Coping with the Coronavirus Crisis
by Michael Sweetnam, PhD
Most of us are feeling the stress of the Coronavirus crisis. You may be worrying about becoming sick yourself or about loved ones or others getting sick. You may be worrying about how you will get through this crisis financially if it has affected your ability to earn income. All of these concerns are legitimate. How do we cope with them?
In addition to doing what you can to prevent becoming ill by practicing good hygiene and keeping your physical distance from most people, there are a number of things you can do to reduce your stress and worry.
Worry exposure is a technique for addressing worrying that helps reduce anxiety. It’s based on putting your worry into words (“What if my income goes way down?”), then asking yourself a series of questions. “How likely is that to happen?” In the current situation that is a likely possibility for many of us. The next question is, “What would I do if that does happen?” The idea is to replace your worry with a plan. You might decide to see about getting a loan, identify ways to reduce expenses, talk to a rich uncle. Now you have a plan and the next time the worry pops up (“What if my income goes way down?”) you can say “I’ve got a plan for that.” Your plan may be an undesirable outcome, like living on ramen and walking everywhere, but you won’t be just worrying. You’ll have a plan. If you’re interested in learning more about worry exposure you might find my next blog post, “Do You Want to Worry Less?” helpful. Stay tuned for that. You can also enter the search term “worry exposure” to learn more.
If you are currently feeling really anxious or depressed, you can contact your health and mental health professionals without leaving home. Almost all of the health insurance companies in our area are authorizing reimbursement for telehealth, which means that you can have an online video appointment with your provider. Many health clinics are developing telehealth capacity. Here at Madison Psychiatric Associates, all of our clinicians are seeing patients via telehealth for the safety of all concerned. You don’t need to leave home to talk with a health professional.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America website is a great resource at: https://adaa.org/about-adaa.
Some of the other coping strategies you can use are basic, like getting good sleep and regular exercise. If you are having trouble sleeping you might find guided meditation helpful. This is an excellent time to start your meditation practice if you haven’t already. Meditation helps calm the mind and reduce stress. There are a number of resources to help you learn meditation, like the app Headspace or YouTube videos. When I entered the search term “meditation for the Coronavirus” I got pages of links. You might also find my blog post “Why I Meditate” helpful.
Regular exercise is particularly valuable at a time when you may be cooped up more. Get outside when you can. When I’ve been outside, the other people who are running or walking or out with their kids are just as eager as I am to keep physical distance. If you can’t get outside, and don’t have exercise equipment in your house that you use, the internet can be a great resource. Now might be the time to try some yoga or Tai-Chi. Once again, there are lots of YouTube videos to help you learn. I even found some good videos when I entered the search terms “indoor aerobic exercise” and “indoor aerobic exercise with your kids.”
Another useful coping tool is having a regular routine. The routine of going to work gives your day structure and predictability. If you are at home it’s helpful to maintain that routine. If you’re working from home it will help you be productive. If you’re not working, scheduling your time will help you do something you’ve been wanting to do, whether it’s a household task or some new interest or project. Now is a good time to do something you’ve been thinking about but never gotten around to doing.
If you are working from home, make sure you don’t work more than you did at your workplace. Take breaks. If you are sheltering with others, take some time to connect with them. This may be a good time for group meals and getting together to socialize with other household members, whether they are family or housemates. If you are going to be living with other people for the foreseeable future, it’s also important to have a private space you can go to when you need to be alone. It’s also important for everyone in the house to respect each other’s need for alone time.
Whether you’re sheltering with others or sheltering alone it is important to get some social contact with other people in your lives. If you haven’t used video chat platforms like Skype, FaceTime, or WhatsApp, now would be a good time to start. They’re all easy to use and free. Seeing the face of a loved one whom you can’t visit, or a friend, or even your next-door neighbor can really warm your heart and lessen your sense of isolation. Social contact is a great antidepressant, and you might be surprised by how real the contact feels over video.
We can’t completely control the outcome of this crisis, but we can cope with its emotional and physical effects on us. Remember that this crisis is not permanent. It will pass. Accept that we must go through this time. All we can do is practice the coping skills that help make it better for us and those around us.
Here are links you might find helpful:
From the Anxiety and Depression Association of America: COVID-19 Lockdown Guide: How to Manage Anxiety and Isolation During Quarantine
About Dr. Sweetnam
Michael Sweetnam, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist. His practice focuses on the treatment of children and families. The goal of treatment is to help family members to find solutions to problems and to create a family environment that enables family members to flourish emotionally, cognitively, and socially. He treats children and adults. Dr. Sweetnam is currently seeing patients for their scheduled appointments via Telehealth. If you have an appointment, you can check in through Dr. Sweetnam’s Doxy.me waiting room. For more information, view Dr. Sweetnam’s full bio.