Coping with COVID-19 Anxiety

March 31, 2020

The media frequently talks about the “new normal,” but the fact is very little of what we are experiencing during this pandemic is normal. Dr. Jenys Allende, Executive Director of Mental Health Staffing with Legacy Treatment Services, said that because so much in our lives has changed so rapidly, it takes time to adjust. 

“This is a shared traumatic experience; we are all going through this together. Past experience is the best predictor of future outcomes, but because COVID-19 is something none of us have encountered, there is some anxiety over it,” said Dr. Allende. 

You are not alone
In times of stress, people tend to feel isolated, that what they are experiencing is only happening to them. With COVID-19 and its fallout, however, we all share the trauma. 

“Even in a crisis, the vast majority of people will get through this,” said Dr. Allende. “It is not uncommon for people to feel anxious; they may have trouble sleeping, may be irritable and easily distracted.”  

Reframe Your perspective 
“People tend to overestimate their personal risk, which is a natural reaction to stressful situations,” said Dr. Allende. “It is important to be well-informed, and that means getting information from reliable sources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, as they are providing fact-based numbers.” She suggested that while Facebook is a great tool to stay connected to friends and family, especially at a time like this, it is not a source of fact-based reliable information. Dr. Allende added that using tools like solid and reliable information is a good way to re-frame your perspective. 

Maintain a schedule
To prevent the spread of COVID-19, we have to stay home; for some that means everyone under one roof, and for others that might mean isolation and that can cause anxiety.  To deal with anxiety, Dr. Allende said it is very important to maintain as much of a semblance of a schedule as possible. “We all have new roles and responsibilities that we have taken on during this time, so having a schedule helps us take on those responsibilities and not be so overwhelmed.” Eating dinner as a family is something Dr. Allende said is important, to have a time where everyone is together. 

For those who now find themselves working from home, she said it is important to set up parameters as well as a schedule. Dr. Allende said it will be easier to focus on the work to be done if breaks are scheduled during the day. Likewise, she said they need to set up a dedicated space to work, whether it’s in the basement or at the dining room table. Find a place where you can have the tools necessary to accomplish what you need to do. Finally, Dr. Allende said it is important to have time off as well. “Pick a time to finish with work for the day and stop reading emails. Give yourself time to be away from the job since you cannot physically leave where you are working.  Take the time to refresh and be with your family, relax or read a book.” 

Talk with your family
In dealing with stressful situations, it is important to take the time to talk. “We all have to talk with our kids about COVID-19. But make sure that when we do talk with kids, remain calm,” said Dr. Allende. “Kids are resilient and their resilience builds when parents are calm.” 

Using connections to cope is helpful for all 
Dr. Allende said it is important to stay connected. While we may not be able to be together with friends and neighbors right now, just waving to neighbors while taking a brisk walk in the neighborhood will be a reminder that we are all together in this even if we are apart. 

She suggested that using FaceTime is a good tool to visit grandparents, family, friends and neighbors. “Let the children talk with grandparents about how they got through difficult times in their lives and what they did to cope. We have the opportunity right now to take this connection to a new level and learn about what is important in our family.”

Finding an outlet
In times of crisis, Dr. Allende suggested that people feel better when they do something for others.  There are so many genuine acts of kindness in times of crisis. She spoke of Sept. 11 when people were afraid and they took solace by being together and helping others. “Now is a good time to volunteer to help others in some way.  While we cannot gather together, we can do other things like call and check on neighbors, donate or look for ways to help others.” 

Using telehealth for counseling
During this period of social distancing, Dr. Allende said the therapists at Legacy are still providing counseling to their clients via telehealth. If the client does not have a smart phone or video capabilities, the therapist will call and speak with the client on the phone. “What is important is that we maintain that connection,” said Dr. Allende. “Legacy is taking on new clients through telehealth and able to function as community counseling. We are working with healthcare systems like Shore Medical Center to continue to help clients.”

This too shall pass
Dr. Allende said that when we talk with our families, it is important to instill hope and optimism that this will end and at some point.  While that does not invalidate their feelings of anxiety, recognizing that there is always an end may calm them and help them to better understand their feelings. 

“There is a lot going on right now, so be kind to yourself,” said Dr. Allende. “It is quite common to be anxious and easily distracted but it is important to follow the advice of healthcare professionals and get enough sleep, drink plenty of water, exercise and take time for you and your family. Turn off the TV, the computer - your brain needs a shut off away from work.” 

Dr. Allende said that while we may not have an end in sight for COVID-19, look to history; “As a nation we survived a Civil War, two World Wars, we survived 9-11 and we will survive this.”

Dr. Jenys Allende is the Executive Director for Mental Health Staffing with Legacy Treatment Services. For more information about the telehealth services Legacy offers visit www.legacytreatment.org or call 800-433-7365.