So what Michigan resident isn’t stressed right now?
Either you’re freaked out by public-health risks, or mad about the bars being closed, and/or frustrated how life as we knew it has suddenly turned upside down.
Coronavirus COVID-19 — and the measures being taken by contain it — have unnerved almost everybody.
Here are some tips from mental-health experts about how to alleviate stress in an anxiety-inducing time.
1. Do the basics — eat healthy foods, get enough sleep.
“The fact that we’re constantly feeling stressed, constantly having some of our adrenaline released, is going to affect our minds and our bodies pretty badly,” said Tory Seif, a psychologist for Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services in Grand Rapids.
That biological response is “part of the reason that people are feeling so on edge,” he said.
That’s all the more reason to try to get enough sleep and eat healthy.
2. Develop a routine.
Many households have had their regular schedules totally upended. They’re now working from home, not working at all and/or their children are not in school.
So it’s important to develop a new, consistent schedule; structure can be a comfort in an environment fraught with uncertainty.
“Make sure you’re going to bed at the same time every night, getting up at the same time, eating meals at a consistent time,” said Lindsay Volpe-Bertram, a psychologist for Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids. “And especially for people who are working from home or have kids, maybe even have an hourly schedule for the day.”
3. Exercise and get outdoors.
Physical activity is a great way to get your body to produce endorphins, a hormone that generates positive feelings, and research shows sunlight and fresh air also can improve people’s moods.
If you already exercise on a regular basis, don’t quit now — and maybe take advantage of the exercise videos that fitness centers are putting on You Tube, said Shari Botwin, a Philadelphia area psychotherapist.
If you don’t exercise, Botwin said, this would be an excellent time to start.
People feeling particularly anxious and who are obsessing about what could happen over the next weeks or months may well benefit from mediation — and there are helpful videos on YouTube to help with that, Volpe-Bertam said.
“There are really great resources out there for practicing mindfulness. It’s all about helping people to stay centered in the moment, because what we’re seeing right now is a lot of catastrophizing,” she said.
5. Stay away from information overload.
“People should unplug a bit from traditional media and social media,” Seif said. “Check on news sources once or twice a day instead of all day. It’s not wise to have information overload if it’s increasing your fear.”
6. Keep your sense of humor.
Laughter really can be the best medicine. Watch some comedy shows. Encourage Facebook friends to send you funny memes. Spend some time looking up goofy cat videos.
7. Find the silver linings.
When you find yourself spiraling into anxiety, consciously work to reframe the situation, said Deborah Kohler, a retired minister in Portage.
“I’m really big on gratitude, and even as difficult as this is, there’s a lot to be grateful for,” Kohler said. “For instance, it’s not happening at a time when it’s 13 degrees out and a blizzard.”
Other experts agree that finding the silver lining can be helpful. View this as a family bonding time. Have game nights. Enjoy the fact it’s an opportunity for regular family dinner. Take up a new hobby. Undertake the home project that you never had time for.
8. Maintain connections with friends and family outside your house.
Seif said he’s very worried about the impact of physical and social isolation on some people. For people who thrive on an active social life, “this is going to impact their mental health in some fairly significant ways,” he said, and it’s important they be “creative” in maintaining regular contact with others.
Seif and the other therapists offer some ideas for substitutions, such as scheduling a Facetiming event where people can chat with friends while sharing a meal or cocktails; setting aside part of each day to call a friend or family member; making more use of Facebook to connect with others.
“Social distance doesn’t have to mean spiritual distance,” Kohler said. “We’re fortunate to live in a time where we have telephones and the Internet and social media. There are lots of ways to say connected.”
9. Parents: Do the best you can.
Botwin is a single parent now trying to work at home with a 9-year-old who isn’t going to school. It’s hard, she says. “Sometimes I feel like I’m being ripped to shreds” trying to keep her child busy while handling her psychotherapy clients.
It’s important to recognize, she said, that in trying to “create normalcy and structure, we can’t put too much pressure on ourselves. We can’t assume the responsibility of teacher” while also trying to work from home.
“We’ll do the best that we can,” she said. “Eventually the kids are going to go back to school and it’s going to be fine.”
10. Manage expectations.
Things aren’t normal and may not be for awhile. Accept that, Volpe-Bertram said.
“I think adjusting expectations is really a huge part of all of this right now,,” she said. “Once we can get our expectations adjusted to the new normal, we’re going to do a lot better with the acceptance of what’s happening.”
11. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Experts says those struggling with anxiety or depression should reach out to their therapist if they’re already getting treatment. For someone not in treatment, call your primary-care physician or a mental-health hotline to get referred to mental-health services.
Kohler belongs to several 12-step programs, and said it’s particularly important for people in recovery to stay connected to their support systems. She noted that many 12-step programs have developed online meetings to allow people to stay in touch.
“It’s amazing how quickly those resources are being mobilized,” she said.
Reaching out right now also is important for people in households with domestic abuse, experts say. With stress levels up, abuse could easily escalate.
For that reason, those who live with an abuser should seriously consider reaching out to a domestic-abuse shelter or hotline to figure out options for leaving the home as soon as possible, said Botwin, author of “Thriving After Trauma: Stories of Living and Healing.”
“I’m very concerned right now about people who aren’t safe,” she said. “If you’re in a city or county where you can leave your home, you should do that. Now is the time to get out” before a lockdown occurs and leaving becomes much more problematic.
12. Keep perspective.
“This too shall pass,” Kohler said. “We’re not going to live like this forever.”
CORONAVIRUS PREVENTION TIPS
Michigan’s State Emergency Operations Center is coordinating state-government resources and the response to the coronavirus spread. It has shared the following tips:
What you can do to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory diseases:
· Always cover coughs or sneezes with a tissue or sleeve.
· Stay home if you are sick and advise others to do the same.
· Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
· Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
· Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.
· Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, if soap and warm water are not available.
· Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces(computers, keyboards, desks, etc.).
· It’s not too late to get your flu shot! While the influenza vaccine does not protect against COVID-19 infection, it can help keep you healthy during the flu season.
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