Well, the Cornovirus is officially here and if you don’t know someone who has already contracted it, you probably will soon. I already have a couple of clients who have been personally affected, at least, indirectly by the virus. Their family and friends are coming down with these terrible flu-like symptoms, ending up in quarantine. And from what I’m hearing, doctors are sending most of these people home to pretty much wait it out in isolation and only return to the hospital if severe respiratory symptoms develop.
How scary is that! Honestly, I’ve felt for a couple of weeks now like we’ve all been hiding in our houses just waiting for the zombies to show up. The streets are quiet, the shelves at the stores are empty, and our eyes widen at the first sound of anybody clearing their throats.
This has been an incredibly stressful time in all our lives, and if we’re not careful, our mental health can suffer greatly. All of us are enduring a moderate level of constant stress – anxiety about the future, worries about our jobs and finances, and of course, our health and the well-being of our loved ones. Many of us are walking around like ticking timebombs, just waiting to go off! Some of you have probably exploded several times in the past few weeks.
But there a few things you can do to decrease your stress level in these uncertain times.
1. Limit your media exposure. There’s something in psychology called “availability bias” which basically means we’re more likely to give weight to the events we can immediately recall. So, this non-stop cycle of negative information doesn’t help with that. The more negative things we read, the more we hear, the more we notice, the more we interpret in a threatening way. When you pull up your Facebook feed and see people fighting over toilet paper in Wal-Mart, the first time you might laugh. But as you see that more and more, you start feeling an urgent need to get some yourself because it’s “obvious” people are scrambling to get it. But it’s not true. An allusion of scarcity has been created by all this negative media. I personally recommend that you limit your media exposure to only a few minutes everyday, and make sure your information comes from well-trusted sources.
2. Control what you can. A big reason why people feel panicked is because they feel out of control. And who can blame them? For many of us, our lives are in chaos and we’re sitting in isolation just waiting, waiting, waiting for God only knows what to happen to us. To help counteract this feeling of helplessness, it’s important to give yourself some sense of control. Do what you can to protect yourself and your family, which could include excellent hygiene and social distancing. Be proactive in combating your anxiety by washing your hands frequently, sanitizing high-touch surfaces, avoiding sick people, and staying home as much as possible. It certainly won’t help your anxiety levels if you’re not planning properly and having to interact with the public because you forgot something essential at the store. Hope for the best, but plan for the worst, be prepared, and stay in control.
3. Do your best to connect with others, even if you have to do it virtually. Social distancing is good for our physical health, but it’s not so good for our mental health. Maybe you have a friend, a neighbor, or family member who is particularly isolated during this crisis. One of the best things you can do for your own mental health (and theirs) is to reach out. Maybe walk over to your neighbor’s yard and talk to them through their window; call your aging parents on the phone; or video chat with a friend. We are blessed to live in an technological age where we can see the smile of a loved one, even on the other side of the world. And that’s always going to help both of us.
4. Practice gratitude. It’s ironic how losses can reveal what’s really important in life. Many people are panicking right now about the loss of jobs, or finances. But have they really considered what they haven’t lost? Their husband or wife asleep beside them in the bed at night. The child playing with toys in the living room? Even faithful fido who doesn’t have a clue about what’s going on the world right now. All of us have A LOT to be thankful for. Now would be a great time to count your blessings, maybe even to start a gratitude journal. I challenged one of my clients just yesterday, who is now in a 21-day quarantine, to use the next 21 days in isolation as a self-improvement challenge. There are always positive ways we can grow and change and be thankful, even in the most difficult of circumstances. We just have to look a little harder.
5. Seek virtual help from a mental health professional. I think most people would agree that the mental health crisis this virus is creating is just as bad, if not worse, than the actual physical crisis. The good news is, the Louisiana Board of Professional Counselors recently rescinded most restrictions on teletherapy during the pandemic. That means most counselors can use teletherapy, either by video or by phone, to help their clients. And many insurance companies have also relaxed their restrictions on teletherapy during this time. So, help is more accessible and available than it’s ever been. If you’re experiencing unmanageable stress levels, or maybe you just need someone to talk to, reach out to a licensed counselor today who can give you essential help during these uncertain times.