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William Glanz

Senior Writer

Coping in a Crisis: Overcoming Anxiety

March 23, 2020 | Population Health | Comments
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Editor’s Note: The coronavirus outbreak has led practitioners to rethink behavioral health care treatment and the delivery of service. In this series, we will address the questions and concerns raised by providers and offer tips and suggestions to help you cope with problems caused by the pandemic.

The coronavirus isn’t only a physical challenge. It’s a psychological challenge.

Social and physical distancing has created anxiety among broad swaths of the population.

Those who already struggle with their behavioral health face new challenges because access to treatment, recovery supports and/or harm reduction services may be cut off.

People who aren’t working because of the mass number of quarantines face anxiety and uncertainty over employment.

The coronavirus outbreak has had a ripple effect that continues to disrupt our lives in ways no one saw coming. Schools and businesses are closed. Hospitals are overcrowded. The stock market is falling. Unemployment is rising. And toilet paper has become an invaluable commodity as the hoarding instincts of panicky consumers drives up the value of the common sanitary product we once took for granted.

Go figure…

Stay Calm (and Wash Your Hands)

So how do behavioral health care professionals suggest we cope with anxiety?

And what tips can practitioners pass along to patients and people who experience anxiety, depression and other symptoms brought on by social and physical distancing?

“We’re all in this together, and there are coping mechanisms that can work for everyone, even if there are nuances that make your situation a little different than another person’s situation,” said Joan King, RN, MSN, CS, a senior consultant in integrated health at the National Council for Behavioral Health.

Guidance for People and Practitioners

In a time of chaos, a little organization helps, King said.

“Many people crave order,” she said. “That’s especially true now when we’re surrounded by chaotic events.”

Here are a few tips to help:

  • Establish a routine – structure can help by providing boundaries and creating some sense of normalcy and predictability.
  • Set small goals – and accomplish them! This will help you feel a sense of accomplishment.
  • Acknowledge your grief/anxiety – we all are experiencing losses. It’s okay not to feel okay.
  • Use technology – stay connected to family, friends and health care practitioners using online applications and platforms.
  • Don’t ignore your physical health – taking care of your body helps you take care of your mind. Also, it’s okay to go outside and take a walk while maintaining distance from others.
  • Limit your news consumption – there’s always time to catch up on the news, so remember to take a break from the tidal wave of information.

Alone, But Not Alone

Social and physical distancing present unique challenges, especially for people who live alone and people who are physically cut off from the behavioral health treatment and services they rely on.

Many individuals who are receiving treatment services will now be accessing them through videoconferencing and telephone support. Treatment agencies and providers have been tooling up to be responsive to the needs of those they serve during these times.

“For individuals working to sustain their recovery, social support and connection are key,” said Tom Hill, senior advisor at the National Council for Behavioral Health. “Practicing social distancing doesn’t have to mean social isolation. The bad news is that most if not all in-person mutual support groups are currently cancelled. The good news is that there are many of these support groups online or are meeting by telephone.”

Social media can help, too. Facebook groups, Zoom, FaceTime can help keep people stay in touch.

“Now more than ever, we need to leverage every available technology that will help us get and stay better,” Hill said. “We need to remember that virtual connection is an authentic form of connection and will get us through the day.”