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April 17, 2020 Coronavirus

The uncertainty and stress associated with coronavirus anxiety are being felt across the world. While you shouldn’t feel ashamed of feeling anxious during this unprecedented time, one can easily heighten their concerns to inhibiting, life-consuming levels. So, how can you manage your mental health during self-isolation?

News bingeing. Toilet paper wars. Face masks. Compulsive cleaning and sanitizing. The world we live in feels apocalyptic – a scary reality for all, but especially for those who suffer from chronic anxiety and stress. It’s virtually impossible to go about your daily business without mention of the novel coronavirus, whether you are stuck at home on quarantine, or an essential employee doing everything you can to get through another worrisome day at work. Particularly due to the continually evolving and “novel” nature of the virus. If you’re reading this, know that you’re certainly not alone here. In fact, anti-anxiety medication prescriptions are up 34% since mid-February, when the COVID-19 crisis began its rapid spread across the United States.

With more than 2 million cases worldwide, and close to 700,000 in the U.S. alone (as of mid-April 2020), it’s natural to worry that a neighbor or loved one may be affected. It’s also reasonable to feel anxiety from the sheer fact that schools, non-essential businesses, places of worship, and public events have been closed indefinitely. Life, as we know it, has been turned upside down. What will life look like a month from now, a year from now? That question alone is stress-inducing.

5 Ways to Manage Coronavirus Anxiety

It goes without saying that the pandemic and government mandates have taken a massive toll on the health of many Americans. However, it’s not just our physical health that is suffering; it’s mental as well.

If your feelings of coronavirus anxiety have developed into a regular panic, obsessive thoughts or actions, feelings of helplessness, or uncontrollable fear, there are many strategies you can adopt to find a sense of calm during this trying time.

1. Follow the Coronavirus Facts

First and foremost, tune out the noise. The fastest way to find yourself in a pit of overwhelm is to take every bit of “news” to heart. And this includes what your friends and family say. While it’s necessary to stay informed as we learn more about how this virus works, keep in mind that there is a bevy of stressors and misinformation being spread on TV and the internet – inaccurate statistics, false reporting, and a direct disregard to what health authorities recommend. Sensationalist media outlets and social media are feeding the frenzy rather than helping to calm it.

Instead, focus only on credible sources of medical information and recommendations. Tune into Governor briefings to stay privy to the status of the virus in your community. Follow the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for rolling updates and guidance on COVID-19.

2. Don’t Overdose on News – Unplug

Limit how much news you consume each day rather than monitoring 24/7 because there is a massive difference between staying informed and obsessing. Too much news, especially from the likes of social media, will only exacerbate your anxiety rather than help it.

Try only checking in for morning updates, and, if you must, tuning into the evening briefings. When the news begins to feel ad nauseam, take a step back, and focus on your daily tasks as you would if this wasn’t happening.

3. Focus on What You Can Control

One of the quintessential pieces of anxiety is the feeling of being out of control in a situation. Unfortunately, being in the middle of a pandemic means that just about everything is out of our control: we can’t put a timeline on how long this will last, we can’t control what other people do (or don’t do), and we can’t dictate who will and won’t get sick. These facts are terrifying, especially for those who find peace in control.

However, we can take practical steps to lessen our own risk of catching the virus, and thus, those living around us. When that lack of command leaves you feeling vulnerable and focusing on everything that could go wrong, take note of what you can manage, such as:

  • Keeping 6+ feet of distance between yourself and others
  • Washing your hands for a minimum of 20 seconds and using hand sanitizer regularly
  • Sanitizing frequently touched surfaces, items, and doorknobs/handles in your home
  • Staying home unless absolutely necessary
  • Checking on loved ones – especially seniors who may be experiencing stress with aging
  • Avoiding non-essential travel
  • Taking care of your health and treating any presumed symptoms
  • Avoiding gatherings of 10 or more people
  • Wearing a face mask on essential outings/errands
  • Following all health recommendations as given by your local government

4. Get Active: Mind & Body

It should come as no surprise that physical health feeds mental health. Exercise and meditation have long been recommended as holistic approaches to stress management, particularly if they were once part of your regular routine. While you’re stuck in isolation, it’s crucial that you remain as active as possible to alleviate the onset of anxiety.

Related:
Senior Isolation During the Coronavirus Pandemic
Stress and Aging: Recognizing & Managing Your Senior’s Symptoms

Depending on your local restrictions, consider getting out in nature, going on a bike ride or a walk, or practicing meditation in an open space. If you can’t go outside, stretch or practice yoga at home, and use the resources at your disposal to do moderate movements that will keep your body agile (even if that means using a can of beans as a weight!). Exercise keeps the mind sharp and is an obvious distraction from the day-to-day developments related to the novel coronavirus. Muscle relaxation exercises and conscious breathing patterns are also useful when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Regulated breathing has been used to fight strain and quiet the mind since ancient times, healing chronic stress, soothing fight-or-flight mode, and many types of trauma.

5. Stay Connected to Family and Friends

Social and physical distancing is not easy, especially if you are extroverted and used to being around people. But being under a stay-at-home order doesn’t mean you have to isolate completely. Isolation can worsen symptoms of anxiety and depression, so those with pre-existing disorders are at higher risk of poor mental health during the pandemic.

While you may not be able to be with your friends and family members physically, you can still talk to them virtually. Fortunately, we live in a digitally-forward world that allows us to stay connected using tools such as Skype, Zoom, FaceTime, and Google Hangouts. Rather than focusing your conversations on our new “normal,” play games, share stories and enjoy each other’s company as you normally would. This is especially important if you have senior loved ones whose loneliness may be intensified during isolation. Be creative to stay connected.

If you are feeling the adverse mental effects of the novel coronavirus and think you could benefit from speaking to a mental health specialist, please contact your healthcare provider, or use these resources as recommended by the CDC:


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A consequence of the Coronavirus pandemic is forced isolation on seniors who rely on socialization. COVID-19 is exacerbating loneliness, which is dangerous to the health and well-being of older adults. Here are some ways you can understand and alleviate the health risks of senior isolation during this trying time. 

As the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) forces us to practice safe social distancing, our neighborhoods, local communities, and airwaves have been flooded with ever-changing advisories related to the pandemic. Government officials have been scrambling to flatten the curve while addressing urgent medical care needs as well as our nation’s rapid plummet into an economic recession. 

However, little attention has been given to what some medical professionals are calling a social recession” – a fraying of social bonds that continue to unravel the longer we go without human interaction. Social connections help us address the challenges we face as individuals and as a society. So, while many parents are overwhelmed with the new normal of having their children learning from home while they are working from home, the greater concern may fall on their own parents. How can forced isolation affect older adults, especially when they may have already been lonely, to begin with? COVID-19 could very well magnify the health risks of solitude.

The AARP Foundation’s Connect2Affect has cautioned that more than 8 million adults aged 50 and older are negatively affected by social isolation and loneliness, a “growing health epidemic” akin to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. 

Research has also shown that people who are isolated and have feelings of loneliness are at a higher risk for health conditions such as high blood pressure, cognitive decline, heart disease, a weakened immune system, and depression.  

And this was on a normal day, before COVID-19 swept across the nation, prompting “stay-at-home” directives in most states in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus. We now face travel restrictions, and the closure of schools, houses of worship, community centers, and all “non-essential” businesses. We have even been advised to see only the people we live with, keeping us apart from most family and friends.

According to the Centers For Disease Control (as of April 2020), the most vulnerable to the virus are the elderly (people 65 years and older) and people with underlying medical conditions such as:

  • Chronic lung disease
  • Moderate to severe asthma
  • Serious heart conditions
  • A compromised immune system 
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney disease (undergoing dialysis)
  • Liver disease
  • Severe obesity

So, we must consider the potential negative repercussions of age, the aforementioned medical conditions, and loneliness when combined.

What “Social Distancing” Means for Older Adults

We are all at risk of feeling lonely and isolated during this time of social distancing. However, the people who are at higher risk for severe illness, our elderly population, may bear the brunt of the social separation. 

Self-isolation for many older adults means a sudden disconnection from all social outlets. Family and friends are warned to stay away, or at a distance of six feet, leaving most elders at home alone (with the exception of those requiring private care). Even those residing in senior living residences and nursing homes are in forced isolation, with the closure of communal dining rooms, halted group activities, and visitor restrictions.

The isolation needed to slow the rate of the virus could incite dire health consequences for older adults and people with disabilities or preexisting health conditions. The unfortunate paradox of doing what is necessary to keep our loved ones safe will ultimately require action to mitigate mental and physical consequences.

How We Can Help With Senior Isolation

Social and physical distancing does not have to mean social disengagement. Here are some easy ways you can help ease your loved one into the new normal:

  • Use technology to stay connected: There are many online options to facilitate “togetherness” with family and friends. Facetime, Skype, Zoom, and Facebook are free and easy ways to get that much-needed “face-time.” Most older adults own a smartphone, desktop computer, or laptop where virtual exercise classes, worship services, books, and games are readily available. Logging into some of these platforms may not be intuitive for some seniors, but a quick Zoom call with a grandchild or a tech-savvy family member will give them the tutorial they need to access these useful tools. Remember, patience is a virtue. And don’t forget the good old fashioned phone call. Designate time to talk, and don’t rush the conversation. With so many working from home, allotting some time in your weekly routine to spend virtual time with a lonely neighbor or loved one will go a long way.
  • Send mail: Encourage friends and family to write cards and letters. Send a care package with favorite snacks, playing cards, puzzles, essential household products, and family photos. A trip to the mailbox will give your loved one a chance to stretch their legs and get some fresh air. Physical correspondence will serve as a reminder that they are in your thoughts.
  • Offer to do necessary errands: Those at risk for suffering the severest consequences from exposure to COVID-19 will be unable to retrieve daily necessities such as groceries and medications. Offer to grocery shop for those in need, and drop it off at their door. Be sure to wave and say hello from the appropriate distance before you go.
  • Start a book or movie club: We all need to know what is going on in the world during this troubling time, but spending too much time watching “breaking news” concerning the virus can cause additional anxiety and stress. Recommend family and friends select a book of the week, and plan a video conference to discuss it in an improvised book club. If your loved one is not a reader, send the gift of a Netflix membership, and have virtual movie nights. 

COVID-19: The New Normal

Social solidarity has come to life as the Coronavirus has taken hold of the nation. We have seen heartfelt moments of families visiting loved ones through windows of nursing homes, anniversary signs, birthday songs, and love letters displayed from a distance. If our new reality means “drive-by” hellos and car parades for birthdays, then this is what we shall do to maintain some sort of normalcy.

Human beings are social animals instinctively, and the Coronavirus has threatened those connections. No one knows how long this social isolation will go on. But we do know that people’s well-being will certainly take a hit during these uncertain times. Because the negative effects of social isolation on mental health are vast, it’s crucial that we check in with our loved ones. As we continue to face the biggest challenge of our lives, let’s make it a priority to reach out to our senior neighbors and family members who may be having a difficult time dealing with the stress and anxiety that social isolation inflicts. 


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