By Jennifer Miller Kass, MSW, LCSW
COVID-19, also known as the “Coronavirus”, does not discriminate against anyone. Regardless of your ethnicity or nationality, it effects all of us. Right now things are unknown, and changing rapidly. This is causing stress in the population as a whole and makes us feel helpless. It is in times like this that our mental health can suffer. Please be kind to your mind and use the following tips to help you manage your stress.
- Avoid over exposure to information. While understanding the actual risk to yourself and others can be comforting, too much information is overwhelming. Avoid watching, reading or listening to news that cause you to feel anxious or distressed; seek information that helps you take practical steps to prepare your plans and protect yourself and your loved ones. Seek information updates at specific times during the day once or twice only. Gather information only from trustworthy sources such as the Center for Disease Control (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO) or a valid local resource such Southwest Health (visit southwesthealth.org/coronavirus).
- Separate what you can and cannot do. Keep things in perspective. Take a deep breath, and stay focused on what the situation actually is, rather than the worst-case scenario. It is helpful to shift your focus to things within your control rather than those outside your control.
- Do what makes you feel safe. Everyone will have a different answer for this, so do not compare yourself to others. Think about what makes you feel safe and secure while keeping in mind that social isolation is right now a compassionate and caring move that keeps you and others healthy and well. Maintaining your normal routine as much as possible is helpful. Maintaining social networks can foster a sense of normality and provide valuable outlets for sharing feelings and relieving stress. If your normal day to day schedule is disrupted due to closings, attempt to create structure in your day by scheduling a normal bedtime and wake up time, structuring your time with hobbies, reading, scheduling regular phone or video chats with friends and family.
- Take care of yourself. Take breaks. Take deep breaths, stretch or meditate. Try to eat healthy. A colorful plate is best- if you look at your plate and the food is all beige, it likely is not healthy. Exercise regularly, get moving doing something you enjoy. This will be different for everyone. Some people lift weights, others like walks. Get plenty of sleep. Avoid alcohol and drugs. Make time for hobbies you enjoy.
- Get outside in nature. Even though we are avoiding group activities and keeping our distance from each other that does not mean we cannot go outside. Being outside and exercising outdoors is one of the best ways to boost your mental health. Enjoy the sun, soak up Vitamin D, and get some fresh air.
- Stay in the present. This can be a challenge. We find ourselves not only worrying about today but also predicting negative effects for the future. Practice calming rituals. Be mindful; bring yourself back to the present moment at hand. The best way to do this is by using our five senses – notice sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures. Staying grounded in the present can help you maintain an internal sense of stability and balance when outside events feel threatening.
- Stay connected. Just because we cannot socialize in our usual format does not mean we cannot reach out and stay in touch. We need the support of each other. Humans are naturally social beings. Talk to your friends and family. Let them know how you are and ask them about themselves as well. It is ok to reach out to mental health professionals for support. You do not have to be alone in your worry or fear. It is comforting to share what you are experiencing with others including trained professionals. Some options for connecting with others during this time of social distancing include phone calls, text messages, and video calls.
We are all in this together. It is not unusual to experience some distress during times of uncertainty and stress. Watch for signs of distress including: feeling overwhelmed, depressive symptoms that persist or intensify, inability to focus or concentrate, sleep difficulties, excessive crying, unhealthy coping such as increased alcohol use or risky/impulsive behaviors, feeling paralyzed by fear of the future, sudden anger or irritability. If you notice these signs in yourself, implement the tips above, and reach out to family and friends for support, as well as engage in your usual healthy coping skills. If your distress continues or gets to the point that you are having difficulty managing your day-to-day activities then seek professional help.
Help is always available. You can seek mental health help by texting TALK to 741741 the Crisis Text Line or you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-Talk. Locally, 24-hour mental health crisis lines are available: Grant & Iowa Counties 1-800-362-5717 or Lafayette County 1-800-552-6642. There is also information available at: https://southwestern.wi.networkofcare.org/, which the Southwestern Wisconsin Behavioral Health Partnership has made available.