I am a clinical psychologist, with practices at Rittenhouse Square, in Philadelphia, and the Price Waterworks Building, in Stone Harbor.
For the last two decades, I have worked with individuals of all ages, couples, families and groups. I often help treat undue anxiety without medication, but this week, I am treating perfectly appropriate anxiety, in the face of a world disaster of immense proportions.
There is a pandemic, a word-wide, deadly disease epidemic, impacting everyone. In this situation, it makes sense to be anxious, so how can this anxiousness be reduced?
It may be logical that we fear this illness, but we must cope with it. We may be living in a stressful time, but we still need to manage our mental health, preferably without medication.
The COVID-19 virus has created worrisome behavior in everyone. Managing it produces odd stations:
- Who washes their hands multiple times each day for 20 seconds, long enough to sing “Happy Birthday" twice? We do.
- Who willfully isolates themselves from friends, neighbors and colleagues, for fear of catching this potentially deadly disease? We do.
- Who gets up at 6 a.m. to be in an empty supermarket wearing vinyl gloves, as the big cart gets filled with weeks of groceries? We do.
- Under what other circumstances would the mayors of Stone Harbor and Wildwood consider turning away friendly visitors during tourist season?
To deal with the healthy, inevitable anxiety caused by our odd behavior and high stress, I’ve listed two simple procedures to do daily to remain calm.
In a nutshell, they call for someone to reach out and connect emotionally with others, through voice, email or video, and to breathe deeply to remain calm.
- Catch your breath by breathing to the count of four. The World Health Organization (WHO) and Center for Disease Control (CDC) agree that staying calm is important. Did you know that you possess a tool to calm yourself that is powerful, easy and free? Find a comfortable place to sit, keeping both feet on the floor. Rid yourself of distractions, close your eyes, and remain still while you listen to the rhythm of your breathing. To a count of four, breathe in slowly and deeply until your lungs are filled with fresh air. Then, as slowly as you breathed in, breathe out through your mouth, allowing air to leave your body slowly and gracefully. Repeat this up to 10 times to move into a more relaxed space. Feel free to do this several times daily. Catch your breath, you deserve it.
- Reach out and touch someone with your voice. Recent research on, what is now called, "The Loneliness Epidemic" informs us that too much time alone or with our cell phone leaves us less fulfilled than time shared with those we love or care about. The World Health Organization and other resources agree that recent research on The Loneliness Epidemic warns that feeling socially isolated can be dangerous for both physical and mental health. We need to connect with people to feel safe and healthy. To that end, during a pandemic, people need to not feel endangered during a time when it is normal to be frightened to a degree. It is essential that we feel connected to friends, families and colleagues, as well as health professionals that can help us manage natural anxiety that ensues from the first world health disaster in our lifetimes. Since we are no longer able to meet with each other as usual, we can use our phones and the internet to remain connected. This may be as important as washing our hands since social isolates suffer reduced life spans and deeper mental health concerns.
To Consider: Who might you reach out to in a safe way? Will you do this? Why or why not? Will you give yourself the gift of deep breathing to relax the tension that is a part of our world? If not, why? If so, how does this feel?
To Explore: Anything that the New York Times manages is worth reading. Stay informed.
Reduce the impact of this pandemic by practicing self-care. You’ll be glad you did.
ED. NOTE: Dr. Coche practices clinical psychology in Stone Harbor and Philadelphia. She invites responses through her website, www.cochecenter.com.