in high levels of anxiety can evolve into Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Despite the many unknowns, adults generally understand that following safety protocols can reduce their chance for illness. Children may begin with the highly irrational fear that death is imminent. Not long after, these thoughts can turn into panic and translate into behavioral problems.

Uncertain times can cause children to act out.

How do we speak to our children?  What do we say?

Age plays a major factor in both the language we use in the facts we share. For example, younger children should know the safety measures being taken, and why. You can say, “We’re not going out today because we don’t want to catch the cold that’s going around.”

If the questions continue, it’s okay to say, “Right now, people are getting sick and we’ve been told to stay home, but we’re safe and our home is safe.”

With older children who are exposed to infinite sources on social media, questions can be more direct and difficult to answer. As parents, our knee-jerk reaction may be to say “everything is fine” or “stop believing what your read.”

However, giving children the information needed to prevent irrational thoughts from emerging and falling victim to the “unknown” is why it’s imperative to share facts. For example, “An illness is spreading. Westport is making sure people stay home so it doesn’t become worse. We’re safe, but there are a lot of things we don’t know yet.”

However, don’t make statements similar to “everyone will be fine” or “don’t worry.” It’s simply not true. When a child hears that someone has died, it will immediately intensify their fear. They won’t know who or what to believe.  Their imagination will go into overdrive, resulting in “worst-case scenario” thinking.

Be honest. Never underestimate their ability to fact check.  Friends are talking, and social media is a click away. If they don’t hear the truth from you, they’ll hear misinformation from their friends.

Remain an honest and trustworthy source of information at all times. Remind them that what they hear and read online may be incorrect. Tell them to ask you directly if they have questions before they believe what they’ve heard elsewhere.

While we can’t prevent all anxiety from developing, even as adults, we can do our best to minimize the irrational fear by sharing the facts.

Talking about fears can help.

How much information should I share?  What is too much?

While this certainly is an age-dependent question, you want to share enough information to provides facts and prevent irrational fears from evolving.

You can recognize irrational thinking by listening to responses, such as “I know I’m going to die” or, “I bet we’re already sick.”

These types of comments are a sign that irrational fears and thoughts are developing, and it’s time to challenge the irrationality.

You could offer facts such as how many people are sick vs. how many people are in the area/world. You could reassure them that staying at home and not being around others will significantly reduce their risk.

Parents want to help shift children’s thinking towards a more accurate perspective. Disclose facts such as how many doctors are working hard to stop this. Share insight into the steps being taken to ensure safety. Talk about the police patrolling the streets, or explain the size of the agencies fighting this.

Your goal is to ground them in a safe reality and not allow the emergence of irrational thinking. Of course, don’t overshare. Facts are facts, but assumptions are unknown and lead to heightened anxiety.

Let children know that many adults are working hard to help.

Do I maintain the same rules house rules and expectations as before?

This is difficult to answer, as parents differ greatly on house rules. However, keep in mind that children have limited ways to “check out.”

Adults have options for self-care: exercise, cooking, taking a drive, starting a project, speaking with a friend, etc. Children are limited in their ability to “check out.”

While a controversial topic, screen time can serve as a distraction from the real world and be beneficial during times like these, as opposed to saying, “Find something else to do.”

While you’re busy, your child may be sitting in their room replaying their concerns over and over while irrational thoughts take over.  Children struggle to let go of big fears.

Screen time can be a useful tool to break the cycle of overt irrationality. It’s an alternative perspective to consider.

As for other chores and expectations: Remain consistent and allow life at home to proceed as normal. The more structure you provide and the more you normalize their environment, the more in control children feel, reducing irrational fears and anxiety from developing.