Coping with Anxiety During Coronavirus

by Randall Staley, MD
Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Adult Psychiatry
Northwest Arkansas Psychiatry, a MANA Clinic

We are all aware of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) circulating throughout Arkansas, the United States, and the world. This virus has caused more than just physical health impacts.  It has disrupted the lives of people worldwide, most recently right here in the U.S. Right now people are feeling an increase in anxiety connected to the uncertainties they’re experiencing related to their health, daily lives, social isolation, financial stressors, and other issues. In the face of this panic and anxiety, Northwest Arkansas Psychiatry and MANA offer the following guidance for coping with this type of stress and anxiety.

First and foremost, please realize this virus eventually will slow down and life will return to normal, albeit possibly a new normal. Until that normalcy returns, the best first option is to plan ahead and stay informed.

What You Should Know About COVID-19

  • COVID-19 is from a large family of viruses called the coronaviruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases. COVID-19 is caused by a novel coronavirus; this means it is a new strain that previously has not been identified in humans.
  • COVID-19 is a respiratory disease that mainly is spread person-to-person. Currently, there is no available vaccine or curative treatment, so the best preventative strategy is to avoid exposure.
  • So far, children appear to be much less affected by COVID-19. Children with pre-existing illnesses may have different risks, so you should discuss this with your child’s medical team.
  • To reduce the spread of the virus, a variety of approaches are being used, including keeping those who are sick away from others and promoting healthy hygiene strategies.

Prepare with Your Family

  • Identify how you will keep up with the rapidly changing information on COVID-19. Currently there are large amounts of incorrect or partially correct information that can add to your stress and confusion. Identify a few trusted sources of health information such as:
  • Hold a family discussion in a comfortable place and encourage family members to ask questions. Make sure to use language all your family members will understand.
    • At this time, our kids will be anxious. It’s our job to make sure we’re listening to their concerns and reassuring them that you have heard their concerns.
    • Re-enforce that, as the adults in their lives, we are doing everything in our power to keep them safe and healthy.
  • Develop a plan for maintaining contact with friends and family members via telephone and the Internet, avoiding in-person visits as much as possible for now.

Reduce Your Family’s Risk

  • Regularly wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water (length of the A-B-C song) or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick or who have traveled to areas with high rates of infection. 
  • Stay home when sick and contact your doctor’s office for instructions. Many of our doctors are now offering TeleVisits so you can visit with a doctor on your smartphone or computer safely at home.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or with the bend/crook of your arm when coughing or sneezing.
  • Keep basic health supplies on hand (e.g., soap, alcohol-based hand sanitizer, tissues, and a thermometer), but do not stockpile these items as others will need them too.
  • Make sure you have a supply of medications taken regularly.
  • Clean and disinfect regularly-touched surfaces (e.g., light switches, door handles, tables, chairs, desks, remotes, toilets, sinks) with household cleaners and EPA-registered disinfectants. The CDC offers advice on products and how to clean and disinfect.
  • Do your part by avoiding crowds and meetings of more than 10 people to help prevent the spread of the virus. 
  • Avoid discretionary travel, shopping trips, and social visits. Visit with your family and friends with Facetime or Facebook Messenger (free). Order grocery delivery or pickup with services like EasyBins, Walmart pickup, or Instacart. Choose food delivery instead of eating in restaurants, or try a new recipe at home. 

Coping with Stress

Even if your family is prepared, an outbreak can be very stressful. To help your family cope with this stress, following these recommendations can help:

Information & Communication

  • Keep up-to-date with reliable information (see links from CDC/WHO above).
  • Seek support and continued connections from friends and family by talking to them on the telephone, texting, or communicating through email or social media.
  • Make sure you take breaks from the 24-hour news of this virus. Turn off electronics for a few hours each day and relax.
  • Support your children by encouraging questions and help them understand the current situation.
    • Talk about their feelings and validate them.
    • Help them express their feelings through drawing or other activities.
    • Clarify misinformation or misunderstandings about how the virus is spread and that not every respiratory disease is COVID-19.
    • Provide comfort and a bit of extra patience.
    • Check back in with your children on a regular basis or when the situation changes.

Scheduling & Activities

  • Remember this will be temporary. We don’t yet know how long it will last, but it will be temporary.
  • Keep your family’s schedule consistent when it comes to waking times, bedtimes, meals, and exercise.
  • Make time to do things at home that have made you and your family feel better in the past, such as reading, watching movies, listening to music, playing games, exercising, or engaging in religious activities (prayer, participating in services on the Internet).
  • Help your children participate in learning opportunities that may be offered by their schools or other institutions/organizations. There are many resources currently being offered for free. Use this time to teach your child life skills such as cooking, budgeting, sewing, etc.
  • Make time for some fun.

Self-Care & Coping

  • Modify your daily activities to meet current realities. This may mean working from home, shopping online, or other necessary changes, but try to keep as consistent of a routine as possible.
  • Shift expectations and priorities to focus more on what gives you meaning, purpose, or fulfillment.
  • Give yourself small breaks from the stress of the situation. This also means turning off the television and social media. These frequently are a cause of stress at this time.
  • If possible, go outside your house and walk around. This does not mean go to the mall, shopping center, etc., but walk around your yard/apartment complex.
  • Enjoy your recreational or relaxing hobbies that can be done from home
  • Make sure you make time to sleep, eat, and perform hygiene regularly.

If you are experiencing a crisis, the resources below are available to help now:

  • Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
  • Crisis Textline: Text TALK to 741741

For more information on Dr. Randall Staley and Northwest Arkansas Psychiatry, a MANA Clinic click here.