Going from a busy schedule full of school, sports, and playdates, to being quarantined with no confirmed end in sight, it comes as no surprise that life right now is challenging both physically and mentally. At SportsSafe Concussion Clinic, we are so used to focusing on concussion management and treatment. The halt in sports has really made us home in on the simplicity of brain health and what we can do in the meantime to keep our brains healthy and active. A recent study mentioned in The Lancet Journal looked at the difference in post-traumatic stress symptoms in parents and children quarantined versus those not quarantined and found that the parents and children quarantined exhibited four times the amount of post-traumatic stress (Brooks et al., 2020). To help you combat the stress, we have included three suggestions to help you keep your brain healthy during this time.
Although it may look different, companionship can still be experienced in quarantine thanks to technology. The inability to socially communicate is associated with anxiety and distress (Brooks et al., 2020). To keep your family engaged socially with others, work on activating your social network from home. Create Facetime or Zoom “play dates” with other families and your children’s friends to give their brains that piece of social fulfillment we all need. Active participation in family time instead of passive time together can more adequately provide the social needs of your child. Playing games as a family, going on walks, sitting down at the dinner table without the television on, and even maybe learning some ‘Tik Tok’ dances as a family are all active ways to keep children engaged socially.
Physical activity is something that is always important in brain health, but especially now with the pause in sports and recess time. Studies suggest that even 12 minutes of aerobic exercise can increase oxygen flow to the brain and yield improvements in focus and attention (Bidzan-Bluma & Lipowska, 2018). So, if your child reaches a point in their school work where their lack of focus in noticeably deteriorating, it would be a good idea to do a quick walk around the block or even just a few jumping jacks to keep the brain well oxygenated and focused. The National Association of Sports and Physical Education along with The World Health Organization suggests 60 minutes of physical activity per day (Bidzan-Bluma & Lipowska, 2018). Implementing an hour of exercise per day for your children, whether it be playing an active game outside, going on a walk, or making up an obstacle course, will keep your child entertained and will keep you as a parent somewhat sane! If focus is not a reason enough to encourage physical activity, cognitive and impulse control will likely get you moving. Aerobic exercise produces a greater tolerance to stress and improvement in cognitive and impulse control (Bidzan-Bluma & Lipowska, 2018). This can be especially important in adolescents who are more prone to risky behaviors with boredom. Studies show that children and adolescents who exercise are less susceptible to substance abuse and have overall better impulse control to high risk behaviors (Bidzan-Bluma & Lipowska, 2018).
The last suggestion we recommend would be to develop a routine. I know, easier said than done! But it is true that children do best when their days are predictable and consistent. Now this does not mean that every day must be rigid and boring- that would make us all go crazy! We want you to aim at finding a happy medium of a schedule that limits boredom and confusion, but also doesn’t turn your house into a place of strict rules without flexibility. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a few tips that might help in reaching this goal. They advise to put things away and get organized the night before each new day so that you have a fresh start the next morning (healthychildren.org). Keeping morning wake-up routines positive and eating a healthy breakfast can also attribute to setting the tone for a productive day (healthychildren.org). After school work, it is important to eat dinner as a family without the distraction of the television and have a night time ritual for bedtime (healthychildren.org). Weekdays and weekends can look very similar during this time of quarantine, but keeping certain activities, foods, or treats excluded to the weekends can break up the mundane and make it more special.
Of course, there are many other ways to keep your brain spry during these uncertain times, but companionship, physical activity, and routine are the categories our brains are drawn to! We enjoy not seeing so many concussion patients due to the suspension of sports, but also know the grief and emotional toil many of you are feeling without your sports and teammates. We hope you find peace and stillness during this time.
Bidzan-Bluma, I., & Lipowska, M. (2018, April 19). Physical Activity and Cognitive Functioning of Children: A Systematic Review. Retrieved April 9, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5923842/
Brooks, S. K., Webster, R. K., Smith, L. E., Woodland, L., Wessely, S., Greenberg, N., & Rubin, G. J. (2020). The psychological impact of quarantine and how to reduce it: rapid review of the evidence. The Lancet, 395(10227), 912–920. doi: 10.1016/s0140-6736(20)30460-8