All Posts Tagged: self care for stress

Coping with COVID-19

Coping With COVID-19

The virus pandemic has certainly had an impact on all of us. Not being able to meet with my patients in person has required a major clinical adjustment. Thankfully, telemedicine has provided me with the ability to provide necessary ongoing treatment. But I also know firsthand how difficult and taxing social isolation and sheltering in place can be.

What has made this viral illness so stressful? After all, we have been dealing with annual episodes of influenza for decades. We also successfully made it through the fears of the bird flu, SARS, and swine flu. What makes Covid 19 so special and so scary? Covid 19 is called a novel virus because it is a protein that is totally new to the world’s human population’s immune systems. Our immune systems therefore do not have the capacity to adequately fight off this infection. The elderly and those with chronic illnesses are especially at risk. But 20 to 65 year olds are not immune from infection and risk severe illness if they are not cautious and follow CDC guidelines.

We can all agree that there are reasons to be fearful of this unique virus. We would all agree that sheltering in place and social isolation plays a role in our unease and insecurity. The inability to see loved ones and friends certainly takes a toll. Job loss and the subsequent financial stressors contributes as well. Lack of definitive treatment or a protective vaccine adds to our worries. But the level of emotional unrest seems to be much greater than what these issues would suggest. So what accounts for our level of apprehension?

It is my belief that our emotional upset and fearfulness is being fueled by an incessant level of media exposure, a 24/7 bombardment of our senses by vivid and at times sensationalistic accounts of the impact of this illness on our society. The negativity is inescapable. The drama can be horrifying. I do believe that we are being psychologically traumatized by the effects of this multi-sensory media explosion. Modern theories of post traumatic stress disorder have now implicated the impact of day to day low level traumatic experiences. We certainly deserve to be kept up to date, but non-stop communication of human suffering at this level can be seriously problematic.

So what can we do to minimize the stressors of these times? The answers are rather straight forward and simple. When the world around you seems out of control, frightening and foreign it is important to pay attention to our own personal world and life space. You may not be able to change what is outside of you but you certainly can have the ability to influence your own world. These are some basic guidelines to follow:

  1. Add consistency, structure and predictability to your day to day life.
  2. Go to bed at the same time every night and awaken at the same time the next day.
  3. Schedule exercise, studying, work (if you are lucky enough to still be working), meals, fun etc. at set times.
  4. Get outside while following CDC guidelines on a regular basis, even if it means sitting on a balcony or patio for extended periods.
  5. Do not allow yourself to isolate. Maintain social contacts through phone calls, video chats, emails, etc. Socialize with a friend or family member while maintaining the appropriate safe distance.
  6. Limit your news media exposure. Get the data you need to be adequately informed but don’t give in to the tendency to be a news voyeur. Sensationalistic news coverage can be addicting. Be careful and avoid over exposure.
  7. Attend to your basic activities of daily living that include your appearance and hygiene, maintaining healthy nutrition and caring for your living space.
  8. And most importantly, recognize that this period of difficulty and sacrifice will come to an end.

There will be life after Coronavirus. At some point in the near future, this virus will be treated no differently than the annual influenza virus. The same way that pharmaceutical companies formulate the year’s flu vaccine by taking into account the types of flu viruses prevalent that year, it will also include the coronavirus as part of the vaccine recipe.

The real challenge for the future will consist of what we can learn from this experience. How can we be better prepared? How can we improve our healthcare system and its inequities? How can we maintain the improvement in our environment that has resulted from reduced pollution, crowding overuse of natural resources? How can we return to person to person human contact and minimize communication through digital media only? How can the media learn to balance coverage with more hope and support? I wish that I had the answers. We shall have to wait and see.

For more information , please contact The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida at 561-496-1094 or contact us here.

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Man wearing face mask

Stress Relief For Dealing With COVID 19 Anxiety

The worldwide outbreak of COVID 19 has thrown everyone into chaos. For starters, we’re all worried about catching the virus. Some of us are dealing with financial stressors due to layoffs. Then there is the strain of having kids and spouses at home 24/7. In addition, medical workers are caring for numerous sick and dying patients, as well as the fear of bringing the virus home to their families. For many of us, this sudden upending of the world we knew has led to unprecedented anxiety levels and an inability to cope with it all.

Taking Control Of Your Coronavirus Anxiety

We all have natural reactions to the fears and stressors in our lives. We want to feel better, so we turn to certain behaviors to try to settle ourselves down.

There are, however, both positive and negative coping behaviors. For example, exercise can be a positive coping method, while excessive drinking is a negative response.

How we choose to cope also varies because stress is made up of several components. Each aspect causes us to respond differently, yet they each can affect us deeply.

  • Psychological stress – The fight or flight response is activated under the psychological stress of fear. For some, there may be reactions in the body, such as a pounding heart, racing pulse, or headache. Others experience a cognitive response, including confusion or obsessively thinking or worrying about the stressor.
  • Physical stress reactions -If you have underlying physical conditions (irritable bowel syndrome, migraines, or asthma, for example), you may find those symptoms coming up more frequently when you are under stress. You also might be constantly fatigued or may have difficulty sleeping.
  • Emotional stress response – You may feel numb or, conversely, you might be jumpy or angry and find it difficult to turn off your fearful thoughts. You might also unintentionally withdraw from others as a way to protect yourself emotionally.

Self-Care For Coronavirus Stress

We can actually amplify our own responses by dwelling on our fears. While it is perfectly natural to worry and ask “why” or “what if,” fixating on trying to find the answers only increases our anxiety, which escalates our frustration and emotional responses.

To help reduce your anxiety about COVID 19:

  • Turn off the news – and especially don’t watch it right before you go to bed. If you start watching news coverage then, you are more likely to start your mind running again, which means you may ruminate on the upsetting facts and figures while trying to sleep. Instead, pick a time earlier in the day to watch news updates. Then turn off the news (or shut down the internet) and do something enjoyable to help your emotions settle down.
  • Do the same with emails and social media – try to compartmentalize these activities so that you aren’t constantly going back to them throughout the day. If possible, spend an hour on them earlier in the day (you may need to set a timer!), then shut them down. Don’t go back to them until the following day.
  • If your anxiety is waking you in the middle of the night, get up and write down your thoughts. It can be helpful for you to put pen to paper because the act of writing your fears and worries often makes you feel like you have gotten them out and can let them go.

The antidote to anxiety is to get out of your head and get into your body. Grounding exercises, like those used in mindfulness, can help you settle your physical body down and take your mind (or emotional body) out of the trauma.

By “settling down,” I mean to calm down into your body by turning your attention inward to the feeling of your breathing. In focusing on the physical, you distract yourself from the emotional component of stress.

Things that require the sensation of touch – like knitting, kneading dough, folding laundry, or exercising – can also help to let you turn the upsetting thoughts off so you can let them go.

Here is a simple mindfulness exercise to try:

  • Sit in a straight-backed chair, glasses off, eyes closed or using an unfocused gaze.
  • Put your feet flat on floor.
  • Feel your feet on the floor, noticing the connection between the soles of your feet and the floor.
  • The idea is to engage your senses, so make an effort to feel your legs and back against the chair and your shoulders opening wide.
  • Sit up, but don’t be rigid. Don’t lean forward or push back against the chair, just relax.
  • Breathe slowly and calmly. This activates the relaxation response because slowing your breathing tells your body that there is no reason for alarm.
  • If you notice any pains or twinges, just acknowledge them and let them go. Bring your awareness to just below your navel and try to feel your body from the inside out.
  • As you feel your body and center your thoughts on it, imagine the tension and energy of your racing thoughts coming down into your abdomen.
  • Now, picture this energy sinking down through your legs and feet and flowing out into the floor or ground below you. Simply focus on relaxing and letting go.
  • Let any thoughts that come up float by. Don’t give them any emphasis or attention. Don’t judge yourself for having them.
  • Take a few moments to enjoy the release of your tension. Focus on your slow breathing.
  • When you are ready to tune in to the world again, press your feet gently against the floor, wiggle around slightly, gently shake your hands and then open your eyes.

We Can Help You Feel Safe

If you try these ideas for self-care and are still struggling with anxiety, know that many practitioners are continuing to see patients virtually during the pandemic. If your stress is interfering with your daily life and has continued for longer than two to three weeks, it’s time to reach out and get the help you need.

For more information, please contact Dr. Andrew Rosen and The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida at 561-496-1094 today.  

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