This article was written by guest contributors Maria Villegas, LCSW and Heather Goldy, LICSW All material included in this blog is provided for general information purposes only and does not […]

April 1, 2020 // Carla Spencer // No Comments //
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This article was written by guest contributors Maria Villegas, LCSW and Heather Goldy, LICSW

All material included in this blog is provided for general information purposes only and does not constitute medical or other professional advice on the subject matter. This information is not intended to diagnose or provide mental health treatment and does not replace professional therapy, consultation, medical care, and/or related services.

What can I do to manage my anxiety about the Coronavirus?

Embrace the crazy (a little bit). This is such a unique time due to such a major global issue. Your life right now isn’t the same as it was, but it’s temporary. Know that moments of chaos, sadness, frustration are expected during this time.

This experience is tricky on the mind because you might have more unstructured time that you haven’t experienced in a long time.  In any other circumstance, forced “free time” would be a treat. Right now, you might be tempted to make the best of this “free time” by finishing house projects, getting those home workouts in, or coming up with special adventures with your kids. Of course, if doing any of these activities bring you joy or relieves stress, knock yourself out. However, if whatever you have in mind doesn’t pan out or you can’t rally to make it happen on a certain day – do your best to let it go.

You will have moments when things feel “normal” and moments when you are filled with fear and worry. This experience is huge and impacting every single person on the planet. Your emotions will be to the scale of this experience – your low moments might feel lower, your worries might feel bigger, and moments of happiness might feel even more satisfying. This isn’t a typical time – so expect to not feel entirely like yourself.

Some concrete tips that can help reduce anxiety:

  • Reduce screen time, news, etc. Remove news alerts and choose when you want to read news or updates.
  • Get enough sleep, but not too much. Try to especially limit your phone/media usage around bedtime and first thing in the morning.
  • Set realistic expectations. Make those to-do lists if that’s your thing, but also remember that everyone is off their game, so if you can’t cross every item off the list, it’s ok.
  • If you have a friend or family member who is quick to send the latest worst-case scenario – do some emotional distancing. It’s totally fine to let them know that you don’t need every update. Or simply skim their text and send a quick emoji to respond 😊
  • When you’re overwhelmed, declutter your space and take something off your to-do list.
  • Be intentional about making space for yourself. Go on a walk, set up facetime chats, get some fresh air, or simply zone out after the kids have gone to bed. Avoid the temptation to make “good use of your time” all the time. Be ok with wasting time.
  • Prioritize activities that make you feel happy.
  • Try a meditation practice. Apps like Calm, the Mindfulness App, Buddhify, and Stop, Breathe & Think are great ways to start. Or, you can start by simply setting a timer for 1-5 minutes (aim for daily), sit in silence, and take deep breaths.
  • Seek support. Connect with friends through Facetime, phone calls, texts. Write letters if you have a spare moment. Join online groups, set up a session with a therapist.
  • Make good use of your support networks – notice if you’re conversations are balanced. Are you spending more time listening or talking? Try to have equal venting airtime – it feels good to both listen and purge. Remember to talk about other things besides the Coronavirus.
  • Control what you can control. Practice good hygiene, social distance as best as you can, and trust your immune system.

It’s natural to be somewhat distracted with thoughts of the Coronavirus a lot of the time – but if  the worries are racing (very rapid thoughts) almost all of the time and you aren’t able to manage your daily tasks, take care of your kids, have repeated crying spells, unmotivated to get out of bed – call your doctor (or therapist if you have one). Or if you feel like you’re having an anxiety attack – sudden overwhelming and paralyzing fear, palpitations, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, choking, nausea, dizziness, feeling detached from the world around you – seek professional help right away. You can absolutely call your doctor if you have these symptoms.

Can I still see a therapist during this “shelter at home” order? How does that work?  

Yes, totally! At this point, the majority of therapists have switched temporarily to seeing clients via telehealth, most likely meaning that you would meet with your therapist by a video session. Most of the time, your smart phone will work to see your therapist for these sessions. Generally, you can use your insurance for telehealth (for therapists in network with your plan).

Additionally, there are some online platforms that specialize in online counseling via text, audio, or video messaging/sessions. A couple good websites for these services are: talkspace.com and betterhelp.com

What is your best advice of ways to talk about this virus without scaring my children?

  • Talking about the virus directly to your child is the best thing you can do to help them feel support. Avoiding talking about it might make them worry about it even more.
  • Be honest and transparent not only about the virus itself, but also about how you are feeling about it. Being open about your feelings will give them permission to share their feelings as well.
  • Follow your child’s cues. Ask them questions about their thoughts and ideas about the virus and provide clarifying information.
  • Keep information about the virus simple. Be age appropriate and tailor the conversation to your child’s style. An example of this kind of language might be: “This virus is a sickness that’s really easy to catch. This sickness is a little tricky, and we’re all being super careful and staying inside a lot until it gets tired of being around. We’re also washing our hands a lot because we heard this virus hates soap and water. This isn’t forever, I promise.” Of course, your child/children will have questions, but let them take it the lead from there.
  • Be reassuring. Provide extra touch and connection. All the talk about social distancing might feel confusing to them. Let them know that relationships in the household can still operate normally (assuming you’re all still healthy and symptom-free).
  • Describe what your family and everyone in the community is doing to keep everyone safe. Remind them that they have a job in keeping everyone safe also.
  • Talk to them about what their job is: handwashing, no play dates, being extra nice. Ask them what other things they might want to do to help during this time.
  • Keep the conversation brief but don’t stop there. Talk in short spurts but talk about it regularly. Bring it up so they don’t have to. Talking more frequently allows your child to digest the information and just like us, their thoughts, feelings, and questions will evolve. Make opportunities for ongoing conversations. Additionally, the more conversations you have with them might make life easier on you. You might worry less about how they’re doing, and they might be a better team player in the household.

How important is it that I keep my kids on a routine?

This level of uncertainty is unsettling. Your children are seeing a lot of similar messaging that you are (hopefully not to the same degree). Setting a routine is important in order help create some sense of normalcy and safety. Even if they’re resistant to it, the presence of structure lets them know you have it all handled (even if you don’t). However, be flexible and adapt based on how you are all doing on any given day. Be realistic – just like us – your kids’ energy and behaviors are largely impacted by this situation, keep the routine simple. Try to get kids to go to bed, wake-up, and have consistent snack times/mealtimes. These are the landmarks of normalcy for them and us.

For younger children, you may want to post a routine in writing so that they can see it. You may need to use a countdown timer to help them transition from one activity to the next or play a song when it’s time to move on to something else. Add in quick movement breaks between activities even if inside the home. Being stagnant for a long time is hard on everyone.

I’m feeling isolated and a little crazy at home with my kids all day.  

Ahhh yes! You’re tired of cooking and cleaning your kitchen, and you’re noticing how loud your family chews their food. Remember that you don’t have the same stamina or tolerance that you would during “normal” times. Take as many breaks as possible. If you can, take a break from whatever you are doing every hour – even if it is a minute to step outside or open a window and mentally check-out for a few moments. If you are able to, work in some type of movement or exercise – but don’t obsess about staying fit.

Keep your support network strong. Reach out to people in moments of stress or chaos via text or facetime and minimize communicating with people who create stress (unless you have to).

Go easy on yourself! Every single person is experiencing some level of trauma right now whether you know it or not. Additionally, your life was probably complicated enough to begin with even before the Coronavirus hit! It’s important to acknowledge the magnitude of this experience and treat yourself accordingly.

Stay safe and healthy!

Maria Villegas, LCSW     https://www.mariavillegascounseling.com/

Heather Goldy, LICSW   heathergoldylicsw@gmail.com


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