Ask a Doc

Call our free non-emergency information line to speak directly with Village staff psychologist Dr. Lisa Backus for free. She’ll answer your questions and connect you to additional resources if needed.

Feeling stressed or worried?

Having trouble finding routine? Worried about your children? Feeling financial pressures? We are here for you.

Our NEW non-emergency information line for support and resources is just one call away.

Mondays 10:30am-7:30pm
Tuesdays 8:30am-5:00pm
Wednesdays 1:00-5:00pm

Outside of these hours, please leave a voicemail and you will receive a return call.

About Dr. Backus

Dr. Backus has worked with people of all ages, with a focus on supporting children, adolescents, young adults and families.

With her formal training in clinical psychology and her more informal specialties in all things creative (from baking to spontaneous dance parties), Dr. Backus is here to help you through this time of need. You’ll feel like you’re talking to both a professional and a warm friend.

Advice from the Doc

Dr. Backus answers some common questions to help ease concerns and provide immediate support.

How can I find peace during this time?

First of all, limit your news intake! If you want to stay up to date that’s fine, but only read or get information from reliable sources and set aside some designated time to do so. Consider setting a timer to help you know when to stop. Good questions to ask yourself before consuming a news update include: Is this information helpful and useful to me or is it just making me anxious? Will it tell me something I need to know, change my behavior or make me safer? If your answers are no, it’s likely not worth your time and energy!

Instead, spend the time and energy you saved by focusing on things that replenish you. Do things that remind you that there is so much more to this world, your life and the future than the current scary things that are happening. Read fun stories or that book you’ve been meaning to pick up, go for a walk, listen to silly podcasts, play a game with your family, check out a meditation app such as Insight Timer, or try one of the many free fitness apps, such as Nike or Peloton.

How can I balance the many demands on me during this time?

Your first step is to take a deep breath and remind yourself that feeling overwhelmed or out of balance is normal, especially these days. Then, turn to your time management strategies, based on what works well for you and your household. Some people like having a strict schedule to keep them on task, some people like to make to-do lists and tick away at them as they are able. And sometimes you just need a day to go with the flow and address whatever comes your way!

If you have “must dos” for your day (e.g., ordering groceries, getting your boss that spreadsheet), create a priority list each day (or better yet, the night before). Then, tackle those the first chance you get. This will allow you to feel accomplished from the start, which will likely lead to increased productivity throughout the day. It will also allow for increased flexibility if other things come up later in the day that warrant your attention, such as playing a game with your children or video chatting with a friend. Communication is also key, whether with your boss, partner or a trusted friend or family member. Remember, it’s ok to ask for help and support!

How can I help my child who is sad about not returning to school/missing friends/etc.?

These feelings are totally normal given the large disruption in routine kids are experiencing. It’s important to address this in ways that are developmentally appropriate and that you feel are best for your child. Below are some guidelines for where to begin.

Do validate their feelings with statements like “Of course you feel sad!” or “It’s totally normal to be missing your friends right now, I bet they miss you too!”

Don’t brush off their feelings with statements like “Don’t feel sad!” or “You have no reason to feel sad, you have me/your brother/all these toys to play with!”

Do help them figure out ways to connect with their friends – video chat, Zoom, or, if they’re old enough to understand social distancing, a walk or bike ride around the neighborhood. If there is a teacher they’re missing, see if they can send them an email or make them a card. You can even take a picture of the card and email it to their teacher.

Don’t let them play with their friends just because they’ve worn you down by asking, or because another parent tells you it’s OK with them.

Do remind them that this will end, and they will be able to go back to school and play with their friends again.

Do increase creative play and connections at home. Create lists of fun things to do at home that they can look at themselves when they get bored. Leave the house if it’s nice out and there is space in your neighborhood for social distancing walks or bike rides. Or, create a vision board of all the things you all want to do when you’re through quarantine.

What can I do if I can’t see my child right now?

These days you might find yourself in unconventional living arrangements, particularly if you are self-quarantining due to COVID-19 exposure or symptoms. Some people may not even be able to be around family members with whom they share a living space. As difficult as this can be, we have some ideas that can help!

  • Write letters and make cards; these don’t need to be extensive. Even a sticky note with an “I miss you” or a silly joke can make a difference!
  • Send emails or e-cards.
  • FaceTime, Zoom, or Skype to talk over video – and get creative! Have a movie night where you press play at the same time while connected over one of these platforms. Play charades or make and eat a meal “together.”
  • Start a list of things you’re looking forward to doing with them. Try making a list in Google Docs so you can both add to it!
  • Keep some paper nearby or use the Notes app on your phone to write down thoughts you have about them or things you think of that you want to share with them throughout the day. Save these notes for when you’re next able to call or video chat with them. Or, keep a jar and some pieces of paper handy. Write down thoughts you have about them while you’re away, such as things you miss and things you look forward to. Then, share that jar with them the next time you can see them!
  • Leave them with something that reminds them of you, such as a t-shirt that smells like you, or your pillow. You can ask for something of theirs as well. We all need some kid-level comfort these days!
  • Record video or audio of you saying goodnight or telling them a bedtime story. They, or a caregiver, can play it for them at bedtime even if you’re not available at that time.
  • Check out the ZERO TO THREE website for other ideas, particularly with very young children.
  • Check out the “Babies on the Homefront” app, which was developed to help military families stay connected when a family member is deployed, but has a lot of good ideas and resources that could be helpful during these times as well.
  • Remember, this will end, and you will be back snuggling and playing with your children again!

Is my chest tightness anxiety or COVID-19?

If you are worried about a medical symptom or are in physical distress, consult with your doctor, a medical professional (check out a telehealth app through your doctor’s office or insurance company), or call 911.

If you feel some minor tightness and feel as though it is safe to do so, you can try a few of these exercises:

  1. Take a deep belly breath – in through your nose, quick pause, slowly out through pursed lips (like you’re trying to blow on food to cool it down), quick pause, repeat
    • Try pairing it with a mantra, such as: breathing in, think “I am calm”; breathing out, think “I am safe”
  2. Try the “SNAP out of it” technique:
    • Stop and take a deep breath
    • Notice something you can see or touch (“I see the blue sky” or “I can feel the chair beneath me”)
    • Adjust your shoulders up back and down
    • Positive – think of something you’re grateful for (legs that work, the sun that’s out, your toddler’s giggle)
  3. Try some other grounding strategies, such as:
    • Name 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste
    • Name everything in the room you can see that’s brown, or black or purple
    • Literally ground yourself! Get outside if it’s safe to do so – lie in the grass, plant some seeds, dig around in the dirt, smell some flowers
  4. Keep a list of coping strategies around and try 3 things on that list (e.g. coloring, stepping outside, having Alexa tell you a joke, reading a section of your favorite book, making a cup of tea)
  5. If you’ve tried some of these strategies and continue to feel tightness, consult with a medical professional (or call 911 if urgent)

What can I do when I feel panicked?

As long as you are not in a dangerous situation, tell yourself you are ok, that this is your brain trying to protect you by activating your internal alarm systems. Your brain doesn’t always know if the fear it’s experiencing is due to a true life-or-death emergency or due to you worrying or feeling as though you might be in one. Thank your brain for trying to protect you and remind it that you are actually ok, right here, in this moment. If you are feeling panicked about something specific, ask yourself if there is anything you can do about it in that moment. If yes, do it. If no, turn to some relaxation, grounding and coping strategies outlined above in “Is my chest tightness anxiety or COVID-19?”

My teen has been spending a lot of time in their room. How can I tell if this is normal “teenage” behavior or if there is something wrong?

Ah, the [teen]age old conundrum. First of all, it *is* developmentally appropriate for your teen to start to increase their independence and look more to their peers for advice and support. This is a good thing! But make no mistake, you’re as important as ever during this period of time, and you still know your child better than most people. While all people live within a wide range of “normal” behavior and feelings, what you want to look out for are changes in your teen, in areas including:

  1. Mood
  2. Irritability or behavior problems
  3. Isolation or avoiding others
  4. Not wanting to engage in activities that used to be enjoyable
  5. Sleep (more or less sleep)
  6. Appetite (eating more or less or changes in weight)
  7. Worrying
  8. Grades

Changes won’t always be obvious, so while it’s normal for your teen to start to withdraw more from you, it’s important to keep the lines of communication open as best you can. For ideas on how to do this, see “How to help my teen open up”.

If you have serious concerns, such as your teen engaging in acts of self-harm or making suicidal statements: stay calm, increase supervision, remove any dangerous objects from their environment, and contact crisis services immediately (911, local Emergency Department, 211 – press 1).

How do I help my teen open up emotionally?

These ideas will help your teen open up to you, whether the topic is COVID-19 or anything else.

  • Stay open and welcoming
    • It can be defeating when you try to talk to your teen and all you get are grunts in return, but it’s important for you to not fall into grunting back! Keep a neutral to positive tone and let them know you are ready to talk whenever they are ready.
  • It’s ok to check in to let them know you’re there, but then give them space!
    • If they know you are open to talking, but do not feel pressured by you to do so, they are more likely to consider coming to you for support and [gasp] maybe even advice!
  • Validate their feelings
    • Never mind all the physical changes they’re going through; it can get mighty confusing up there in a teenage brain! They need to know whatever they’re experiencing is ok, even if it doesn’t “make sense” (to you or to them!) or if it seems like an exaggerated response.
    • Avoid “I know how you feel” or “I understand” statements.
    • Instead try statements like: “it makes sense that you’re feeling this way!” or “things are really tough right now, this all feels really hard to deal with sometimes.”
  • As parents, of course you want to fix everything for your child(ren), but if I could repeat this ten times for you, I would:
    • Sometimes just listening to and validating your teen is enough; you do not need to solve all of their problems!
  • That being said, especially during these times, it’s ok to try to instill some positivity and hope and help them look forward to the future.
    • It’s important not to push it here with the perspective-taking – no statements like “this really isn’t that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things!”
    • BUT it’s ok to gently offer some reassurance:
      • “We will all get through this together!”
      • “No matter what happens, I’m here for you.”
      • “Even if this situation doesn’t go as you want it to, you are still an amazing and valuable human.”
  • Putting it all together with a COVID-19-specific statement: “I know this is a scary/unsettling/weird time, but we’re doing everything we can to stay safe, and soon we’ll be back to doing all the fun things we were able to do before! I’m here if you ever want to talk, or just want a hug or a distraction. Do you want to watch a movie with me/help me with dinner/FaceTime your aunt now or do you need to take some space in your room?”
    • Use your own style and language though! Authenticity is important.
  • Here are some additional strategies to try:
    • Social connections are just as important, if not more so, these days. Help your teen get creative with things to do with their friends – video chats, playing virtual games, starting a healthy habits challenge (cooking new dinners, workout challenges, social distancing walks or bike rides).
    • Be open about how you’re feeling and your own coping strategies
      • You can be a model for your teen about how to open up and talk about these things.
      • Don’t go overboard; we don’t want to *create* extra worry, but it’s ok to say something like “I was a little nervous about going to the store, but it actually went well and I’m so glad we have some delicious meals to share together now! I’m going to reward myself with a quick walk around the block!”
    • Keep a conversation starter jar at the dinner table – fill it with scraps of paper with different topics written on them:
      • What superpower would you want?
      • What would you do if you won the lottery?
      • Where would you go if you could get on a plane right now?
      • Describe your perfect day.
      • What non-traditional pet (e.g., dolphin, red panda) would you want to have?
      • What is your favorite movie?
      • What is something you’re worried about right now?
      • Describe a funny/weird dream you’ve had.
      • What do you miss doing with your best friend?
      • If there was a movie made about your life, who would play you?
      • What’s the funniest Tik Tok video you saw today?
      • What is the first thing you want to do when we can leave the house freely again?
      • If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
      • What are the 5 things you wish you could have with you if you were stuck on a deserted island?
      • Look up more conversation starters online or make up some of your own!
      • Again, you can be a model here – if your teen doesn’t want to participate at first, that’s ok – you can start to answer the questions yourself/selves – chances are at some point your teen will jump in!

What does social distancing even mean?

Guidelines are often changing, so it’s important to keep up with them from sources such as https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html, but in general, this means to stay at least 6 feet away from others to avoid spreading germs. This is particularly important when you are outside, whether it be on a walk or going to the grocery store. This is a time for slowing down and patience – if someone is looking at the same chicken you want to look at, take a pause and hold back until they’re done. You would appreciate someone doing this for you! If you are in the same household with people, especially little ones, this can get tricky, so it’s important to assess and manage your risk. If you are all quarantined together, have not had risk of exposure, are not showing symptoms, and no one is immunocompromised/has a pre-existing condition, you are likely safe to at least be near each other. This is particularly true for babies and toddlers, who may be wanting to snuggle even more these days. All we can do is follow these guidelines as best we can!

I’m scared to cough in public due to the chaos. How should I handle this?

First of all, if you’re coughing frequently you should be staying home as much as possible (and consulting with a medical professional). Ask another family member or friend to run errands for you, or have things delivered. If you must go out, or aren’t showing symptoms but are worried about a random cough due to something like a tickle in your throat or allergies: Maintain your 6+ feet of distance, wear a mask, cough into your elbow, and comment if you feel comfortable: “sorry, just a tickle!” You can’t just stop all bodily functions at will!

How can I avoid becoming overly germophobic?

You are not alone in this concern these days, and the definition of “overly germophobic” has shifted, as we do all need to do our part to slow the spread! Do what is recommended (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html) and remind yourself of how effective this is in keeping yourself and others from getting sick. Thank your brain for trying to protect you by thinking of all the ways you might get sick, then remind it you’ve done everything you can and have therefore significantly lowered your risk! Once you’ve done everything you have control over, it’s time to move on to something relaxing or productive.

If you find that your cleaning practices are interfering with your functioning (e.g., you can’t get your work done) or causing you significant distress, please reach out. You can contact support at The Village (860-236-4511), https://www.psychologytoday.com/us, your insurance company, or your company’s EAP program.