Taking care of your mental health during the coronvirus pandemic

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Posted at 4:12 AM, Mar 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-19 13:28:00-04

TAMPA, Fla. — Here at ABC Action News, we know the uncertainty of the COVID-19 can be scary for you and your loved ones.

There are a lot of questions, and sometimes there just aren't answers. That alone can cause anxiety in many people.

We reached out to a therapist at TalkSpace, an app, and website where you can talk to a therapist virtually. They connected us with licensed therapist Dr. Amy Cirbus. We asked her a variety of questions and wanted to share some of her answers.

Q: What is it about this time that can give people anxiety?

A: The powerlessness of not being able to go outside and make choices that you would normally make on a regular basis. Those things are definitely coming up. There's fear. Disappointments. Being inside the house, those are because of the factors that are happening and now you're spending time alone. Loneliness and isolation is coming or you're with family 24/7 and trying to manage those family dynamics.

Q: What advice do you have for people who are spending a lot more time inside than they're used to?

A: One of them is to go outside if you're able. Some cities you have to shelter in place but for the most part you can go outside and take a walk.

It helps give perspective, not knowing when this will end, we want to focus on what you can control. While we don't know when these environmental factors will end that are dictating what you're doing right now focus in turn on what you can control. Create a loose schedule, get outside, turn off notifications and create opportunity.

Q: Lets talk social media and all the information that can be thrown at you at once. What's your advice?

A: You get to control that information as opposed to getting flooded by it. We want you to be intentional with the information you are getting. go to national or local websites so that you can see how it's affecting you. We do know that if you actually feel informed that's going to decrease your anxiety. so walking around pacing, and being oblivious is not necessarily going to help.

If you don't know the information, check a couple of times a day. and then turn off the notification. The social media side I think we can switch it to not consuming everyone else's fears and anxiety. Use it to your advantage. Schedule time with family and friends, Facetime, have coffee dates with a friend and be really intentional about how it can benefit you. if you're walking away from it and feeling really depleted and anxious, that's not the best use.

Q: What about those who have never felt anxiety before and are suddenly feeling anxious?

A: People spend a lot of time in work and therapy to sit with their feelings and to learn that is a skill. So, when you're feeling anxiety for the first time or at least the level of anxiety that people are feeling it's really uncomfortable. The first piece is to say you're feeling anxiety and it doesn't feel comfortable, it's okay and to know that it doesn't necessarily mean it's something wrong.

It's anxiety-provoking right now. There are ways to cope. It won't take it away, but it can help you maintain and feel better, and if you never felt anxiety, those people aren't necessarily digging into their meditation practice because they don't do it. So, eat well, sleep. There's sort of this double-edged sword of yes, be informed and take it seriously, but you have to find time for joy and some fun. Try to have those pockets you can find because the fact is, some of that discomfort and anxiety is here for the moment, but you can get through it.

Q: How do you treat those on the "front lines'?

A: I feel for you, everybody that's on the front lines. So therapists have, if we are treating someone always on the front line of something, we have a trauma response, we have language around that. So, we have support groups, so we make sure we're keeping ourselves healthy so we can process that.

Q: What about kids? What's your advice?

A: At two, they might be glad that everyone's home. They have working parents, and you might just explain that things are different. They have a sense to sort of roll with it.

But, for preschoolers, four, five, 6-year-olds, they definitely notice. They are saying to tell kids in an age-appropriate way and say, "oh, we're keeping everybody safe." There's a lot of germs out there, and we're just keeping everybody safe. It's going to be like this for a moment. Telling them reduces their anxiety, and the last thing you want to do is completely keep it from them. If it's a big secret that creates more anxiety for them.

When you switch over to teenagers, that's where you really do want to make sure to include them in the facts because they sort of run rampant with hypotheses of their own that spread like wildfire. They are already in a developmental stage where they feel, like perhaps, they're getting better information from their peers instead of from an adult, developmentally. Just keeping them abreast of the facts and helping them in family planning, decisions and walks and just keeping them in the loop as much as possible.

You know one of the things is, I personally did when it was very difficult for my 11-year-old who is pretty savvy but can't grasp it. Right? They don't have a blueprint for it. So, we're telling kids things and keeping their routines as much the same, although it is different. We have to acknowledge that. We took him to see the grocery store and we took him to see how our community was helping each other and that the school was open for meals. So, sort of understanding the situation and how we're coming together as a community. This is what we do, and this is what we're going to continue to expect from everybody.