The world is getting a crash course in mental health awareness. Mental health professionals, however, are well-prepared, especially when it comes to the shift from in-person to online or phone therapy. More therapists are expanding from phone, text, and video chats to Instagram and other social media platforms.
All caregivers and healthcare providers are now embracing teletherapy out of necessity. We want to help the people you care about, and the community you live in, cope with stress. Technology, especially the internet, is finally fulfilling its greater purpose by keeping us connected. This is a guide to coping with stress caused by the coronavirus.
Start with yourself.
You can’t take care of anyone unless you take care of yourself. This is the first thing you will hear in a teletherapy session, from any caregiver. Things you can do to support yourself include taking breaks from watching, reading or listening to news stories, especially on social media. Read and research instead of passively panicking. Share the facts about COVID-19 and learn about the actual risk to yourself and people you care about.
Don’t forget to take care of your body by deep breathing, stretching, meditating, eating well-balanced meals, exercising and getting plenty of sleep. Tap into the spirit of connectivity by connecting with others via Skype, Facetime, or other virtual means. Why not make a simple phone call?
Check in with children and teens.
Virtual interaction may be the domain of children and teens, but they also react to what they see from adults around them. Check in with them and support them by remaining calm and confident. Be better prepared to reassure others, especially children.
Watch for signs of stress, such as excessive crying or irritation. Some may regress to behaviors they have outgrown, including toileting accidents or bedwetting. Excessive worry or sadness, unhealthy eating or sleeping habits, irritability and avoidance of activities enjoyed in the past are the warning signs of depression and anxiety.
Support your children by answering their questions and taking time to talk with them. Reassure them that they are safe and that it is ok to feel upset. Apply the same measures you applied to yourself. Limit exposure to news coverage. Try your best to be a role model.
Reduce secondary traumatic stress (STS) reactions.
First responders, doctors and other healthcare providers are on the frontlines, day in and day out, exposing themselves to the virus, not to mention a great deal of trauma. This can lead to secondary traumatic stress (STS) reactions.
Reduce these reactions by acknowledging that STS can impact anyone helping others with traumatic events. Learn both the physical and mental symptoms. Give them the necessary time and space needed to recover from responding to the pandemic. Offer help if the symptoms are affecting their ability to care for their family.
Think about loved ones with mental health conditions.
The world may be getting a crash course in mental health awareness, but awareness of pre-existing conditions may be experiencing a setback. People with these conditions should continue with their treatment. Make sure your loved ones are aware of their teletherapy options.
Stress during an infectious disease outbreak may be caused by the worsening of chronic health problems, changes in sleep or eating problems and difficulty with concentration. If you struggle with mental illness, remain vigilant and take note of new or worsening symptoms. Avoiding relapse or increased use of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs is highly important. Additional information can be found at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Don’t forget about people released from quarantine.
It is easy to forget that there are already people who are released from quarantine. If a healthcare provider thinks you have been exposed to COVID-19, you may be separated from loved ones, even if you do not get sick. Coming out of quarantine will result in mixed emotions, including relief as well as fear and worry about your health and the health of your loved ones.
Monitoring for signs and symptoms must be exhausting, not to mention stressful. Unfounded fears of contracting the virus, even if you are determined not to be contagious, will probably cause sadness, anger or frustration. Expect other emotional or mental health changes, such as guilt from not being able to perform normal work or parenting.