Keeping Yourself and Your Family Mentally Well During COVID-19
As a Psychologist who specializes in anxiety, I feel compelled to share a few tips to organize the whirlwind of emotional reactions people are having during these uncertain times. We are all finding ourselves needing to adjust our everyday lives as a result of COVID-19. For some, it will be minor changes in daily living, for others their entire lives have been turned upside down. Slowing down the rate of transmission will help save lives, requiring us to change our behaviors over the next few months.
Psychologists are equipped with many different skills that can be helpful during unpredictable, stressful life events. One of those skills is to look at our thought pattens and evaluate how they are impacting our feelings and behaviors. During previous quarantine situations, it became clear that it was important to support people mentally so that they had fewer negative outcomes and were compliant with guidelines. Here are tips on how to focus on the things that are in your control.
We can be flexible and not resentful
By now, almost everyone has experienced some type of consequence of COVID-19. People are working from home, schools in many areas have closed, nursing homes have no visitors, and family events and travel plans have been cancelled. Join the club. Know that we are all in the same boat and thankfully most people have responded with flexibility. It is normal to feel disappointed, but it is important for us to be compliant with guidelines and know we are likely saving lives by making these sacrifices.
We can be prepared without being panicked
Many are on the lookout for dry coughs, fevers and any initial feelings of being unwell. We may feel reactive to seeing other people who look ill or cough in public spaces. You may be worried about becoming ill or spreading the illness to others. If you have a sudden onset of symptoms like those described by the CDC and WHO, stay home. If symptoms get worse, get medical care. Know that progress is being made to better prevent, detect and treat this virus. By being proactive, we can be better equipped to deal with the social, economic, educational, medical, and mental stressors that may occur.
We can help rather than hoard
Now is the time to check in with your family, neighbors, friends, co-workers and offer support to each other. Have enough food and supplies just in case you are quarantined or isolated for 14 days. Do not clear the shelves and save some for the next person. Share supplies with those who are unable to purchase or lack access to extra food or toiletries. Working together as a village will benefit us all in getting through this with less negative impact. If your fear response has already kicked in and you have already hoarded items, be open to the idea of sharing with others. They may do the same for you down the road.
We can be parents without becoming a wreck
This is a historic time and one where our young people need good role models and leadership by example. I want my daughter to remember how we united as a family to help decrease fear, practice patience, and support ourselves and others. I personally did not sign up to homeschool my child, but I know I can as our local schools have made the decision to temporarily close. Start gradually with working on new family patterns and establish daily routines. Find a balance between learning time, free time, and family fun. Kids are perceptive. Answer their questions honestly using clear messages that are age appropriate. Thankfully children appear to have mild infections from COVID-19, but it is likely that they are still infectious to others. This means it is important that we keep kids at home as much as possible until we learn more about this illness.
We can be compassionate without being stigmatizing
When we learn that someone at work, at our child’s school, or a relative has been diagnosed with COVID-19, be sensitive to the language we use to describe them and try to refrain from blame. This is a global issue and now is the time to respond with compassion and kindness. Everyone needs to take personal responsibility and hopefully we can look back at our efforts as being successful in slowing the seeding of this virus. We also want to show extra support to our health care workers who will be making many personal sacrifices.
We can be informed without being obsessed
Limit the amount of time you are spending watching the news, surfing social media, and researching online. Be a good consumer of accurate information from just a few, reliable sources and do not spread unconfirmed information to others. Consistent, timely, and clear information from infection control specialist and public health authorities help to increase facts and decrease fear. Schedule time for media check-ins and avoid consuming news close to bedtime.
We can practice good hygiene without being compulsive
Stay up to date with local health authorities, CDC and WHO guidelines on how to minimize the spread of this illness. As someone who specializes in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and health anxiety, I often see the consequences of taking recommendations too far. Share current hygiene guidelines with others who may not have access to this information. In the meantime, cover your cough, wash your hands thoroughly and practice social distancing. Stay home if you are ill.
We can practice social distancing without loneliness
Be creative in staying connected. Let’s face it, having a conversation over the phone, or video calling is not the same as in person contact but it is better than nothing. When we look at previous quartine situations, loneliness was a common complaint and a reason why people would break the rules. Even if you are an introvert, you may find yourself noticing a feeling that something is missing as spaces become more still. Find ways to cope with that stillness and look to nature, and other healthy coping to fill that void.
We can try new things without getting stuck in boredom
This may be known as the “I got caught up on projects” or “I learned something new” part of your life. Don’t sit around waiting for this to pass. It may be a while. Let yourself and those around you explore and create by trying something new. Learn how to paint, practice prayer and meditation, learn a new language, read a book, enjoy music, learn to cook something new, clean your home, train your pets, play with your kids, admire nature, and overall just let yourself grow. A little time with Netflix and popcorn is fine, but be sure to challenge yourself with new activities to fight boredom.
We can practice good self-care rather than unhealthy coping
I do not want to minimize the wide range of economic and practical problems that many of us are experiencing. Some people are wondering how they will keep their businesses open or pay rent if their workplaces are drastically impacted. Some are worried about their own health or the health of a vulnerable loved one. Anxiety, fear, anger and insomnia are common during uncertain times. Avoid unhealthy coping such as drinking, using drugs, eating unhealthily and becoming physically inactive. Heathy coping includes problem solving, good nutrition, getting fresh air and sunlight, exercise, relaxation skills, good sleep hygiene, and positive thinking. Keep a balanced perspective and remember your blessings. Learn to recognize the triggers and signs of emotional stress and utilize friends, family, hotlines, health apps and telemedicine when you are unable to cope on your own.
As we move forward into some unknown territory, I feel better knowing that we live in an amazing community that can rise during tough times. Wishing everyone physical and emotional health as we go through this as a united force, because we can.
Dr. Renae M. Reinardy is a Licensed Psychologist and the 2019 National Mother of the Year from North Dakota.