Coping with COVID-19

Note: Dr Unger is now offering Phone or Video sessions instead of office visits. Dr Unger has been using phone or secure video (i.e. telehealth) for therapeutic sessions since 2001. Contact her through your normal channels if you are an existing client to get instructions to set up phone or video options.  California residents only please.

Are You Overly Anxious?

If you have a history of anxiety, specifically around health issues this article is for you. Of’ course exercise, yoga and meditation through apps can help but, with all the dreadful news and social media posts surrounding coronavirus, we need to put some things into perspective and find ways to come together emotionally.

“Social Distancing” is Really Physical Distancing

It is totally normal to have some fear response to COVID-19 since it has been declared a global pandemic and humans have neither “herd knowledge” nor “herd immunity” since it is a new virus. When we are confronted with an unknown threat like this our initial response is to be fearful.

Some fear (or “concern”) is rational if the threat is real. However, turning our fear irrationally into willful ignorance, xenophobia, hoarding, or panic solves no problems. In fact, it creates more problems for the community than it solves. For example, face masks are in short supply for health workers because of panic buying by the public.

The internet is wonderful; the internet is terrible! While the internet can be a wonderful source of factual information, it can also contribute to fear and panic because there is both innocent as well as intentional spreading of incorrect or malicious information, as well as people trying to profit off of the fear and panic.

Check your sources! Only trust news outlets known for objective reporting. Do not trust social media unless you know the source is objective and not politically motivated! Avoid extremist and conspiracy theory based sources!

The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) {https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html} says to stay home if you are sick, keep up your sanitation (especially hand washing) and exercise proper social (i.e. physical) distances (6’ and only fist or elbow bump if necessary). This will help prevent the spread of the virus.

COVID-19 has a longer incubation period during which people can still unknowingly infect others as well as a high infectivity rate; the virus also attacks the lungs directly in advanced cases. These are some of the main “problems” with this virus compared to the common flu (which has a short 2-3 day incubation and lower infectivity). COVID-19 therefore can be spread to many others by people who are unaware they are infected.

The virus appears to be spread mainly by coughing which spreads droplets and some aerosolized particles (much smaller particles which last a little longer in the air, but not indefinitely, and travel a bit farther). It appears to last on various surfaces from a few hours to a few days. Therefore, cough into your sleeve and clean any surfaces you or others may have touched, keep your hands away from your face and well sanitized.

Elderly with underlying health issues are most susceptible.  Younger people may have “mild” cases (ranging from typical mild flu-like symptoms to just short of needing a respirators in a hospital), but are still infectious.

Thus the need for a community based response of avoiding interpersonal contact as much as possible.

Coping Skills

We all react to stressful situations differently but, if you know you are easily anxiety prone, keep your logical and coping mechanisms “on” at all times. This includes keeping to a routine, focusing on learning something new, bonding emotionally with those close to you or even something simple like cleaning out and reorganizing a messy space in your home. These actions can turn an anxious mind into a hopeful one.

If we don’t have hope it is probably because our social, economic, and local support systems are not strong enough. If they are not, this emergent time may be the time to make them stronger.

Here are some symptoms of fear that are not obvious:
• Perseverating on negative thoughts or ideas
• Changes in sleep or eating patterns
• Difficulty concentrating
• Worsening of chronic health problems
• Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs.

Here are some tools to help ease your worries:
• Avoid excessive exposure to media coverage of COVID-19 and only listen a few times a day to reliable sources to get factual updates. Avoid highly political or extremist or alarmist sources.
• Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch or use apps to help you stay in a peaceful place. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep and avoid alcohol and drugs.
• Make time to unwind and remind yourself that strong feelings will fade with time. Try to do some other activities you enjoy to take your attention off the negative.
• Connect with others at home especially if you are family quarantining. Share your concerns and how you are feeling with a friend or family member. Maintain healthy relationships (but physical distance).
• Maintain a sense of hope and positive thinking. Society has survived pandemics in the past such as the terrible 1918 influenza, SARS, Bird Flu, etc!
• Most importantly, if you are self-isolating with a roommate, partner or spouse use your sensibilities and adopt a civility rule. This means to accept that may be some topics are off limits and we use what San Miguel taught about the four agreements: speak your words with kindness, impeccably and truthfully, no assuming or judging, and of course put your best foot forward. Use your own sense of what you is the right and kind thing to do now. It is easy to get caught up in “Herd Mentality” whether it is to run out and buy a product or to ignore warnings based on fact. Bring up neutral topics with those you are living with and try to put a halt on correcting others or being right. Keep telling yourself we are all in this together and are all taking a hit now.
• Seek professional help (mental health, help lines, etc.) to help get yourself focused and calm mentally if the above doesn’t work.

Conclusion

This is a time for all of us to act as a community and take care of one another emotionally. Stress will just make you more vulnerable to illness. There are many trusted online sources, apps and skilled counselors out there to walk you through this. It is all a matter of reaching out and being open and flexible to possibilities (which you can control) rather than overfocused on calamities (which you can’t control). If everyone did just that we would be better equipped to handle the worst of anything out there.

We will all face this rough patch … but this will pass.

About

Arlene Unger, PhD is a Dana Point CA based Clinical Psychologist in private practice. Her approach is to use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy along with Mindfulness and Acceptance Commitment Therapies.

She is the author of numerous articles (https://drarleneunger.com/resources/) on the practical applications of mindfulness.

She now concentrates her practice on Telehealth. She works with numerous platforms including Telemynde, Betterhelp and Talkspace and accepts most forms of insurance.