Coping Techniques During Covid-19, Ep. 1 of Around Our Home Podcast

Coping Techniques During Covid-19, Ep. 1 of Around Our Home Podcast

Christine Nikolich:
Welcome to Around Our home Podcast, a show about the impact Mercy Home for Boys and Girls has on kids and families in need in the Chicago community. Each episode you’ll hear informative interviews as well as supportive tips and strategies that you can use in your daily life to become a happier, healthier version of yourself. This is Around Our Home Podcast. I’m Christine Nikolich. My guest today is Alban Fisher, the Clinical Director at Mercy Home for Boys and Girls. In this role, Alban is responsible for collaborating with agency leadership to develop best practices of care for our youth and families. He works with both our young people and coworkers, acting as a mentor to our clinicians, and supporting their professional development. Hi, how’s it going?

Alban Fisher:
Hi Christine, how are you today?

Christine Nikolich:
I’m good. How are you?

Alban Fisher:
Doing pretty well.

Christine Nikolich:
How did you get involved with Mercy Home?

Alban Fisher:
I went to DePaul University for graduate school and I was always interested in working with high risk children and families. So I obtained my PhD in clinical psychology there with a heavy emphasis on doing community prevention work and some of my first jobs were working in a community at some nonprofit groups on the West side and South side of Chicago. And I just started doing therapy with a lot of kids who had some high risk needs doing a lot of family work.

Christine Nikolich:
So you’ve been with Mercy Home for how long now?

Alban Fisher:
It’s just reached 10 years.

Christine Nikolich:
Oh that’s awesome. Congratulations. How do you like working at Mercy Home? What is your favorite part?

Alban Fisher:
Oh, I love it. It has tremendous resources, a very committed staff, a lot of collaborative work, working in teams. Working with the kids and the staff directly is a lot of fun for me. It can be difficult at times, but that’s kind of in our job description, is to be able to step into dealing with a lot of the difficult issues that we have to address with our kids.

Christine Nikolich:
What was your initial reaction when you found out about everything happening with COVID-19 and the effects it would have on our kids and families?

Alban Fisher:
I didn’t want to overreact to it. You don’t want to create hysteria. So the initial reports I was thinking, “Oh, it’s very similar to maybe a flu situation.”

Christine Nikolich:
And then when it started getting more serious, what were your thoughts?

Alban Fisher:
As it started to pile in and the spread started happening, we had to switch it to crisis mode pretty quickly, which is also what we’re trained to do here a lot. So we had to kick into problem solving mode quickly.

Christine Nikolich:
And what did that look like at Mercy Home?

Alban Fisher:
Looking at our resources and looking at the best plans and weighing the pros and cons of our situations. Safety first. What’s the best way to maximize the safety for the kids and families we work with and for our staff? So we dealt with that pretty quickly.

Christine Nikolich:
What’s your advice in how to talk to kids who are dealing with doubt and anxiety during this time?

Alban Fisher:
Well, we know about working with kids is they’re pretty smart these days. They get exposed to all kinds of information from many sources and it’s never too early to talk to children and even teenagers about situation. So giving them good information, breaking it down for them so they can hear it, if they’re getting overly stressed and anxious about it, that you deal with that, that you give them options to calm down, help them, teach their bodies how to calm down, not giving them too much information if they can’t handle it, and you have to know your kid well because some kids respond well to talking it through. So overall that’s my advice.

Christine Nikolich:
Okay. What about younger kids? How would you talk to them?

Alban Fisher:
Again, younger kids are very sharp too and we have to respect where they are developmentally and by that I mean give it to them in age appropriate chunks to the level that they can understand information. Teaching that we as adults are going to do the best to keep people safe and that we can only control what we control. If it’s out of our control, let’s not focus on that right now. Let’s do what we can do and the adults are going to do what you need to keep safe and that you have people that you can talk to and reassure them to reach out and maybe having regular check-ins with them if they’re too quiet about things and just help them take care of themselves.

Christine Nikolich:
Speaking of check-ins, can you talk a little bit about how we’re checking in with our kids regularly during this time?

Alban Fisher:
Well, I think it’s important for everybody to check-in and kind of do a temperature rating of your feelings and thoughts with your own support group. I think adults in caretaking roles across the board, to meet the needs of children, you have to take care of yourself first, so make sure you’re checking in with other supportive adults in your life so you have the energy to help your child along too. So also with the children, that you are checking in. You can make it fun. You can have groups sit downs and go around and just say, “Everybody, just tell me where you’re at today. What are you feeling? What are you worried about?” Focus on some fun and positive things. I mean, people are reporting through all this that we’re going back to some basics and connecting with people and to maximize that, but try to make it fun where it’s possible for the children. If they have some real concerns, let them voice their concerns and problem solve of the best steps that you can take.

Christine Nikolich:
That’s good advice, yeah. I do feel like this has been a time where we’ve been able to reconnect with old friends and that’s always a good thing.

Alban Fisher:
Even neighborhoods are reaching out. Neighbors are doing community things, listening to the music at certain times. I do think it’s important to keep some sort of structure for .your children because most kids are out of school trying to keep regular wake up times and bedtimes, meal times can really help kids deal with anxiety. They need some consistency.

Christine Nikolich:
I know that caring for our kids’ mental health is very important at Mercy Home. What advice do you have about caring for your mental health during a stay at home order?

Alban Fisher:
I think all of us are adapting quickly to new circumstances. Set up a schedule, set up a to do list, try to find a supportive network to check in. There are other outreach options if you need more professional help, some crisis lines, and Mercy certainly can give people those resources. For the children and youth who are connected to our programs we are having our therapists regularly check in with the parents and the child and even the program staff are regularly checking in.

Christine Nikolich:
You kind of touched on this, but what are ways to cope when you aren’t living a normal routine?

Alban Fisher:
Well, I think sometimes trying to look at how you can keep your routine going. So I know for me exercise and music are very important and I’ve never been one to exercise at home a lot and I’ve always had to go to the gym and I can’t do that now so looking at ways I can do that at home. I’ve had to change my schedule. Eating healthy is very good. So keeping the junk food and the sugar down. It’s actually helped me practice some cooking recipes that can be healthy. I’m surprised how easy it can be.

Christine Nikolich:
Yeah, me too, actually. I’ve been cooking a lot, which I’m not used to doing. I eat out a lot usually. But it’s been nice being able to cook.

Alban Fisher:
Yeah. And definitely, we do know that sugar and a high carb diet is probably not good for our bodies, but it also affects our feelings too. So keep that in check, take care of yourself. I do think some other simple mindfulness just relaxation, reflecting on yourself, finding a quiet place to listen to some music by yourself or doing some breathing exercises, if you like to do yoga. These are wonderful ways to take care of some of that stress.

Christine Nikolich:
Do you have any meditation app suggestions or other resources you’ve been using during this time to deal with stress?

Alban Fisher:
I think Mercy has come up with the list that you can access. I’ve always liked some books by Jon Kabat-Zinn. He is a very helpful resource. DBT, if you look at some DBT apps. They have some very good apps in helping you cope with your feelings and your thoughts that can help you manage those.

Christine Nikolich:
What are the most important things to teach your kids during this time, do you think?

Alban Fisher:
Well, resilience, that we are strong and that we can handle stress and that if we take care of ourselves we can get through this. I think it’s a learning experience for all of us.

Christine Nikolich:
Do you have any advice on resources people should look into if they don’t have the means to go to therapy right now?

Alban Fisher:
You can always call Mercy as a range of resources that we can hand out. The City of Chicago, on their website, has put some great resources out. So I would definitely access those if you can.

Christine Nikolich:
So I know kids often spend their time on social media and playing video games and watching TV. Do you have any advice on how to keep kids busy doing constructive activities that will keep their brains active?

Alban Fisher:
Being a news junkie myself, yeah, you have to curtail some of that, I would think. And we want good information, but yeah, it can get a little overwhelming to hear all the reports. So I would definitely watch an hour or two hours, but when it gets beyond that I think sometimes we can get a little too focused on the negative, and try to balance that. I do know that we’ve known for a while that just watching video, too much video, during the day for children is not good for them so you need to balance that time between being active and doing something else.

Christine Nikolich:
That’s good advice. This is kind of a follow up question to that. How do you afford thinking too far ahead into the future rather than focusing on things day by day?

Alban Fisher:
That’s a tough one. We all want this to be over, but I do know that a lot of good coping skills are kind of just taking it one step at a time, one day at a time, sometimes just one minute at a time.

Christine Nikolich:
Yeah, I agree with that. So I know a lot of kids do use social media and play video games and watch TV? Do you have any advice on keeping kids busy and not doing all those kind of things all the time?

Alban Fisher:
Try to organize some interactive games with children, arts and crafts. I mean, we’re doing the same thing with youth who have remained in program, trying to keep them busy and activated. And now, they’ll complain at first and all that but if you’re consistent and calm and reassuring, I find that that they will work with you. So you have to show that energy, get some materials, do some planning, teaching kids how to cook and engaged them at things, just anything that’s interactive can be very helpful.

Christine Nikolich:
So how are the kids in Mercy Home doing? Can you give us an update?

Alban Fisher:
Yeah, I mean, we’re getting a range of reactions that was expected. But the kids who have stayed us are doing very well. We have a bunch of committed staff that have volunteered to come in and live with the kids for a week at a time, and that consistency I think is helping them very much. And we’re doing a lot of activities and balance between free time and structured activities and trying to help them stay up with their e-learning and their particular learning or situations. So those guys are doing very well and I’m hearing a lot of kids are doing well in their home situations and we’re still trying to work with them remotely. And then we’re trying to give help to some use that are struggling, but overall we’re hearing a lot of good things.

Christine Nikolich:
Oh, that’s wonderful. I’m so happy to hear that. So what are your final thoughts on how people should cope with this crisis and how people should stay positive and safe and sane?

Alban Fisher:
I think we all have to work together. I think for those of us that are kind of on the quiet avoidance side, we have to learn to speak up a little bit and ask for help. We can’t do this alone. We really have to go back to a sense of community and family and rely on each other to get through this. And we have to stay active and find ways to rejuvenate ourselves, and I do think that’s through talking with our support system, eating right, exercising, and giving ourselves a little time, quiet time, to reflect in our situations.

Christine Nikolich:
Awesome. Well, thank you so much for joining me and I really appreciate you talking to me about this. Yeah, thank you so much.

Alban Fisher:
Thank you, Christine.

Christine Nikolich:
Thanks for listening to Around Our Home Podcast. Special thanks to our guest Alban Fisher for his advice and news about what’s going on around Mercy Home for Boys and Girls. Be sure to visit mercyhome.org/podcast to join the conversation, access the show notes, and read more about what’s going on Around Our Home on our blog. Don’t forget to follow us on social media by searching at Mercy Home. If you have any questions, please email us at [email protected] Please like, subscribe, and share this podcast with your colleagues, friends, and family. Mercy Home for Boys and Girls is a solution for kids in crisis and we hope this podcast will motivate you to support our mission. My name is Christine Nikolich and this is Around Our Home Podcast.

Welcome to Around Our Home Podcast, a show about the impact Mercy Home for Boys & Girls has on kids and families in need in the Chicago community. Each episode you’ll hear informative interviews, as well as supportive tips and strategies that you can use in your daily life to become a happier, healthier version of yourself.

#1 – Covid-19 Coping Techniques

In this episode, Christine Nikolich interviews Alban Fisher, the Clinical Director at Mercy Home for Boys & Girls. Alban works with both our young people and coworkers, acting as a mentor to our clinicians and supporting their professional development. In this episode, Alban gives advice on how to talk to kids who are dealing with doubt and anxiety during this time, ways to cope with the crisis, stress management during the stay-at-home order, and gives an update on how the kids of Mercy Home are doing. For more resources surrounding Covid-19, please visit our blog.

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