The unknown can be a source of fear and anxiety and, oftentimes, sleepless nights. Add to that an unknown pandemic that has gripped the globe and is fueled by an endless stream of news via social and traditional media. What’s real? What’s not? Who do we listen to? How widespread or deadly is the virus? Who do we trust? Feelings of stress, anxiety, sadness, and depression are normal during a pandemic or other global crisis. But there are tools that can help keep our minds and bodies strong during these challenging times.
“Navigating times of crisis can be a challenge for many,” said Mary Moulton, Executive Director at Washington County Mental Health Services. “Worrying about things for which we have no control creates stress or other emotional reactions that can have a negative impact on our physical health, as well as having a traumatic psychological impact. None of us is immune to these stressors during times like we’re experiencing now. However, if we examine ways we can maintain some level of normalcy in our day-to-day lives, even if and when we are confined to home, we will be healthier in mind and spirit, enabling us to have a positive impact on ourselves, our families, friends, and colleagues.”
According to Moulton, there are many ways to help manage the potential for stress and other strong emotions which can impact those around us, especially for children as they look to their parents and other familiar adults for guidance. Washington County Mental Health highly recommends planning healthy activities and meals and limiting television-watching during this long break from school, while also checking out the guidance provided by the Vermont Department of Health (VDH) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regarding mitigating the spread of COVID-19, which we share below, in addition to some special tips from our WCMHS Team:
Limit the amount of exposure to traditional news, social media, and other electronic resources of information. For the latest updates, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at cdc.gov; and the Vermont Department of Health at healthvermont.gov
• Practice social distancing—this will help mitigate the spread of any virus.
• If possible, work from home.
• Limit exposure to public gatherings of more than 10 people.
• Avoid public spaces.
• Conduct business meetings via tele- or video-conference when possible.
• Maintain a recommended distance of at least six feet from ill or at-risk people.
• Handwashing with soap and water is the best method for eliminating contact germs. When unavailable use an alcohol-based sanitizer.
• Breathe. Focused breathing slowly and deeply can help stay in the moment, helps oxygenate the brain, increases clarity, and slows the thought process to a manageable speed, eliminating “freight-train brain.”
• Find or make quiet time for reflective thinking and relaxation. Research indicates this allows for greater insight into challenges and mapping an appropriate plan for dealing with problems creatively.
• Acknowledge and name the challenging thoughts and feelings. Naming and even describing our experience can help diffuse the emotional intensity.
• Try recognizing where the feelings are in your body. Name it, describe it, allow it and then find an activity that is nurturing.
• Stop overthinking. If a tendency for overthinking is typical for you, set aside 10 minutes every day to get it out of your system. But there are guidelines to this:
• Only allow 10 minutes;
• When the 10 minutes are up, stop;
• When stress-filled thoughts pop up, breathe to get the focus back, and move on. • Exercise, get enough sleep, and eat a healthy diet.
• Reach out, stay connected and ask for help—you are not alone and many people are experiencing the same things you are. While social distancing may be the most effective way to prevent the spread of the virus, it can be isolating and psychologically challenging. Use your telephones, video chat, and online messaging services to help stay connected.
• Routine and structure can create feelings of containment. If your old routine is no longer available, consider creating a new one. Setting up goals and structure, even if you’re homebound, can help fuel a sense of purpose and be calming.
• Be kind to yourself, treat yourself to something good … and go outside. Revel in the rhythms of the nature around us that are ever-present. It can provide the opportunity to expand awareness beyond what we are currently experiencing. Stand next to a tree and notice the moss. Look at the sky and clouds with a curious mind. Listen to the birds and sounds of nature.
Caring for Children
• Process your anxiety first. Showing panic or anxiety will only serve to make children panic or become anxious.
Assess what your children know about and what their understanding of the crisis is.
• Explaining that COVID-19 is like the flu is helpful and easy to understand.
Do not dismiss your child’s fears; ask them how they feel. Simply saying, “It will be alright” can make them feel you don’t care.
• Communicate at an age-appropriate level. Examples for explaining COVID-19 to a younger child might be, “There’s lots of viruses, like when your tummy hurts, or you have a runny nose. Coronavirus is another type of virus.” Or to explain social distancing, “Coronavirus is like a cold or the flu, people are trying really hard to make sure it doesn’t spread.”
• Talk about the importance of good hygiene, and make it fun, like washing hands and singing “Happy Birthday” two times or some other fun song.
• Be available to your children, and make sure they know they can talk to you when they are feeling anxious or scared.
• Talk about school closures as something positive. Suggestions include saying, “There are a lot of yucky bugs at school and we’re going to hang out while the cleaners take their time to thoroughly clean them out.”
• Support your community and be a good neighbor by checking on your neighbors, particularly those who are vulnerable or at risk, but don’t put yourself at risk. Calling or knocking on doors while maintaining the recommended distance of at least six feet is a good way to make sure they are ok.
If contact has been made with a person who potentially has contracted COVID-19 or if symptoms are being experienced, contact your primary care physician and follow their instructions. If there is an emergency, contact 9-1-1.
Taking care of ourselves, our children, and our community by practicing social distancing, good hygiene, and staying connected will help in “flattening the curve” and getting us beyond this crisis.
Text submitted by Washington County Mental Health.