Coping with COVID-19

It’s been 60 days since the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee of the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern.” Since then, media coverage and general societal discussion have remained constant about the pandemic.

The topic’s monopoly in just about every conduit of information is pushing supply chains, business continuity plans, and more importantly society’s mental health to the limits. We’re seeing reflections of panic and anxiety set in as grocery stores are left with bare shelves and gun and ammunition stores experiencing never-before-seen highs in sales volume.

Dr. Geralyn Datz, a trusted colleague and highly regarded clinical health psychologist, describes that anxiety contagion is a phenomenon where people enter survival mode during times of crisis. When we are experiencing uncontrollable events, especially threats of illness or death, people will naturally experience feelings of anxiety and panic.

“We then seek to control something, anything else, that relates to our survival. We become overwhelmed by uncertainty and fear about the future. So, while we may consciously realize that we will not run out of food or essentials, our panic spikes when we see someone with a grocery cart full of toilet paper or food,” Dr. Datz explains.

Considering the aforementioned, it is important to remember how potent and beneficial maintaining a sense of normalcy can be during a time where change is coming at us hard and fast. So, how does one go about being “normal” under unprecedented circumstances?

Throughout my career, I’ve learned to lean on a couple of very rudimentary, yet highly effective, elements to help keep me focused and composed in times of high anxiety and uncertainty. For some, the following is a review and reminder while others may be reading this information for the first time. In either case, I hope this column will edify you and help you cope with the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

The Natural Stabilizer

Employers all across the country are working fervently to maximize the use of telecommuting wherever possible. This is a fantastic move and makes a lot of sense from a financial standpoint for all involved and health and wellness reasons for employees on multiple levels.

The scientific evidence supporting the benefits that work is clear and abundant. Experts have concluded that work meets important psychosocial needs and is central to individual identity. It is for this reason that work can serve as a natural stabilizer in turbulent times.

Many who have never needed to telecommute find themselves working to establish a routine and tempo that lends itself to productivity. For these individuals, this presents unexpected hurdles that range from a properly equipped workspace to challenges unique to a COVID-19-driven environment.

School districts shutting down and children being sent home for schooling has now become the new normal. Together with the cancellation of all extra-curricular options outside the home, staying focused on work is easier said than done.

Many being relocated to work from home are developing schedules, for themselves and their children. There is no better way to guarantee a safe arrival at a destination than having a plan to get there. Schedules will help ensure productivity while keeping the little ones safe and occupied in constructive activities.

With this in mind, prioritizing finding a schedule, or set up, that works best within your work-from-home environment is essential. Find a way to keep working. Your employer and your mental wellbeing are depending on it.

Seeking Serotonin

Scheduling time outdoors can be a great way to unplug and reset mentally while benefiting biologically from the sun’s rays. Exposure to sunlight is thought to trigger the release of serotonin, the mood-boosting hormone that helps a person feel calm and focused.

The sun can also serve as a natural source of Vitamin D. WHO suggests that 5 to 15 minutes of casual sun exposure on the arms, hands, and face two to three times per week is sufficient to keep your Vitamin D levels high. Vitamin D plays a crucial role in various areas of the body including immune function.

In addition to practicing social distancing and good hygiene, maintaining a good functioning immune system is vital in the defense against virus contamination.

Make sure your daily schedule has room for stepping outside and exposing your skin to the sunlight.

The Reputed Extrovert

I’ve spent the vast majority of my career playing airport hopscotch and musical hotels across the country. I’ve coined the phrase, “There is no substitute for face-to-face interaction in order to deepen personal connections.” As you can derive, I thrive in group settings where I can interact freely person-to-person.

As an extremely social individual and reputed extrovert, the mere mention of social distancing and self-quarantines makes me uneasy and anxious. This along with the external factors that we are all faced with as we navigate through this crisis can be the perfect storm driving us to a state of stress and panic.

Coping with COVID-19 and its impact on society will require maintaining an intent focus on mental health steering clear of unhealthy and unproductive mental snares. Stay safe, keep working and find time for the sun.

Categories: Evidence-Based Medicine (EBM), Inspiration, Uncategorized

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