SPEARFISH, S.D. – If you are feeling more anxiety than normal due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you are not alone. Dr. Emilia Flint, associate professor of psychology at Black Hills State University, has several tips to help us cultivate calm in our lives.
“Familiarity is so comfortable, which is why many of us are feeling uncomfortable right now,” says Flint. “Abrupt changes in routine leads us to believe that things are outside of our control and we typically don’t like that emotion.”
Flint says the best tips she can give us to deal with the changes in day-to-day life brought about by the COVID-19 outbreak is to concentrate on what you can control and to give yourself a positive affirmation every once in a while.
“It is understandable that anxiety is high when routines are disrupted,” says Flint, noting that in times of uncertainty and confusion, like the COVID-19 pandemic, our bodies may exhibit responses to the stress we feel.
How do you know if the uneasiness or discomfort you are feeling is due to anxiety? Flint says the first bodily signs of panic or anxiety including sweaty palms, nausea or a queasy feeling, and an increase in heart rate or blood pressure. While these are normal responses to stressful situations, Flint suggests this is your body’s signal to take a break and pick an activity from the following list.
These activities may help you to focus on what you can control, says Flint:
· Take deep breaths.
· Practice gratitude. Physically write down three things you’re thankful for in this moment.
· Stick with a regular eating routine and eat healthy.
· Stay as connected as you can socially through phone and web technologies.
· Continue to do what you can to manage your time well, including conducting work as much as possible in your new environment.
· Get sufficient rest.
· Be mindful. Practice being in the present moment.
· Watch TV/social media for needed information, but only in moderation.
In addition to teaching psychology at BHSU, Flint practices as a licensed psychologist at Black Hills Psychology in Spearfish. When asked what types of advice she is giving to her personal friends and family right now, Flint reminds them to practice CDC recommendations, but not to dwell on what you cannot control.
“Know that it is okay to talk about your concerns with your friends and family. In moderation, cathartic release is therapeutic; obsessive release is toxic to mental health,” says Flint. “In my personal conversations, I check in with friends and family about their fears and changes they’ve made to their lifestyle due to the latest CDC recommendations. Then, I move on to other aspects of life I’d normally discuss with them including kids, significant others, work, etc.”
Flint says in crisis situations, emotions run high. We may encounter people who are otherwise rational acting irrationally or outside of their character. Flint suggests “practicing gratitude and giving them some grace in these difficult times, which will calm you down and may have the ‘side effect’ of spreading kindness rather than sustaining fear.” You can also have a resource ready to direct others to, such as MentalHealth.gov or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK (8255)), should they come to you expressing hopelessness.
The “unknown” or absence of data in crisis situations may cause people to make up information, says Flint. She advises us to seek the true source of information, rather than believing rumors. Accurate sources of information on COVID-19 include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and State of South Dakota Department of Health websites. BHSU also operates a webpage devoted to factual COVID-19 information at www.BHSU.edu/COVID-19
For those who are anxious about their health, Flint encourages her friends and family to check in with their medical healthcare provider and be as specific as possible with their questions. For example, “I don’t have any symptoms, how do I know if I’m a carrier?” or “How soon would I be able to get a test?”
“Getting the right information from the right source is certainly the most important thing to do for yourself in this critical time,” says Flint.
If you are feeling hopeless, Flint says to speak up and share your feelings with a friend, family member, and/or healthcare professional. Most local psychology practices have a dual model right now meaning clients can receive therapy services online or face-to-face. Earlier this week, Medicare announced coverage of teletherapy and HIPAA has relaxed some guidelines with regards to confidentiality during a time of crisis.
“This basically means professionals are to use their best discretion and try to maintain confidentiality in most circumstances,” says Flint. “But if use of a non-secure device (telephone call) or web chat platform is best for the client, then by all means, it’s a ‘go’ under these circumstances.”