Protecting your mental health during the pandemic

 

How to take steps to limit anxiety over the coronavirus

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

This period when many people are staying home to avoid the coronavirus is a “chance to rediscover our spiritual moorings,” said Donna Miller, Associate for Mental Health Ministry for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). (Photo by Rich Copley)

LOUISVILLE — As Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear addresses the state each day about efforts to fight the coronavirus, he often stresses the need to take steps to keep anxiety in check during these difficult times.

“Mental health is going to be critically important getting through this,” said Beshear, who’s admitted feeling a little overwhelmed on occasion, as the world and his home state wrestle with the pandemic.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear says it’s important to take care of your mental health during the pandemic.

“When you feel that anxiety bubbling up, get up; go do something,” he advised during a recent daily briefing to the public. “Take a walk. Play with your dog. Do whatever it is that you need to do. Take care of yourself. Shut off the TV and the internet. We really need everybody to stay calm as we move through this.”

Feeling out of sorts — which may include a range of emotions from anxiety and fear to powerlessness — is normal in the kind of environment the coronavirus has created in this country, said Donna Miller, associate for Mental Health Ministry for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

“There’s such a swirl that we’re in,” she said. “It’s like losing equilibrium and then having to find that again — find our moorings — and use the power that we do have in the situation,” said Miller, a retired psychologist.

With that in mind, the Presbyterian Mental Health Network has put together new resources, including a one-page tip sheet on ways to handle stress, fear and panic.

A companion piece by the Presbyterian Mental Health Ministry features a list of additional resources to help people safeguard their mental health.

“This is a time for all of us to be thinking about our mental health and what we do in the face of a situation that none of us have ever experienced before,” Miller said. It’s a time when “things are changing very fast, or feel out of control, and we’re not really sure what’s going to happen.”

In a recent press conference, Dr. Allen Brenzel, medical director for the Kentucky Department for Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities, noted that anxiety in and of itself is not a bad thing. For example, it can spur people to take proper precautions against becoming infected with the coronavirus.

“Preserve your routines to the degree possible,” said Dr. Allen Brenzel, medical director for the Kentucky Department for Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities.

But “(we) have to be careful not to be overwhelmed by our anxiety,” said Brenzel, an associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Kentucky.

So it’s important to limit how much COVID-19-related news and information you consume and to make sure it’s coming from reliable sources, Brenzel said.

“You don’t need to update yourself every minute of every day,” he said. “Please take a break from social media, take a break from searching for information and try to live your lives.”

Some of the coverage can be traumatizing if people don’t take steps to minimize it, said the Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus, director of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.

Both she and colleague Kathryn Riley suggest taking a very deliberate approach to media consumption.

“Make it a choice, so before we turn on the news or automatically go to our Facebook feed, we take a moment, decide ‘I’m going to listen right now’ or ‘read right now’ for a certain amount of time, and before we do that, we do some relaxation,” said Riley, PDA’s team lead for Emotional and Spiritual Care.

So, “take a few deep breaths, get in a relaxed body and listen or read,” she said. That will “counter some of the naturally activating responses we’re going to have to hearing more news.”

Also, “if possible, don’t make exposure to the news the first thing you do in the morning and the last thing you do at night,” said Riley, who was PDA Associate for Hurricane Season 2017. Instead, turn to whatever you find “positive and uplifting and life-giving, and that — right now — is probably not going to be the news.”

If you have children at home, “be very conscious about their exposure” to news coverage and make sure that it’s “age appropriate,” Miller said.  “Different sources have very different tones and emotions can be contagious.”

Along with monitoring media consumption, Miller said it’s important to find ways to stay engaged with people, and your faith community, while practicing social distancing.

“I think many churches are finding new ways to connect, so there will be churches that are going on Zoom, for example, or using other technical means,” Miller said.

A mental health graphic from kycovid19.ky.gov.

And now that you’re spending more time at home, it might be a good time to compile a list of things to find solace in when you’re feeling anxious or stressed, she said.

This is a “chance to rediscover our spiritual moorings in a lot of ways” in terms of mindfulness, meditation, prayer, books and Scripture that have been especially meaningful, Miller said. Seek out “the voices of authors and the voices of people in your own life” who have inspired you.

It’s also important to try to maintain a routine, she and Brenzel said.

“Preserve your routines to the degree possible,” Brenzel said. “We understand your routines are disrupted, but there are many things about your day that you can continue to do in a routine fashion. That will help soothe your anxiety as well as that of your family and children.”

For additional information and resources related to COVID-19, visit pcusa.org/covid19.


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