As a psychiatrist, my patients teach me new things as often as I teach them. While our nation continues to grapple with the growing concerns over COVID-19, I want to share helpful advice on how best to cope with your fears and worries during these difficult times.
In general, you should do your best to find as much balance as you can especially when everything seems so out of sorts. Health and government officials continue to provide updates with the latest information, but you may still feel uncertain about the impact of this contagious illness. It’s okay to be worried. But there are ways to make sure you are prioritizing your mental and physical wellbeing while still adhering to recommended guidelines
Take Action on What You Can and Accepting What You Can’t
It’s natural to feel anxious right now. Restaurants, schools, and many businesses are closed, and officials are advising the public to stay indoors. Your everyday routine has been turned upside down, and everyone is having to adjust.
This is understandably difficult.
But it’s important to focus on the things you can control: follow the recommended guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regarding personal hygiene, practice social distancing, and stay in touch with your family, friends, and neighbors.
Adhering to guidelines is the part you do have control over, and will likely reduce your risk substantially. Knowing that you are keeping yourself and your close contacts safe and healthy, plus doing your part to limit the spread in your community, can go a long way in helping to manage and reduce your anxiety.
Reduce Screen Time and Avoid Information Overload
Getting the latest information on COVID-19 from trusted health officials is helpful, but watching television and following social media all day long isn’t always productive or healthy. Notice how your body responds when exposed to your phone, tablet or TV screen for an extended period of time. Does your heart rate increase? Does your breathing pattern change? Adding aggravating factors to already stressful circumstances can be harmful to your overall health.
If you notice additional screen time is increasing your anxiety levels, it’s important to take measured steps to address it. Turning off your television for a few hours each day or reducing the number of social media notifications you receive can help. It is useful to identify just one or a few trusted resources that will help you to keep abreast of the situation without becoming overloaded with information.
If you are still feeling overwhelmed, I recommend finding a free exercise class online or dedicating time each day to meditate and clear your mind. This will help improve your mental health and can have a positive effect on your physical well-being. Twenty minutes a day of exercise and attention to your physical health, in turn, will have positive effects on your mental well-being and how you feel overall.
Keep in Touch Without Touching
The CDC has recommended practicing social distancing to reduce the risk of exposure and spreading COVID-19. For many, this means spending a significant amount of time indoors, which can feel isolating and confining. As a psychiatrist, I understand how important social interaction is for our mental health, and while social distancing can sound like confinement, it doesn’t have to be that way.
Do you have lunch regularly with your co-workers, but are now working remotely? Use video chat to keep your lunch date and stay engaged. Did you have to cancel a dinner with a close friend? Set a time to call your friend to catch up while you both eat dinner.
It is critical to adhere to social distancing, but you can still keep in touch with family, friends, and co-workers.
As You Plan Your Daily Life Feel Free to Look Ahead
While it’s uncertain when things will return to normal, we do know the cautionary guidelines will not be in place forever. Looking ahead to some time in the weeks and months ahead past this crisis can boost your overall mood.
Remember, it’s normal to worry or feel anxious in times like these—but remember to focus on the things you can control and ensure you are coping in a positive, healthy way. We are all in this together and there are many resources and support structures in place to help you throughout this challenging period.
Dr. Seth Resnick is the founding chair of the new psychiatry and behavioral health department at AdvantageCare Physicians. Dr. Resnick is board certified and maintains a clinical practice and expertise in general psychiatry, as well as pain medicine, palliative medicine, and addiction medicine. He attended Mount Sinai School of Medicine and is a clinical assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine. He is a distinguished fellow of the American Psychiatric Association