By Michael Carroll, LLMSW
Edited by: David Garcia, LMSW
The world has changed suddenly for many people in the past weeks. Between schools being closed, the lack of supplies at the store, and financial uncertainty, it is enough to make anyone feel stressed. Add to that, we are inundated with prophetic news coverage estimating that we may be just at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. The fear can be paralyzing at times and no one goes untouched by this current crisis. It is important to recognize that stress does play a pivotal role in life. I doubt many people would go to work if the stress of having to pay bills was not something on their minds. This is an example of healthy stress. It is necessary for humans to complete tasks, especially ones that can be redundant in our everyday lives. These every day activities can become problematic when stress and worry consume too much of one’s thoughts. This is the place where stress can develop into symptoms of anxiety or panic. While everyone responds differently to stress and worry due to their chemical makeups, we are all feeling anxious due to the current health situation. There are some simple things everyone can do to ease their burden.
It is important to take a step back and gain healthy and realistic perspectives. Human beings have made it through similarly scary situations in recent history, ex. 9/11 and school shootings. At the time, things seemed dire, but people rallied together to overcome through these crises. Human beings are resilient and have weathered difficult events throughout time. Consider how you would reflect back on your life after the COVID-19 quarantine a year or two from now. Yes, things are uncertain now and no one knows how this will turn out but we will be stronger in the end. Many people are in the same situation, doing their best to keep themselves and their families safe. While no one can predict who is going to get the virus, there are some things everyone can do to be proactive about it. These include washing hands frequently, practicing social distancing, and being active. Staying home is extremely important especially if you are starting to feel sick. Above all else, everyone should take a moment to take a deep breath and remain calm. There is a pandemic, but most of us cannot stop it. However, we can take measures to ensure it does not spread. People need to continue to living their lives, even if it is six feet away from each other.
Outside of being proactive, a good self-care routine can help tremendously. Exercise can boost your mood, promote good mental health and going for a walk is a great way to break up your routine. Getting outside and appreciating nature can be a relaxing activity for many, provided people are practicing social distancing. Additionally, be mindful of your diet which can affect your mood. So eating well is extremely important and should include fruits and vegetables. Staying home can be a stressful activity, especially for a few weeks at a time. Keep in touch with friends and family through the phone or video calls can be a source of support. Staying in regular contact with loved ones can help people feel, connected, informed and reassured of the health status of their family members. Another thing that people should do is staying available and interactive with their immediate family or other housemates. Enjoy this time together at home. Together catch up on your favorite shows, play board games, and appreciate the time you get to spend with your household. Surely, everyone has wished they could had stayed home while they were getting ready for work in the morning. Take advantage of this break from work. Find something that takes everyone’s mind off of these troubling times.
Lastly, it is good to stay informed, but limiting exposure to the news can help one maintain their sanity and limit their anxiety. This is not to say ignore the coverage completely, as public health announcements can be beneficial or lifesaving. Be mindful about how the news is affecting your mood or the moods of others and focus attention elsewhere if it becomes overwhelming. Take time to do those activities that are pleasurable or relaxing.
It can be intimidating to talk to children and teens about this health crisis. Their world has been equally affected and disrupted. Schools are out with some question about whether they will begin again this school year. When you talk with them, talk to them at a level they will understand, have actual facts and listen to what they say and how they say it. Ask how they are feeling and emphasize that it is okay to feel upset, anxious, depressed or afraid. Be ready to share your own feelings. Help them understand that the orders to stay home are to keep everyone safe, it’s not a punishment. Remember, moods can be contagious. If a parent is calm, that will reverberate throughout the home and it can be reassuring to kids.
Uncertainty can be scary during this time. Use techniques such as taking some deep breaths when feeling stressed or burned out. There is a breathing exercise called 4-4 breathing. Slowly inhale while counting to four and exhale while counting to four. Doing this a few times while concentrating on your breath can help one stay in the moment and relax. When you are washing your hands, staying home, etc…, think of the fact that you are doing the utmost possible that you can, to help yourself and your immediate household be safe and healthy. The world will continue to turn despite this pandemic. While this specific event is new to mankind, crises and epidemics are not. I have faith that humanity will make it through this pandemic. In the meanwhile, remember to be compassionate towards others. Keep calm, wash your hands –frequently and practice social distancing. As the band, The Police said, “Don’t stand, don’t stand so, don’t stand so close to me”.