Being Mindful of the Effects of Coronavirus and Anxiety
So how are you going to cope with the uncertainty the world is now facing because of the COVID-19 pandemic? Will your school reopen before summer? Will your school close like many others? In addition to thinking and wondering about how your kids will fare while school is closed, are you also simply worried about what lies ahead? And how are you doing? It is normal to be anxious and worried about friends and loved ones, but what if you or someone you know gets extremely sick? These as yet unanswered questions can provoke anxiety.
Yet, we can make it worse for ourselves.
Yes, I am washing my hands more and being mindful of staying isolated.
We must also be mindful of how worry and anxiety impact our immune systems. The key word is “impact.” These concerns don’t create your immune system, nor do they destroy the immune system; but they impact it, and in this case – stress, worry and anxiety reduce the effectiveness of our immune system. Similarly, even if I become a social isolate, I will hurt myself and my immune system.
Mitigating the Effects of Coronavirus and Anxiety
So what should I do? We simply can’t “will” worry away, especially when it is based on uncertainty. So, what coping skills should we focus on and teach our children?
- Keep informed, but be critical: If something sounds over the top, likely it is. Information is changing daily–for the very reason that more time and experience give the professionals more data to revise what they are saying. It doesn’t mean we should ignore the information; it means we need to be aware that in uncertain times, information is constantly changing. However, if you sit watching TV and see the same message all day long, you will indeed increase your stress levels.
- During times when the political punditry is in hyper drive, listen to doctors— not to talking heads who specialize in reading tea leaves of polling data and then spin something that makes little sense. Understand the political pundits are paid to put an edge on information.
- Do the responsible things public health professionals are recommending: Stay home if you feel sick, wash your hands more often, disinfect your common areas, have a stock of food. Drink plenty of fluids. If you are in a higher risk group, stay away from people.
And, yes, none of these things is really what we want to hear. We want to hear that a vaccine has been found and that it works well, is cheap, has no side effects, and is in abundant supply. But we aren’t going to hear that. For now, the wise thing is to do what we can, and take care of ourselves. This allows us to take care of others.
Coronavirus and Anxiety: You're Not Alone
However, if worry is keeping you from sleeping well, from eating properly, and making it difficult to concentrate, know that you are not alone. Most of us will be unsettled, and some may try to socially isolate ourselves. This isn’t good either; we need to engage in social interactions to stay well. You can use email, text messaging, telephone or group video chats to reach out to friends, family and neighbors. Individually, keep a journal. Sometimes taking a few minutes to write down what you are thinking and feeling makes a difference. You can also go outside to take a walk and exercise. If these ideas don’t work, reach out to your doctor, or seek out a mental health professional. Don’t make your situation worse by not taking care of yourself.
And if you find that you are drinking more alcohol or self-medicating in other ways to feel better, your immune system will also suffer, and that alone is a reason to reach out. While prayer, exercise and eating healthy foods may not stop the spread of the virus, they can make a difference in how well you are able to cope and help the people you care about cope with the uncertainty ahead. And remember, you aren’t alone—we’re all feeling it.
Richard Long, Ed.D. March 2020
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Learn more on how you can tackle coronavirus and anxiety in Learning First Alliance's webinar with WE Schools / WE Teachers, "Mental Well-Being: How Do I Take Care of Myself When So Many Others Are Needing Me?"