Sarah’s afraid. Not so much for herself but for her children and even more so for her elderly parents. She feels scared constantly that COVID-19 will infect them, sicken them, maybe kill them. Her 17-year-old daughter Evelyn is more frustrated than afraid. The family was supposed to go visit potential colleges during spring break. Now they’re largely housebound – trip cancelled. Her 11-year-old brother Timothy switches back and forth between being anxious and being bored, between crying and being antsy. Their father, Raymond, is grieving because his best friend died, probably from COVID-19, so as strong as the urge is to go comfort his best friend’s family, he can’t.
People don’t respond the same ways to stress, not even within the same family. Like in our fictional family above, each of us has our own way of thinking, feeling and behaving about a crisis. Because the COVID-19 pandemic requires us to hunker down at home, it’s throwing all those different ways of responding together. And that can be stressful, too.
So what can we do to reduce the psychological stress of this coronavirus crisis? Perhaps the first thing is to be supportive of each other and accepting of the different ways we think and we feel. It turns out that helping others can help you cope better with your own stress. Some people will want to talk, some will want reassurance, and some will prefer to be left alone. Some will want to stay on top of the latest information and some will want to avoid hearing about coronavirus at all. Be flexible, be available, and be understanding.
Take care of yourself and be a role model. You can’t take care of others if you’re not taking care of yourself. And taking care of yourself includes eating healthy, maintaining routines (such as brushing teeth, work/study periods, and bedtimes), staying connected with others (such as virtual coffee breaks on the phone with friends), and exercise. Exercise inside if you must, but it’s also good to get outside and go for walks or runs – just don’t stop to chat and keep at least 6 feet away from others.
Focus on what there is to appreciate and express gratitude. Take a few minutes every day to write down three things you are grateful for, or write a letter to someone saying thank you for what they’ve meant to you in your life. Research suggests showing appreciation can produce mental and physical benefits.
Be creative. Create artwork or music or rearrange your living room. Maybe paint the house. Do something with your time that you haven’t had time to do before. Take an on-line course or tour a museum virtually on your computer.
Replace worry with activity, and never worry alone. If you find yourself having trouble letting go of troubling thoughts, share them with someone else. Call a friend and talk it through with them. Or call the National Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-984-5990 and ask for a crisis counselor. It’s free, multi-lingual, and open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
And if you’re one of our patients, call HAN at 794-6700, because our counseling staff is still providing therapy by computer and phone through the crisis. Together – we’ll get through this.
Providing compassionate, high quality healthcare services for all.