-by Gail Schuster, LICSW, ACSW, CJFS Social Worker
How do we feel when an invisible menace lurks, potentially among our friends, family and neighbors; the people we encounter at the supermarket or even the surfaces we touch in everyday life? What emotions do we experience when the known facts, and the advice we receive, keep changing, when the only way we know we can be safe – and protect our community – is to remain at home? Some of the feelings which we might experience include, fear, anxiety, loneliness, depression, frustration and anger.
There’s nothing wrong with you if you’re feeling any or all of these amidst the coronavirus crisis, and you are not alone. Social distancing can be especially stressful for those who live alone or with people with whom they have strained relationships. There are simple strategies we can use to manage these emotions for the sake of our own wellness and mental health.
First, identify what you are feeling and where it’s coming from. Are you caught up in the political divide and consumed with anger toward one side or the other? Are you lonely because you haven’t spoken to anyone all day? Are you anxious and depressed because you’ve kept the TV tuned to news? Are you afraid for yourself or your loved ones? Once you’ve identified your feelings, try concrete strategies for addressing them:
1. If you’re depressed, try to exercise or connect with nature. Take a walk if you’re able, or simply sit outside or open the window to listen to the birds.
2. If exposure to the news is making you angry, anxious or fearful, turn it off. Instead, put on some music that you like. It may even be helpful to put yourself on a news “diet,” allowing yourself to check the news only once or twice per day.
3. If you experience anxiety so severe that your heart rate and breathing are affected, you may be suffering a panic attack. Alleviate this condition by taking deep calming breaths for several moments. Remind yourself that you are fine now. Listen to calming or happy music. Stroking a pet, if you have one, can also have a soothing effect.
4. Protect your immune system by getting enough sleep and eating right. For many people, taking a bath or shower before bed can help. Meditation can also prepare your mind and body for rest. Some health and wellness apps, such as Headspace, are offering free public access to specific meditation products during the coronavirus crisis. If you can, eat fruits and vegetables and avoid junk food and sweets.
5. Call a friend or loved one and try to steer the conversation toward uplifting topics – the movie you saw, the memories or interests you share. Or just spend time catching up with someone with whom you’ve been out of touch recently.
6. Spend five minutes each day writing a gratitude journal, remembering all that you do have to be grateful for at this time – or just spend time writing down whatever comes to mind. The act of writing, in and of itself, can relieve stress.
7. Connect with a hobby or useful activity. Is there a book you’ve been meaning to read, a project you’ve been meaning to finish, a flower bed that needs weeding?
We have very little control over the COVID-19 virus or the restrictions that are necessary to protect our safety, our health care systems and our communities. But we can take positive steps to manage the way we feel, and this can make all the difference.
For the safety of our staff, clients and the community as a whole, CJFS has suspended all face-to-face services. However our proessional staff is working remotely and our phone system enables us to respond to you quickly during business hours. Call us at 205.879.3438 if you need supportive counseling, at no cost to you, to help manage the stress and anxiety we are all feeling in this uncertain time. We also offer assistance for older adults and vunerable populations for needs such as food and medication. We are here for you!