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Fear in a Global Pandemic

Fear is a normal, necessary response to a threat – ultimately, it’s designed to keep us safe. Once the fear has kicked in, it can be hard to stop it. It is highly unlikely that a viral outbreak, even at pandemic levels, will trigger mental health problems in people who don’t already have them or […]

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Dr. Delvena Thomas, Psychiatrist
Dr. Delvena Thomas, Psychiatrist

Fear is a normal, necessary response to a threat – ultimately, it’s designed to keep us safe. Once the fear has kicked in, it can be hard to stop it. It is highly unlikely that a viral outbreak, even at pandemic levels, will trigger mental health problems in people who don’t already have them or are in the process of developing them.

The anxiety that we ALL feel is normal in this circumstance. It is expected, and not considered to be an illness or disease or, what clinicians call, “pathological.” We are all responding the same way. In addition, people who are physically unwell – who often are the ones who are the most vulnerable to the coronavirus (including the elderly, individuals with lung disease, chronic illnesses) – are at particular risk of developing anxiety.

COVID-19 is upon us and we are also discussing how to weather disruptions of workflow, sudden shifts to remote working, loss of business, and personal costs to employees. 

How do we cope with our temporary reality?

Let’s start with the positives:

The rat race in America has slowed and for some almost to a complete halt. We now have a chance to embrace family, friends, rest, and pause in gratitude for the things that we take for granted. Personally, I can say that I’ve made coffee at home more than ever before. I’m savoring my blueberry coffee aroma in the mornings. 

Some families have never spent this much time together. I’ve learned in private practice from speaking to so many that family meetings and dinners at home are a thing of the past, and for some, obsolete.

As a result of COVID-19, kids are learning to cook. They are reading recipes and cooking entire meals for the first time! 

We are talking more than ever with our neighbors!

PROBLEM: I DON’T LIKE ISOLATING FROM OTHERS. I FEEL ALONE

ANSWER: Social isolation does not have to be emotional isolation. We are pack animals, so it feels unusual for many of us to isolate. You can physically isolate but still engage loved ones by phone or on camera. Augment your use of Facetime, Zoom, social media, Skype, and other applications. Walk together as a family around your neighborhood or in your park. It’s okay to be outside enjoying fresh air.

PROBLEM: WHY DO I FEEL SO ANXIOUS AND OVERWHELMED? I NEVER FELT THIS WAY.

ANSWER: Let’s talk about what we can control and what we can’t. Our minds are trying to process and plan, but we can’t create a plan at this point due to ongoing developments. Hence the anxiety. Whenever one feels out of control, angst is a byproduct. Just resign to the notion that some things are out of our control in life. Anxiety during these times is not considered pathologic or a disease. 

Limit your briefings, news exposure. LIMIT YOUR TIME ON SOCIAL MEDIA, CERTAIN SITES THAT CONTAIN FLUFF! Fluff is all of the dramatized information to create a reaction from viewers, in order to please sponsors. You should limit your resources to reputable sites only that deliver just the facts.  

PROBLEM: I AM CONSTANTLY CHECKING FOR ILLNESS AND SYMPTOMS.

ANSWER: You’re trying to eradicate uncertainty. We have about 60,000 thoughts per day and “COVID-19” has become at least one for some of us, and other multiple thoughts daily.

DISTRACTION is key. Be active in re-directing your thoughts, disempowering the impact. Think about this – in the past when you’ve felt ill or sick, you knew it right away. You noticed your symptoms. You did not have to check for the symptoms. They were present. This illness is not any different. If you have symptoms, you will know. You don’t have to look for them.

Yes, people can be asymptomatic, meaning no symptoms. Hope for the best – that you are not harboring any viruses but also be careful by continuing to follow recommendations to isolate so you don’t risk sharing a virus you didn’t have signs of harboring.

PROBLEM: WHAT DO I TELL MY KIDS ABOUT THE VIRUS?

ANSWER: Legitimize their fear and identify with them – that we are all concerned and feeling a little uneasy, which is expected. Talk to them about history – other pandemics, like the early 20th-century flu, the plague, cholera. We have a pretty intriguing history in our country. This will be a good time for new information, and don’t forget to tell them that we are all making history!

Consider listening to a reputable medical podcast discuss updates related to COVID-19. Check other reputable sites like the CDC and The WHO. Check the reputable sites with your children–make it a learning activity. 

HOW DO YOU CARE FOR YOURSELF? 

React but don’t overreact – do what’s reasonable. You don’t need toilet paper for two years.  Plan your trips to the store, attend with a list of things needed so you’re not in the store panicking because you can’t remember or are uncertain if something is needed. Grocery stores are considered essential and shipments continue. Stock your home to be prepared similar to inclement weather preparation. Excessive stock can deplete supplies for others and compromise our goal to help others and maintain brotherly and sisterly love.

PLAN

Ensure you have food at home, canned goods, water, supportive medications in the event you or someone in your household gets sick – Tylenol (acetaminophen) for fever and or pain, cough suppressant, cold, and flu-like remedies. 

Check your medication supply for your chronic illnesses such as high blood pressure, diabetes, seizure disorder, etc. Ask your pharmacy about delivery service in the event you can’t go out–or consider using the drive-thru. 

Maintain communication with family and friends to support and help one another. Schedule calls if that is easier.

BE EDUCATED

It’s okay to see seek information and resources to stay informed 

– Do NOT get information from social media, friends, etc. 

Use reputable sources such as:

1. CDC- Center for Disease Control 

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

2. WHO- World Health Organization 

https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019

3.Your local hospital’s webpage 

4. Surgeon General

5. Local public health organizations 

CARE FOR YOURSELF:

  • Stay home
  • Drink your 64 oz of water or more daily
  • Eat healthy- plenty of greens, antioxidants, less fried food and less fast food)
  • Limit your alcohol
  • Take a walk in your neighborhood, sit outside, get fresh air
  • Stretch, exercise
  • Yoga
  • Meditate
  • Prayer 
  • Sleep, rest
  • Read something non-medically related 
  • Catch up on your favorite show 
  • THINK POSITIVELY AND REMEMBER WE ARE SMART AND RESILIENT. The more you focus on the problem the more angst you will encounter. Focus on a solution or a way to cope, and you’ll feel better. 
  • Make good use of this time by realigning your energy, ensuring you have the basics in place at home like life insurance and the other things we don’t have time for when the world is shaking and baking. Slow down and check on family and friends. 
  • Lastly, take a walk around your block. Be MINDFUL! Look around and appreciate the different trees, try to recall the species of leaves, and name the types of clouds in the sky.

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