Covid 19 and mothers: what happens in their brains and advice to react on a psychological level

Covid 19 and mothers: what happens in their brains and advice to react on a psychological level
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Covid 19: tips for reacting to the best on a psychological level

Anxiety, tension and anguish are manifestations of widespread personal and social unease, which are activated in the face of an unforeseen event that, in a very short time, has invested and upset our lives: exactly what we have felt in the last two years. There pandemic of Covid-19 has been characterized by the spread not only of a terrible infectious disease, but also of an equally dangerous epidemic of fear and panic. What happens to our brain in these cases? And how to best react on a psychological level? How to protect yourself from rampant stress if new, even partial, closures for the variants arrive?

We asked the doctor Roberta Ferrucci, psychologist and author of the book "During an Epidemic" (edited by Erickson).

In this article

Covid pandemic - 19: what mechanisms are triggered in the brains of mothers

Your book describes the psychological and behavioral mechanisms of stress response both of those who have been infected and of those at risk of contagion: taking our target audience, mothers, could you help us understand what mechanisms are triggered in these women?


"We start from the assumption that the first emotion is fear: of becoming infected, of infecting loved ones" begins Dr. Ferrucci. "Especially the mothers who work in the hospital, were afraid of bringing the virus home. We have seen numerous cases of health workers who separated from the family to avoid the danger. In general, the concern struck all the mothers: who was pregnant, those who had to take care of small children or elderly parents, the discomfort was widespread. Women in the long winter months lost their routine and social relationships: isolation from the rest of the world led to boredom, frustration and strong anguish ".

Smartworking and altered family rhythms: what are the psychological consequences ?.

"Let us not neglect the theme of the change in family situation: parents in smart working, children without extracurricular activities, all day at home in Dad, also considering that forced coexistence could also take place in a few square meters. In this already complicated situation, mothers had to not only bring home work but still continue to think about the family and consequently restructure the whole day. The relationship with the partner was compromised: having him always at home, having to manage him, his spaces and his work and in the meantime preparing lunch and dinner for everyone was undoubtedly stressful. This has generated in women a state of psychophysical fatigue which has favored generational and couple conflicts, with consequences for the health of the whole family ".

Read also: Covid-19, how contagious are children?

How to react to Covid 19 stress: the reward circuit and the STOP technique

Can we give our readers some practical suggestions, based on your experience, to handle the stress and not get overwhelmed?

The reward circuit 

"Let's start with simple but always very effective advice: play sports, listen to music and help others. These are three virtuous behaviors that can activate the reward circuit. I remember that everything that makes us feel good and we like it tends to lower stress levels ".

Playing sports. "Physical activity strengthens the heart and muscles but also strengthens cognitive performance and reduces cortisol levels. Sport contributes to the brain activation of the reward and pleasure circuit, which has always helped humans survive."

Listen to music. "As Plato said," When the soul has lost the melody, the rhythm helps to find it '. This is because music has an influence on the neurotransmitter system: for example, cows and goats have better milk production when they listen to a song. "

Helping others. "Let's think about what happens in a hive. Inside the queen bee and the worker bees, all are activated for collective utility: the ultimate goal is the survival of the hive. In the first moments of the pandemic we experienced a similar mechanism, singing on the balconies. Our neighbor shared the same anguish: singing was a way to survive. Social networks were also helpful: for example, several groups were created on facebook where mothers exchanged ideas on activities to do with the children at home. Sharing experiences and thoughts lowers anguish ".

The STOP technique, an aid in moments of panic 

A useful trick in moments of excessive stress is STOP, an acronym that stands for "Stop, Take a Breath, Observe, Proceed" and which is well described in the box on page 62 of the book.

"This is a technique embedded in a mindfulness protocol. When a mother is overwhelmed by things to do, she needs to stop, take deep breaths, observe what is happening without judging it and then proceed. possible, I recommend physically move away from the place where everything was unleashed (for example the room where the children play loudly and at the same time the mother has to work) and to pay attention to what is happening inside us (does the stomach hurt? the abdomen?). Once we have observed and breathed deeply, we can reorganize our action, decide how to best act ".

Online psychotherapy sessions 

In your experience, have remote psychological sessions given good results?

"We have used online a lot: we have activated both psychotherapy sessions but also mindfulness courses to help people with the regulation of emotions. Overall I must say that the patients were happy with it, they did not feel abandoned in the most moments. difficult. For the mothers, it was also very convenient because it is easier to fit into the routine. The negative aspect was that women have not always managed to carve out a space of adequate privacy ".

Read also: Let's play to relax: meditation for children

How to help mothers who may have developed avoidance syndromes?

"Avoidance is another strategy that is put in place to escape feared events, not to face negative emotions. Avoiding difficult emotions initially makes you feel better, so the person will continue to do so. avoidance is acceptance, which in practice means opening up to experience, leaving room for negative emotions and painful memories. By accepting them without judging ourselves, we will be able to weaken the negativity. "

Read also: Children's fears

The interviewee

Roberta Ferrucci She is Psychologist Director at the ASST Santi Paolo e Carlo of our city and researcher in Psychobiology and Physiological Psychology at the CRC "Aldo Ravelli" for Neurotechnologies and Innovative Neurological Therapies of the University of our city, and is a teacher of Psychology at the University of our city. The book "During an epidemic" was written with her colleagues Benedetta Demartini, Maria Rita Reitano, Fabiana Ruggiero, Veronica Nisticò, Alberto Priori.


  • coronavirus
  • remedy anxiety
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