Families, Inc. Trumann Clinical Supervisor and psychologist Dr. Dana Watson has been featured regularly this spring on KFIN’s Breakfast Club to discuss maintaining a healthy mindset during the coronavirus pandemic. The following transcript is of her conversation with KFIN’s Brandon Baxter on March 18, 2020.
Q: Is it legitimate to feel worried?
Of course. It’s totally normal to feel nervous. Historically, we’ve seen pandemics before, but most of us have not personally been involved in something that has spread so quickly and that we know so little about. Remember that the CDC has released very little statistical information on this virus so far, and it’s moved so fast we’ve not had a lot of time to study it. There is so much still unknown, so speculation and rumors also perpetuate fears.
And I’m a psychologist, right? So, it’s interesting to be going through the same thing my patients are going through in real time. I’m dealing with my own thoughts and feelings—and those of my family—while also trying to help co-workers and patients navigate these waters successfully.
Q: Why do we feel anxious?
Anxiety and a little bit of stress are usually really good to keep us motivated and achieving our goals. In and of itself, anxiety isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Our brains are really good at monitoring our environment for signs of danger.
During an event like this, our brains are receiving so much information about potential risks to us, to our loved ones and to our financial security. And then there are a lot of questions we don’t have answers to—because the research isn’t out yet—so our brains sometimes jump to worst-case-scenario thinking. It can overwhelm us and then our brains and make it difficult to focus on anything else but survival.
Q: And everyone reacts so differently to stress…
Oh my gosh, yes. And again, there’s a difference between an expected level of fear or anxiety or stress and a level that is so high, it can’t be managed successfully and interrupts a person’s ability to function in their daily lives. Sometimes anxiety gets out of our control and interrupts our sleeping, concentration, makes us angry or irritable, it can make us feel helpless, have a fear of others, etc. And when we feel this way for too long, it can often end up causing us to feel depressed.
Q : Any suggestions for dealing with such scary feelings?
Yep. I am a firm believer in not fighting your feelings. I think feelings are part of being human, so allowing yourself to feel what comes up for you is usually much easier than pretending those feelings don’t exist.
So, first, increase your self-awareness. Check in with yourself throughout the day, asking how you’re feeling, what’s going on inside you, what thoughts are you having? Realizing a lot of these feelings are normal responses to our environment and current situation is important. Give yourself permission to have a moment to think and feel, and usually it passes a lot quicker than we think. And it’s a lot less scary.
I also believe in nurturing self-talk. Be gentle and reassuring with yourself, the way you might calm a child that is frightened or scared. Then, when you’re ready, get back on track in taking care of yourself and your daily life.
Q: What are some tips we can all use to get through this?
To keep from being overwhelmed, we want to build psychological resilience in ourselves and in our children by focusing on healthy management of feelings, productivity—goals for the day, for the week, etc.; what is in your control—washing hands, staying away from large groups, not going out if you feel sick; and more importantly, a sense of purpose. We really need to think differently, think about others and understand our connectedness.
1. Get solid information and then get off the news. Too much can be overwhelming and confusing.
2. Keep open lines of communication with your children. Share facts, correct misinformation and address biased comments, as age appropriate.
3. Take necessary precautions.
4. Keep up daily routines—make a daily schedule with your kids.
5. Be careful with caffeine and alcohol intake as it can make you more anxious.
6. Connect with others via electronic methods; misery loves miserable company, so choose wisely.
7. Stay physically active. Take care of your body, get good sleep, eat well, exercise, work in the yard, have a family game night, go for a walk or bike ride.
8. Call us if you feel like you or someone you love is struggling more than you should, like if typical patterns and ways of feelings don’t return to manageable levels.
Look for the helpers—all of the staff in hospitals, health clinics, mental health clinics, first responders, restaurant and grocery workers, truck drivers, post office staff—that are working so hard to keep us all safe and healthy and to have supplies. Be a helper. Call and check on elderly and sick neighbors. Offer supplies to those in need. If you live in an apartment building or you belong to a church or community group, share your name/number in common areas, so you can get on a group text or group call daily.