From the Jackson Hole News & Guide Column Sound Mind
As the reality of COVID-19 hits us locally as well as spreads across the nation, many individuals are understandably experiencing increased anxiety and stress. Those who are already struggling with mental health issues may be triggered even more so.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has put together “community mitigation strategies” to limit the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. They include suggestions for what we, as a community should be doing to slow the spread of the virus in order to avoid overwhelming the health care system.
This is called “social distancing,” a term that epidemiologists are using to describe a conscious effort to reduce close contact between people to slow exposure. It really should be viewed as physical distancing, as the goal is to keep at least 6 feet between you and other people.
One of the strategies is to cancel or limit large venues where crowds or groups people gather or even move to a higher-level “stay at home” order. Those are especially important for people who have a heightened risk of being more severely impacted by the virus.
These seem like extreme measures and can increase the feeling of anxiety and even lead some to panic. Keep in mind that for most people the virus is not life-threatening. Considering the preparedness efforts, it is important to keep things in perspective. Research shows that the most effective way to handle a pandemic is to take an aggressive approach and incorporate those distancing measures.
One thing that we do know, our daily lives are going to be deeply disrupted, for a while. No one knows for how long or entirely what to expect, leading to an increased general feeling of loss of control. It is important to manage stress and panic and move toward preparation and regulation.
So, what can we do to manage this increased stress and anxiety? Here are some ways:
Stay connected. That may sound difficult when we are trying to distance ourselves, but there are some creative ways to do it while continuing to be responsible. Use technology, phone contact and FaceTime to check in with friends and family. Pay special attention to those who are the most at risk and vulnerable, as they are likely to feel the most isolated and may not have many resources. Try to check in with someone else at least once a day.
Take care of you. Maintain your physical health by using precautions like washing your hands frequently, wearing a mask when out in public, wiping down surfaces, getting enough sleep, eating healthy, exercising, and monitoring any symptoms. Distancing does allow for walks outside, hikes and other activities that limit social interaction to one or two people with allowed distancing. Plan for any medication needs. Many insurance agencies are relaxing the requirements around timing and are allowing for 90-day supplies.
Keep informed, especially about what is going on locally. The St. John’s Health COVID-19 webpage, StJohns.health/coronavirus-info, and the JHCOVID.com site are updated frequently. They have information on where to go if you are experiencing symptoms, and resources for finding food, financial aid, and help for mental health stress. Ready.gov is also a great resource for all sorts of disaster preparedness guidelines.
Acknowledge your anxiety. Some anxiety is normal, but take notice if it is rising too high. In such a case you might consider taking a media break and doing something else for a while. Start a journal, or try doing a meditation, taking a walk or engaging in an activity. Practice mindfulness. MyStrength.com is a free, confidential and mobile-friendly resource for education and activities related to anxiety and other issues. It has a module specific to reducing stress and anxiety related to the coronavirus.
Stay home as much as possible, and limit close contact to those in your household. That said, get outside every day if you are able. You can still enjoy the spring weather. Just do it in a way that is safe and appropriate.
Give yourself a break. With everything that is going on — working remotely, dealing with kids at home, feeling anxiety about a new routine and the unknown — there is a lot to deal with. It is OK to let some things go and just do your best to make it through the day. Take that advice to the outside world as well, and try not to judge people on what is going on. You never know the struggles or stories of others.
Remember: We are all in this together and can get through it as a community. One of the things I love about Jackson Hole is the way we come together to help our neighbors. On that note, don’t forget to howl at 8 p.m. nightly to show appreciation for those front-line workers. Thank you to everyone who is coming together and working tirelessly to keep our community whole.