Some simple strategies for emotional wellness during a pandemic.
By Dr. Gene Glass
Dr. Gene Glass is the clinical psychologist at Mary Greeley’s Cancer Resource Center. He has been a practicing psychologist in Ames, Carroll and surrounding areas in Iowa for many years. He has led workshops and seminars on Relaxation, Stress Management, and Assertiveness. His services at Mary Greeley are supported by the Mary Greeley Medical Center Foundation.
Coronavirus. COVID-19. 100,000+ deaths in the U.S. These are some of the terms and numbers that are everywhere right now and that have been every day for the past several months. All media – television, radio, internet and newspapers – are saturated with these terms and the truly horrible consequences related to them. We are living in a pandemic, and at times, it can feel as if we can’t escape the fear and anxiety associated with this reality and its consequences. So, what can we do to manage our own feelings of dread, anxiety, and for some, depression and hopelessness?
In my role at Mary Greeley Medical Center, I serve as a clinical psychologist for patients in the hospital’s Cancer Resource Center. I have also provided a trained, sympathetic ear for Mary Greeley staff who are experiencing stress during this challenging time. My work has provided a window to the feelings people are having as we all face the impact of COVID-19.
I have provided many of my clients some simple steps to help them cope with the impact of the crisis. I appreciate the opportunity to share some of them with Health Connect readers.
First, take a deep breath or two. We need to interrupt the cycle of bad news, bad thoughts and bad feelings, only to return to the bad news that started it all within us. Taking long, deliberate breaths, even one or two, interrupts that cycle and allows us to relax. Hence, the phrase, “I’m going to take a breather.” The best part of taking a few deep breaths is it’s easy to do. For most of us, there will be instant benefits. Our body slows down, our mind slows down, and our thoughts/feelings focus on these phenomena rather than the vast and overwhelming world out there. And, you can take deep breaths any time and any place. Try it now. If you feel good as a result and want to feel even better, do it again.
Another suggestion: Take control of what you can control. You control the source and amount of information you are exposed to all day, every day. If you know you will react to bad and/or worrisome news with anxiety and worry of your own, limit your exposure to this kind of information. Decide to receive whatever news and information you think you need for a limited time each day. An example is to read, watch or listen to the news for 10-20 minutes in the morning and the same each evening. Also, feel free to focus your attention on the good news out there. It’s not sugarcoating to acknowledge the generous, and sometimes heroic, actions this pandemic has produced. You decide the amount of exposure and length of time you want to be informed, but not overwhelmed by it all.
You can also control the immediate environment around you. If you know that listening to music and the fresh air of open windows is relaxing, make a deliberate choice to include these in your day. This is especially important if you are staying home to stay safe most or all of your days right now. Maybe keeping your personal space neat and tidy helps you relax, and cleaning itself can be a relaxing activity
This leads me to a third suggestion: Plan to be active each day. Like the breathing and defining your environment, this is easy to do and free of charge. The length and level of your activity depends upon your comfort level and your physical limitations. Many recent studies on activity/exercise have confirmed that just 10-20 minutes of walking or stretching or doing active chores each day contributes significantly to your physical and emotional well-being. Try it out. Research shows that if you choose an activity and length that are enjoyable, you will follow through with great consistency.
Safe social contact with friends and family is very helpful, and some would say, necessary. You may have read or heard the statement, “Human beings are social animals by nature.” Again, there are many recent studies that confirm this. I have heard people saying we are distancing physically but active socially. So, you can stay safe and still have good times with friends and family using the internet and telephone. When we are connecting with others, the warmth and humor we generate takes the place of the fears and anxiety associated with these strange times in which we are living.
My professional (and personal) experiences with the suggestions I’ve listed have been consistently positive. You will feel better when you follow through with some or all of the items I have described. Each one of us has been stressed out, worried, and even depressed during this difficult time. When you feel dread or anxiety, know that there is nothing wrong with you and you are not alone. Our survival instincts, our “fight or flight” response to danger, is built in. It’s biological so it is likely that everyone around you is feeling the same things you are feeling.
If you want help, reach out and ask for it. That is what I think and feel when I hear the now familiar phrase, “We are all in this together.”
Mental Health Matters
Mary Greeley Foundation raises funds for much-needed mental health services.
This year’s Hope Gala, an annual fundraising event of the Mary Greeley Foundation, would have raised funds and awareness for mental health services. Although the event was cancelled, serving the mental health needs of our community remains a priority, especially in these uncertain times.
We are fortunate to have generous people in our community willing to share their own very personal stories to help bring attention to mental illness and inspire support. People like Allie Wulfekuhle and her husband Brian who share their family’s mental health journey. And people like Pam and Dan Sargent who, after learning that recruiting and retaining mental health providers is one of our greatest challenges,made a significant gift to establish a fund to support those efforts. The Wulfekuhles and the Sargents are featured in a special video originally produced for the gala.
Watch the moving video