Caring for Your Mental Health Despite the Coronavirus
November 16, 2021
A virus that has spread across the globe, coupled with breaking news accessible to us at any time, has made many of us worried.
It can be hard to stay calm when there are fear and unease in the media, stories of experiences with COVID-19, and changing rules and procedures about school, work, and more. Many people are feeling anxious, even if they previously rarely experienced anxiety.
So how do we stay informed and keep our anxiety at bay in a time where there is a lot of misinformation out there? Equally as important—how can we stay calm and keep our loved ones reassured?
Worrying about catching an infectious disease, the coronavirus or otherwise, while taking care of your family, can be a stressful time. Experts from McLean shared ways to keep you and your family feeling mentally balanced and safe in your household during an uncertain time.
Feeling Prepared, Mentally and Otherwise
Stay Informed With Trusted Sources
“Given the onslaught of media coverage and information, it’s important to make sure you are getting updates from reputable sources,” said Nathaniel Van Kirk, PhD, coordinator of inpatient group therapy at McLean and the coordinator of clinical assessment at McLean’s OCD Institute.
Good sources include the Centers for Disease Control, World Health Organization, and Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress. Each provides timely updates and information that will help filter out what has been sensationalized for the news.
“Using these guidelines as a foundation, while acknowledging that you won’t be able to get 100% certainty in an evolving situation, may help you continue to live your daily life,” he said. “It can help you keep your entire day from being consumed by anxiety or worry and instead let you focus on what you can control.”
In addition, experts suggest limiting exposure to media, including social media, to help keep your stress at bay and limit the anxiety that misinformation may cause.
Marni Chanoff, MD, a psychiatrist at McLean Hospital, said, “I recommend a daily routine for getting news. If that means checking sites for updates in the morning or in the evening, do that. Try to limit it beyond that so you can conduct your life as normally as possible.”
It is advised not to check right before bed, as upsetting news can disrupt good sleep hygiene and affect your bedtime routine. “You don’t want to start processing and sifting through fear when you’re going to bed,” she said.
Kathryn D. Boger, PhD, ABPP, clinical consultant at the McLean Anxiety Mastery Program, explained that when it comes to anxiety and frightening situations, we can find ourselves in two common thinking traps.
Catastrophizing takes us to the worst-case scenario in a given situation. Overgeneralizing makes us think that terrible outcomes are much more likely to occur. She explained that these traps are easy to fall into when the facts are already scary.
To combat this, we can try to catch ourselves when we go down a path of unhelpful or extreme thinking. “We can ask ourselves, ‘Is this thought based in fact, and is it helpful to me right now?’” Boger said.
Have a Plan for Yourself and Your Family
Creating a plan when you are thinking clearly can help to manage anxiety and prepare for emergencies. Chanoff said, “Keep and rely on a list. This should include needed food supplies and medications, and health care professional and work contacts. These can help in the moments of crisis when you may not be thinking as clearly.” Make sure to keep the items on your list stocked and replenished and your contacts updated.
Chanoff also encouraged enlisting others in your social networks in your plans. Going through the process of what a scenario like a quarantine would look like in your home with your family can help with anxiety. And if you live alone, she suggested looking to your support network to help you plan for these scenarios.
Chanoff advised not only thinking about how you can help yourself, but how you can help others. In times of crisis, maintaining a sense of connection with community is vital. “Calm begets calm,” said Chanoff. “If you can stay calm and grounded, you can communicate that to loved ones.”