The coronavirus pandemic is making thousands of people physically sick, but it’s also inflicting emotional trauma on many more, said an Emory professor who is leading an effort to provide mental health support to front-line health care workers and the public.
As the death toll rises, and the weeks of social distancing turns into months, people are increasingly feeling angry, irritable, anxious and depressed, said Nadine Kaslow, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences. Many are having sleep problems. And, Kaslow said, isolation and stress over the coronavirus is contributing to an increased risk of suicides.
In a Friday video briefing with the media, Kaslow said it’s not only the spread of the disease triggering anxiety and stress. It’s also measures designed to stop the spread of the disease, which can cut people off from family and friends and other sources of support. And no one know when and how the pandemic will end.
In a survey conducted last month by the Pew Research Center, 1-in-5 of those contacted said they were experiencing nervousness or anxiety most or all of the time.
Kaslow, who is the chief psychologist of Grady Health System and a former president of the American Psychological Association, recommends the following coping strategies:
Foster and re-invent wellness:
During these warm, spring days, just being outside can be a pleasant experience. Consider planting flowers, having a meal outdoors or simply listening to the birds. Seek out online videos on deep breathing and mindfulness, which can help you live in the moment and relax. Try to eat a healthy diet, drink plenty of fluids and avoid turning to alcohol to help manage your stress.
Social distancing doesn’t mean social isolation. Technology can help people stay connected through apps, social media and video calls. Kaslow said some people are using this time to connect with friends they hadn’t talked to in several years. Skip the chit chat, she said. This is a time for more meaningful conversations.
Take a care of yourself on the job
It’s important for everyone to find ways to connect with colleagues, she said. Health care workers, in particular, are putting in long hours and taking care of many critically ill patients under highly stressful conditions. Kaslow encourages health care workers to take time to take care of themselves at work. In the middle of a shift, she said, workers should consider holding prayer circles, listening to a mindfulness app as a team or take part in other activities that will make them feel more relaxed as they move into the next few hours of their shift. When a patient dies, she said, it’s important for health care workers to allow themselves to take the time to take a moment of silence by the person’s bedside to honor the person.
Show compassion to yourself and others
Promote team work and show compassion to others. Maybe it’s helping a neighbor or older adult who needs more assistance. Be kind to yourself. Remember, we are under tremendous levels of stress. Everyone is learning as they go, and mistakes are inevitable.
Find meaning and purpose in your life as you grieve
Many are feeling powerless and helpless. We are experiencing a collective trauma. One way to cope with pain and grief is by doing things that make a difference — in our lives and in the lives of others. Maybe it’s donating money or helping a neighbor, or finding another way to help your community.
Also, try to control what you can control. You are likely spending more time with your family — make the most of that time together.
Despite the difficulties posed by the pandemic, Kaslow said she believes “most people are quite resilient” to manage and cope effectively.
Get professional help if you need.
To reach the Georgia COVID-19 Emotional Support Line, call 866-399-8938. This 24/7 confidential line offers assistance to those who need it. The support line is staffed by volunteers, including mental health professionals and others who have been trained in crisis counseling. This is part of a partnership between the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities, Beacon Health Options and Behavioral Health Link.
For Emory resources, go to www.emoryhealthcare.org/psychiatry/
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