Virus fears, isolation can trigger anxiety. Here are some tips on how to cope.

Virus fears, isolation can trigger anxiety. Here are some tips on how to cope.
Emily Williams, third-grade teacher of Austinville Elementary, left, helps her daughter Lily, 3, as her two sons Braden, 10, bottom left, and Landen, 8, complete school assigned virtual assignments on Friday, March 20, 2020, at their home in Decatur, Ala. (Dan Busey/The Decatur Daily via AP)

By ABBY DRIGGERS, Alabama Daily News

In a growing pandemic that threatens global health, the worry about the unknown, upended routines and economic concerns can significantly impact the mental health of Americans.

And those with underlying mental illness are particularly vulnerable, advocates say.

As of Monday, 33,404 confirmed cases of COVID-19 were reported nationwide and 400 people had died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Alabama, the Department of Public Health shows 197 confirmed cases in the state with no reported deaths.

Alabamians have been asked to stay home as much as possible, and schools and some businesses and government offices have closed. Health officials have said the U.S. could be dealing with this health emergency for weeks, if not months.

“[Uncertainty] can trigger many mental illnesses whether it be anxiety or depression or isolation,” said Kelly Emerson, the executive director of the Alabama chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Mental health advocates across the state acknowledged that it is normal for all citizens to feel additional stress and anxiousness amid the coronavirus.

“I think everyone needs to do something, whatever makes them happy during the day,” Marbi McCann, the community outreach manager at Self-Recovery LCC, an addiction treatment program, said in a phone interview. “Whether that’s reading a book, talking on the phone with a loved one, whatever it is for you and your personal preferences.”

“It’s important to stay connected to those people around you during this time,” McCann said.

There are ways to manage the impact COVID-19-related disruption and worry has on mental health and the anxiety Alabamians likely feel. Here are some ways to cope with stress and anxiety during the outbreak:

Maintain a Schedule

In an online resource, the University of Alabama at Birmingham noted maintaining day-to-day normal activities can help during uncertain times.

By practicing consistency, those affected are more willing to benefit from the normalcy a schedule can provide, Emerson said.

“Maintaining a routine is really important,” Emerson said. “So even if you’re at home working remotely, get dressed like you’re going to work and maintain your morning routine just to provide some sense of normalcy.”

Limit Media Intake

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends those worried about the coronavirus or its impacts take breaks from watching, reading or listening to news stories, including social media.

“Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting,” said the CDC on its website offering guidance to worried Americans.

“It is important to stay informed from valid sources,” said Emerson. “Check daily with the CDC and the Department of Mental Health here in Alabama, but stay away from unverified information on social media and those types of environments.”

One tip to stay informed while not becoming overwhelmed could be limiting news intake to twice a day at scheduled times, Emerson said.

Know you’re not alone

The uncertainty surrounding the virus has created a widespread public anxiety, one the CDC has acknowledged. It says everyone reacts differently in emergency situations depending on the social and economic circumstances of the person and the community.

Therapist Teri Murphy uses the social media platform Instagram to provide mental health access to those who may feel worried about the virus. Using the hashtag #AskATherapist, Murphy answers questions from those seeking advice on how to cope with anxiety.

“Once we know what we need, then we can cope in a way that best cares for ourselves.” Murphy wrote. “Coping can be connection, rest, moving your body, prayer, water. Whatever you need.

“You can’t choose what’s happening. You can choose how you respond. We will have all our feelings – anxiety, sadness, fear, anger, everything. And those are just right. We are wired to feel. We share those feelings with our safe others and it helps us feel better.”

View this post on Instagram

RELATING TO YOUR PARTNER WHEN STUCK AT HOME. . Thank you for your questions during the live yesterday and today about how to relate to one another during #socialdistancing. Many of you asked about what we can expect in our relationships and what to do, so I put together some helpful things to know and tips on what you can do. . Your relationship is the same as it was before it felt like the world would never be the same again. It’s just heightened. If you shut down when you’re distressed, that will be your same protective strategy now and if you got upset and protested disconnection before, that will be you move now. They’ll be heightened and trickier because this is crisis and possibly trauma. . The same ways we find connection when we’re not in crisis are the same ways we find connection in the middle of crisis, but heightened. We name how we’re feeling. Talk about the fear and anxiety. Your expectations and schedules. Working from home and juggling kids and dogs and food and stress. . Ask for what you need. Let your partner know if you can’t help them just yet because of your own fear. That’s okay. More space will come. . We will all need more care. More reassurance. More holding. More love. More understanding. More empathy. More connection. That helps soothe use and give us hope and a sense of belonging. We shift to a ventral cabal state in our nervous system - the calm, safe space - when we feel accepted and connected. . Play and creativity are essential right now for the health of our relationships. It releases stress, helps us imagine which gives us hope, helps us enjoy each other and release some of our fear and anxiety. Novelty connects us and fires up feel good chemicals in our brain. Play is huge for our human souls. . We are in this together. And we will help each other through. . If there are things that have helped you through this time, would you leave a comment below and help us out?

A post shared by Dr. Teri Murphy (@drterimurphy) on

Seek Support

While we should all practice social distancing, there are certain ways to maintain the comfort we get from contact with others, Emerson said.

“Maintain communication through text, Skype, Facetime and get some fresh air and enjoy the sunshine,” Emerson said.

Colleges and universities across the state have published additional coronavirus mental health resource webpages.

Many universities, such as University of Montevallo and Jacksonville State University, are providing individual consultation with the student body by phone.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness released tips on its website Friday for those with mental illness. These tips include asking for accommodations for therapy sessions and prescribed medications. NAMI recommends asking health care providers about online or electronic therapy sessions and gaining access to 90-day supply for prescribed medications as opposed to a 60- or 30-day supply.

Other Tips

When asked how individuals can help those people with mental illness, Emerson said, “Practice empathy. I think it will go a long way,”

According to a press release by the Alabama Department of Mental Health last Friday, the highest priority of the Alabama Department of Mental Health (ADMH) is the health, safety and well-being of individuals with disabilities, families, staff and all Alabamians.

Mental health advocates across the state are encouraging people to stay in contact with a provider. For the latest on COVID-19 from Alabama health officials, visit http://www.alabamapublichealth.gov/infectiousdiseases/2019-coronavirus.html

To learn more about the CDC’s COVID-19 response, visit www.cdc.gov/COVID19.