As far as the coronavirus pandemic is concerned, it’s only the respiratory illness that we need to be wary of. This is the sort of outbreak that is going to effect everyday life here in American, and for the world at large.
For many of us, there is already a great deal of fear and anxiety regarding the virus. Some are afraid of getting sick, while others are worried that our at-risk loved ones could face an extended bout with COVID-19.
Others are finding themselves on the verge of panic regarding the economic and social impacts of the illness.
No matter the cause of this anxiety, there are ways to mitigate its impact on our state of mind, and mental health officials the nation over are offering up advice on how best to cope with the worry.
“Humans find comfort and safety in the predictability of the routines of daily living,” said John Forsyth, a professor of psychology at the University at Albany in New York and co-author of “Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for Anxiety Disorders.” As our lives have dramatically changed overnight, many are struggling with finding ways to deal with the new reality. “We have two children home from college, along with a girlfriend of one, and another high schooler who is distance-learning,” said Jane Legg, an elementary school teacher from Bethesda, Maryland. “It’s like a lot of people cramped in a small ship, all trying to get their work done.”
So, what can we do? First, we can accept negative emotions.
It is important to acknowledge that a lot of anxious thoughts and emotions will show up during this time, and to accept them rather than trying to push them away or escape them. The same goes for sadness stemming from the loss of our regular ways of living, worry about lack of supplies or apprehension about kids getting cabin fever. That’s because research has shown that avoidance of such emotions will only make them stronger and longer-lasting. Notice negative emotions, thoughts and physical sensations as they come up, look into them with curiosity, describe them without judgment and then let them go. This is an essence of mindfulness, which has been consistently linked to good psychological health.
“By allowing negative emotions to come and go, and focusing on how to spend this time to still include engaging in meaningful and joyful activities, we can get through this,” Forsyth said.
Mental health officials also believe in creating new routines for those who are now working from home, as to keep the worrisome thoughts from running rampant.
In addition, many believe that allowing yourself time for “self care” will be of help.
“To keep your psychological well-being, schedule self-care each day. It can consist of running or walking outside, using apps for home exercise or makeup sessions, and FaceTiming your friends,” said Ilyse DiMarco, a clinical psychologist at the North Jersey Center for Anxiety and Stress Management. Whether you need to change already established exercise, eating and socializing habits, or whether you’re using this time to launch a healthy-living routine, the new routines will give you mental strength.
And, lastly, remember that whatever hardships we face will be a boon for our future mental health.
Studies show that people who go through very difficult life experiences can emerge from it with a stronger sense of psychological resilience, rekindled relationships and a renewed appreciation of life. Some describe starting to live more fully and purposefully. With care and planning, we, too, can stay psychologically strong during the pandemic and perhaps even grow from this transformative experience.
We are all in this together, folks, and every little bit helps.
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