Keeping Calm During COVID-19
Tips from a professional for managing the stress
A few weeks ago, life changed for every resident in Virginia due to coronavirus precautions, and even more drastically for residents in the metro Richmond area. In a matter of one week, schools were canceled for the remainder of the school year, restaurants became take-out only, many major retailers closed or reduced their hours, and toilet paper disappeared from store shelves. Hopefully, you are reading this at home, healthy, practicing stress management, and following the quarantine suggestions.
The Coronavirus (or COVID-19) pandemic has often left us with more questions than answers and induced panic in some while creating a sense of inexplicable rebellion in others. Universally, the quarantine has left us more socially isolated than ever before and leaves most of us apprehensive of the future. This may leave you feeling sad, anxious, unmotivated, restless, angry, or fearful. These are normal feelings during times of loss, uncertainty, and rapid change. If you are experiencing these feelings, we’ve included some strategies to help you work through them. When thinking of coronavirus, the quarantine, or the future, there are some key takeaways that can immediately benefit your mental health:
1. Understand what you CAN control and what you CANNOT control.
You have control over your actions, but not those of others. You have control over what you read and what coverage you watch, but you do not have control over what is printed or said regarding coronavirus.
2. Limit your time on social media.
There are a lot of opinions and, unfortunately, far fewer facts being shared. Use “unfollow” liberally if you find certain friends sharing things that cause you to react.
3. This hasn’t happened before, so allow yourself grace and flexibility.
You may not meet every goal or scratch every task off of your list, and that is perfectly OK.
4. Use your available technology to keep in touch with friends and family virtually.
Video call, hold a Zoom family meeting, email, or call. This will help you feel connected, which drastically reduces the risk factors for depression.
What if you are already feeling anxiety? These symptoms include increased heart rate, difficulty concentrating, stomach upset, feelings of fear or “fight or flight,” restlessness, insomnia, worrying, and excessive fidgeting. There are various techniques that will help manage anxiety; below are some we teach our clients. Most of them take no longer than a few minutes but can make a world of difference in helping manage symptoms.
Stress Management Grounding Techniques
These refer to any technique that brings your focus away from your emotions and into the body.
The 5,4,3,2,1 anxiety reduction method: if you feel your anxiety increasing, first take a deep breath. The purpose of this exercise is to refocus your attention onto your 5 senses and away from your rising anxiety. To complete this exercise, take deep breaths while working through each of your 5 senses, following these guidelines:
- Look around and find 5 things you can see from wherever you are sitting.
- The next sense is touch. Name 4 things you can touch, including with your feet and your back, if seated. Take a moment to actively feel your body touching the items.
- The next sense is hearing. Quiet your mind, breathe deep, and name 3 things you can hear. Close your eyes if it helps.
- By now, you should be able to feel yourself calming. Your next sense to explore is scent. Take a few deep breaths through your nose and determine 2 things you can smell at the moment.
- Finally, we focus on our last remaining sense, taste. Name 1 thing you can taste. It could be leftover coffee, toothpaste, gum, or whatever you can detect.
- Use your body to create heightened awareness and help distract you from your increasing anxiety. Clench your fists as tight as you can, pairing it with deep breathing. You can also curl your toes as tight as possible, push your hands together as forcefully as possible, clench your jaw, or tighten any muscle group. Cycle through clenching and releasing in 10-second increments while engaging in deep breathing.
Create a self-care routine.
Draw a bath, exercise, meditate, read your favorite genre of literature, play your favorite music. During this routine, do your best to think positively and shut out the negative news coverage.
Use mindfulness techniques to help slow your mind and body.
Meditation is one example of mindfulness, but it can be practiced in other ways. While eating, take a few moments to truly examine your food: what is the color? Texture? Temperature? Count how many pieces are on your plate and, while chewing, fully experience the taste of your food.
Access telemedicine when needed.
During the COVID-19 quarantine, many insurance companies have increased accessibility and coverage for telemedicine. Many mental health providers are offering teletherapy and psychiatrists are offering telepsychiatry for greater access to antidepressants or antianxiety medications. Check with your insurance carrier to determine a provider in-network if you need support in managing your mental health during this time period. If you have any thoughts of suicide, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, 1-800-273-8255.
In summary, we encourage you to treat your mental health as a priority during the quarantine. We will get through this time as a community and have faith that we will come out stronger, wiser, and perhaps even more gracious than we came into the quarantine.
Suzy Christopher, LCSW, is the director of MySpectrum Counseling & Coaching, offering teletherapy and other services at MySpectrumCC.com.