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When Coping With Anxiety of COVID19, We’re All Neurodivergent

family upset photo

After 3 weeks of social distancing and being with our families, we have another month to go. My last blog , COVID19- Challenges and Solutions for Aspergers, NLD and Neurodivergents was specific to challenges for the neurodiverse (Aspergers, autism, NLD). This blog will apply to neurodivergent thinkers and everyone else.

Living through a global pandemic where entire countries are practicing social distancing and ordered to stay at home is an experience that’s totally new. Even if we’re not actively worrying about ourselves, there’s a background of anxiety and caution reinforced every time we wash our hands. 

It’s important to know that we all handle anxiety differently. Some need to talk and interact,  some need solitude and quiet. Some jump to fix, clean, shop and garden because they can’t hold still and some stay in bed watching YouTube. It’s more comfortable if others to react the way we do; it reinforces a defense mechanism we need because everyone is “on board” When a fixer is living with a YouTube/screens person, or someone who needs connection is with someone who needs to isolate, it can seem like the other person is making the anxiety worse. 

This a time when it’s important that we know ourselves and realize that others meet needs differently. It’s not personal although it can feel that way. The serenity prayer asks for the serenity to accept what we can’t change, the courage to change what we can, and the wisdom to know the difference. We can’t change the fact that we’re in the middle of a pandemic and we can’t change the nature of the people we live with. Take my word for that. We’re wired differently, even those who aren’t called neurodivergent. “Neurotypicals” are not homogeneous any more than are neurodivergents. Our ways of coping are simply part of our makeup.

There are few points here

  1. We need to accept our differences as authentic.
  2. We need to own our own ways of handling anxiety as ours, and not the “right” way.
  3. We need to respect each others’ needs. These are stressful times.
  4. We need to find ways of meeting our own needs and not expecting our family members to be the ones to do it. 

Buddhists say that expectations cause suffering, and in this case that’s certainly true. If I need to talk and I expect you to talk to me, and you’re not a talker, I suffer and I get angry. There’s another saying attributed to Buddha: he who hangs onto to anger is like someone who drinks poison expecting the other person to die. Being angry with each other only makes living together miserable.

Letting go of anger isn’t necessarily easy, but the important place to start is that the expectations of the other person are our own. It’s not the responsibility of other people to be or do what we want instead of who they actually are. We need to own our needs, be clear about them, and we can ask others to respect them. We need to figure out how to take care of them ourselves. On the other hand, we need to find ways to accept that others behave differently without blaming them for our difficult feelings.

Parents of young children need to both do what they think is best for children while being realistic and respecting who they are. It’s reasonable to expect good hygiene and sleep, and at least a walk outside. Expecting a child who prefers to be alone and to do an activity that feels secure to join group activities isn’t realistic. If a child is uncomfortable expressing feelings, holding family meetings where he’s supposed to discuss feelings is unrealistic. 

We also have to find ways to deal with our differences. ADHD is another kind of neurodiversity. One doesn’t choose to have ADHD as ones makeup. A child with ADHD is going to have a hard time staying inside quietly reading because Dad needs calm. Obviously, playing outside is a good bet as long as the child understands what social isolation means. Biking down to a popular place to hang out with other kids isn’t OK. If you search “exercises for kids” on YouTube there’s indoor exercise routines; it can also be fun to dance to music. In a creative scenario, one mother challenged her child to beat his best time running up and down the stairs by 5 seconds to earn a reward. It took a number of repetitions.

Siblings who bicker can be annoying to other family members. They need to know tools for letting go, like taking deep breaths, and there can be a consequence that both have to go to their rooms no matter who started it. It takes two to keep it going. Often it’s not “one thing after another, it’s the same thing over and over.” Anticipate reasons for bickering, like fighting over the remote, and set up rules such as one gets the remote during certain hours, switching on alternate days or they have the remote on alternate days. 

Family time can be much more peaceful if we’re honest about who we are and what really works, rather than what we’d like to expect. This is true all the time, but especially now. We all need to cut each other some slack, because we’re all doing the best we can for ourselves. 


More About Coronavirus: Psych Central Coronavirus Resource


When Coping With Anxiety of COVID19, We’re All Neurodivergent

Marcia Eckerd, Ph.D.

Psychologist since 1985, serving on CT ASD Advisory Council, Professional Board SmartkidswithLD

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APA Reference
Eckerd, M. (2020). When Coping With Anxiety of COVID19, We’re All Neurodivergent. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 9 Apr 2020
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