Like many of you, we at MindPath have been monitoring the evolving news about the Coronavirus or COVID-19. As a company we are taking every precaution to ensure that our patients, providers, staff and community are safe and have the resources they need. During this difficult time, your safety—both mental and physical—is our top priority.
We know that the Coronavirus is causing a lot of very real anxiety. Fear—of the virus and its effects on our lives—is currently spreading even faster than the virus itself. The intention of this article is to address how to prepare yourself from a mental health perspective. Any questions or concerns about the virus can be found through the CDC or the NC State Health Department, which leads to the first recommendation.
Have the Correct Information. There is lots of misinformation out there, and a large part of maintaining stability is making sure that your information is correct. The best place to get accurate information is from the CDC and the NC State Health Department, who are constantly updating their websites with new information for the general public. You can check any information you’re hearing from social media, news outlets, or family and friends against this information. Remember that when fear and anxiety are involved, rumors and misinformation can spread so take the time to get properly informed. One important fact to remember is that, as the NC State Health Department says, “no one group, ethnicity or population in the US is more likely to get or spread Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) than others. Older people and those with underlying health conditions are considered to be at high risk because they are more likely to experience serious illness if they become infected.” Having the correct information also helps us treat each other with kindness during this challenging time.
Take Necessary Precautions. The most important action you can take to keep yourself and others safe and healthy is to wash your hands thoroughly and often using soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and running water are not available, then use hand santizer. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands. Though these precautions sound simple, they’re incredibly important. And even if you are personally healthy or don’t fall into one of the high-risk groups, it’s vital that you take precautions like this to help keep other people healthy as well.
Plan, Don’t Panic. There is no reason to panic, but planning is recommended simply because it can decrease stress and anxiety. Planning allows you to focus on what you can control, rather than what you cannot, which is a healthy response. You can focus on making sure you have what you need to stay healthy if you were to stay at home and/or avoid public places for an extended time. You can inventory your cleaning supplies, food and medication to make sure that you have what you need.
Many people already have adequate amounts of soap, hand sanitizer, disinfecting spray/wipes, and/or other supplies to prevent the spread of illness. Consider stockpiling food with a long shelf life. If you regularly take medication, talk to your doctor or mindcare provider about a plan to make sure you won’t run out. This doesn’t mean that you need to go out and buy 427 rolls of toilet paper, but if buying an extra pack next time you go to the store helps you feel more prepared, go ahead. Planning in this way can decrease stress and anxiety in general, as you would be prepared for any disruption in life, not just because of this specific virus.
Use Your Brain Now. In order to set yourself up for success if you do stay home for an extended time, use your brain to help you prepare ahead of time! What could you do to use your time wisely or to enjoy your time if you had to stay at home? Think about it now! Typically, if we are stressed, upset or bored we have a more difficult time problem solving and thinking creatively. (The same recommendation applies to the hurricanes and snowstorms that we sometimes experience in NC, think about what you could do ahead of time if you get stuck at home). Brainstorm and make a list of all the possibilities, both productive, and just for fun. Ideas include cleaning, organizing, crafting, board games/card games, working outs, reading and so on! Get creative. This is another example of how we can shift our focus to something that is within our control.
Understand Workplace Policies and Procedures. Does your company have a plan in place if the spread of the virus worsens in your area? Would you be able to work from home or would you need to take off time from work? Do you have paid time off accumulated? If not, do you have safety nets you can access? Start asking questions now of your workplace to understand what would happen in an intensified scenario. Also, start thinking about the people in your social support network—friends, family, colleagues, community members, neighbors—who you could ask for help if you need it.
Acknowledge Your Feelings & Look for Positives. Take a moment to note how you’re feeling. Noticing your actual feelings about a stressful situation is the first step towards coping with them in healthy ways. Once you understand how you feel, then you can look for healthy coping strategies to self-soothe and care for yourself if you find that you are experiencing difficult emotions. Next, it is helpful to challenge and reframe unhealthy thoughts. Stress or other difficult feelings often arise when we experience a disruption in our usual schedule, no matter how small. Remember that this can be a stressful time for a lot of people and keep checking in with how you feel. Then work to compare any anxious thoughts against the facts and find ways to self-soother using healthy strategies.
We know this work can be a lot to do on your own, so you can also contact a mindcare provider for help, be that at MindPath or elsewhere. Note also that if you have increased anxiety about going out in public, we offer telehealth services which allow people to connect with specialists remotely from their home or workplace. More info at mindpathcare.com/telehealth/.
Stay safe out there. Remember to be patient with yourself and one another! This is a difficult, unprecedented time for our state and our country, but by keeping our heads and taking care of ourselves and each other we can get through this.