We all are under unusual stress due to the coronavirus pandemic. Medical staff are on the front lines in treating those who are ill, with the knowledge that the situation will get worse before it gets better. A large percentage of our congregation are in the age group that has the highest mortality rate. Children and teens who would normally be in school or day care are instead supposed to stay home and not interact with their friends. Many in the rest of our congregation are either being asked to work more or are threatened with job and income loss.
Things we can do:
- Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media.
- Take care of our bodies. Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, and avoid alcohol and drugs.
- Make time to unwind. Try to do activities we enjoy.
- Connect with others. Call people we trust to share our concerns and feelings.
A crisis such as this is especially difficult for those who already have a diagnosis of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) or anxiety disorder.
Those in recovery from OCD may find the new daily focus on coronavirus is a trigger for increased symptoms of OCD, the tenth most disabling condition in the world.
There are many examples of obsessions but the common ones include fear of contamination, fear of causing harm and fear of things not being in order. Fear of contamination may lead someone to become obsessed with hand hygiene and general cleanliness.
The compulsion to wash or clean is likely to intensify, and for those who have successfully recovered from the compulsion to wash or clean, the symptoms may return.
Medication is currently recommended for treatment of OCD, but there are also many apps and breathing exercises, as well as relaxation techniques and mindfulness exercises, which can be useful.
Anyone with OCD is advised to take a break from the news and ensure that while they follow all official advice, they don’t go to excessive lengths which might be counter-productive.
It’s a frightening time for all of us and especially for those who already live with an anxiety disorder. We don’t know how we will be affected and how bad things will get. It’s important to stay informed. Here’s what is suggested:
- Stick to trustworthy sources such as the CDC, the World Health Organization, and our local public health authorities.
- Limit how often you check for updates. Constant monitoring of news and social media feeds can quickly turn compulsive and counterproductive—fueling anxiety rather than easing it. The limit is different for everyone, so pay attention to how you’re feeling and adjust accordingly.
- Step away from media if you start feeling overwhelmed. If anxiety is an ongoing issue, consider limiting your media consumption to a specific time frame and time of day (e.g. thirty minutes each evening at 6 pm).
- Ask someone reliable to share important updates. If you’d feel better avoiding media entirely, ask someone you trust to pass along any major updates you need to know about.
- Be careful what you share. Do your best to verify information before passing it on. Snopes’ Coronavirus Collectionis one place to start. We all need to do our part to avoid spreading rumors and creating unnecessary panic.
We can keep one another safe by staying home if possible, keeping six feet apart from people we meet who are not in our household, and washing our hands often. It’s not about the fact that I may be healthy enough to easily survive the coronavirus, but what I could spread to others who could get sick and overwhelm our health system.
Plan for what you can
It’s natural to be concerned about what may happen if your workplace closes, you or someone you love gets sick, or you have to self-quarantine. While these possibilities can be scary to think about, being proactive can help relieve at least some of the anxiety.
- Write down specific worries you have about how coronavirus may disrupt your life. If you start feeling overwhelmed, take a break.
- Make a list of all the possible solutions you can think of. Try not to get too hung up on “perfect” options. Include whatever comes to mind that could help you get by.
- Focus on concrete things you can problem solve or change, rather than circumstances beyond your control.
- After you’ve evaluated your options, draw up a plan of action. When you’re done, set it aside and resist the urge to go back to it until you need it or your circumstances significantly change.
Stay connected—even when physically isolated
Evidence shows that many people with coronavirus—particularly young, seemingly healthy people—don’t have symptoms but can still spread the virus. That’s why the biggest thing that most people can do right now to make a positive difference is to practice social distancing.
But social distancing comes with its own risks. Isolation and loneliness can exacerbate anxiety and depression, and even impact our physical health. That’s why it’s important to stay connected as best we can and reach out for support when we need it, even as we cut back on in-person socializing.
- Make it a priority to stay in touch with friends and family. If you tend to withdraw when depressed or anxious, think about scheduling regular phone, chat, or Skype dates to counteract that tendency.
- While in-person visits are limited, substitute video chatting if you’re able. Face-to-face contact is like a “vitamin” for your mental health, reducing your risk of depression and helping ease stress and anxiety.
- Social media can be a powerful tool—not only for connecting with friends, family, and acquaintances—but for feeling connected in a greater sense to our communities, country, and the world. It reminds us we’re not alone.
- That said, be mindful of how social media is making you feel. Don’t hesitate to mute keywords or people who are exacerbating your anxiety. And log off if it’s making you feel worse.
- Don’t let coronavirus dominate every conversation. It’s important to take breaks from stressful thoughts about the pandemic to simply enjoy each other’s company—to laugh, share stories, and focus on other things going on in our lives.
We can connect with our closest neighbors and form a buddy system as some are doing already. Here’s how it works. If you are not confined to a retirement community but live elsewhere in the community, you can call a neighbor and agree that if your household or theirs is quarantined, you will perform vital services for each other such as getting groceries or running necessary errands.
Let’s listen to music that we enjoy. Let’s meditate on God’s care for us.
Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.