If the COVID-19 pandemic is making you feel scared, you aren’t alone. If it has stripped away your sense of safety, you aren’t alone. If the uncertainty feels overwhelming, you aren’t alone.
As a psychiatrist at Vancouver Clinic, one of the most important parts of my job is to listen to my patients. And I can tell you that they are feeling all of these things: Alarmed that the pandemic is here in our town and that the U.S. has struggled to manage the outbreak. Anxious about how serious it will get. Frustrated that we don’t know what the future looks like.
Our daily life has changed unimaginably, disrupting everything from how we educate our kids, to how we work, to how we connect with others. Sometimes, during stressful situations, our brain responds to uncertainty by imagining the worst-case scenario. Sometimes it freezes and we feel numb or like we can’t think.
So what can you do to help your brain get unstuck and manage your anxiety? Here are a few tips:
- Stay informed, but don’t overdo it
It’s important to stay informed while continuing to spend most of your time in the here and now. Consider picking a couple of reliable places you can get the news from. Choose ones that don’t shock, frighten, or serve up emotionally laden content, such as Clark County Public Health. If you do feel the need to check multiple news sites, then set a limit for yourself—30 minutes per day, for example. Try to limit social media exposure as well.
- Take care of yourself
There are lots of things you can do to practice self-care:
- Eat well. Feeling stressed and spending more time at home can make snacks more tempting. Try to choose healthy options, such as nuts and fruit.
- Be sure to get adequate sleep and exercise. Try to get outside for a walk (while following social distancing guidelines).
- Remember that social distancing is not the same as isolation. Schedule video calls with family and friends or talk to them over the phone regularly.
- Create a schedule for the day, which can help you feel more in control. Make sure you are doing something every day that gives you satisfaction, whether it’s enjoying a hobby, tackling a chore you’ve been putting off, or reading.
- Reduce stress
Breathing exercises are a great stress-reduction technique because they help the brain relax. Try breathing in for 5 seconds, holding for 2 seconds, and breathing out for 10 seconds. Another helpful activity is to bring your awareness to your five senses. Notice five things you can see, four things you can feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. Apps like Calm, Headspace, and Stop, Think & Breathe can help you meditate and practice mindfulness.
- Remember that we are in this together
It is important to feel and believe that we are all in this together—that everyone wants this pandemic controlled. Otherwise, it can lead to more anxiety because it feels like you can’t rely on or trust anyone to take care of you. Think about everyone who is sacrificing for the greater good, from health care workers to grocery store clerks, and firemen to scientists. Many people are acting selflessly in this time. Check on your neighbors by calling and asking if they are okay. If you are going to the grocery store, offer to pick up supplies and leave them on a friend or neighbor’s doorstep. These may seem like small actions, but they can help you feel resilient and begin to see that others will do the same for you, should you need help.
Finally, I know that many parents are in the boat of not only managing their own stress and anxiety, but helping their kids mentally cope with the pandemic as well. So what can you do for them?
- Explain what is going on at a level that they can understand.
- Encourage them to ask questions.
- Let them know that it’s okay to feel scared or worried.
- Affirm that adults are doing everything they can to make things better, and the situation will get better eventually.
- Remind them that you are always available to talk.
- Enable them to video chat with friends and family.
- Help them feel in control, too, by letting them come up with a plan for tackling school work, or letting them choose what they want to eat for breakfast.
If you need more help staying healthy and managing stress, reach out to your primary care physician for a video visit.
Dr. Aru Undurti is a psychiatrist at Vancouver Clinic’s Salmon Creek location. She believes that physical health and mental health are intertwined, and collaborates with each patient to choose a unique, evidence-based treatment. Dr. Undurti has a special interest in supporting women’s mental health.