The outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) is stressful for many people. It has caused fear, anxiety, and is overwhelming for adults, as well as children. Some signs may include fear and worry about a person’s health and that of their loved ones, changes in sleep or eating patterns, difficulty sleeping or concentrating, worsening chronic health problems, as well as worsening mental health issues, to name a few. During this time it is important to take care of yourself, your family, and your friends. Coping with stress can help to make your community stronger.
Two licensed psychologists who work in the New York City area, Seanna-Kaye Denham Wilks, Ph.D., and Tasha Brown, Ph.D., answer a few questions about coping with the impact of the coronavirus.
1. What have been the major psychological concerns that you have been addressing in your work?
DENHAM WILKS: One of the most important parts of my work right now has been addressing the psychological safety of our healthcare heroes on the front lines of patient care. This includes providing a safe space for them to address their concerns and replenish their coping reservoirs in order to continue their vital roles.
BROWN: I have been spending a significant amount of time helping patients manage increased levels of anxiety and depression by helping them identify and implement coping strategies.
For my child and adolescent patients, we are spending time processing the significant changes that have occurred in their lives. Many of them have questions and anxiety centered around sickness and death. I am also noticing increased levels of anxiety, mood difficulties, and behavioral concerns in many of my child and adolescent patients.
Many mental health providers now provide mental health services via telehealth. Therefore, I encourage you to reach out to a mental health professional if you are experiencing significant mental health difficulties during this time.
2. How can I manage my feelings about a pandemic that has no end in sight?
DENHAM WILKS: Your feelings will be influenced by your proximity to COVID-19. Maybe you have had the illness, you are a healthcare worker, or you have lost a loved one. Things are changing every day and our way of life hardly looks like what it used to. Take it one day at a time. Be patient with yourself and with others as you negotiate uncharted territory.
BROWN: It is important to identify coping strategies that you can use to effectively manage your feelings at this time. You can use coping strategies such as daily devotionals, prayer, exercise, deep breathing, limited media consumption, talking to loved ones, or writing. Additionally, while you are home, try your best to maintain a schedule, get the recommended eight hours of sleep, and be mindful of choosing healthy foods.
3. How do I know if I’m overreacting or underreacting?
BROWN: First, it is important for you to acknowledge that this is a stressful time for the country and the world. No two persons will respond to uncertainty in the same way. Pay close attention to changes in your body, thoughts, and/or behaviors. If you find that your level of stress and anxiety is significantly impacting your everyday functioning, reach out for help.
4. What should I keep in mind to help me and my family cope?
DENHAM WILKS: A good rule of thumb is “empathy before feedback.” Speak on the feeling you are experiencing or seeing in others and then look toward a plan. “I feel overwhelmed and helpless. Let me focus on doing something useful, and also set boundaries on information overload.” Practice this rule with yourself and others.
BROWN: I think it is extremely important to remind yourself that everyone responds differently to increased stress and anxiety. In order to help your family cope, be mindful of how each person has responded to this pandemic and tailor your response to their needs.