The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a stressful and frightening situation for virtually everyone in the world. For adults and children who suffer from anxiety-related disorders, that stress can be triggering and debilitating.
On Friday, The Emporia Gazette polled Facebook users on whether or not they were experiencing increased anxiety or mental health issues in the face of the pandemic. Overwhelmingly, the response was “yes.”
Although the poll had not closed at press time, of the 799 respondents to the poll, 65 percent said they were experiencing heightened anxiety or mental health issues.
“My anxiety [is] through the roof over safety for my family,” Jenna Erwin said in a comment. “Worried about how far this could go. When people will start trying (to) steal to get by. Can I protect my family?”
“Personally, my anxiety level is definitely higher,” Dee Cruse said. “I have a special needs daughter that can not handle this type of virus. On top of that concern, I am worried that the supplies we need to maintain our household will not be available when needed. Those people who are panic buying are causing others to panic buy. It’s contagious and concerning to say the least.”
“It’s honestly heartbreaking seeing us all as a town, city, state and even the whole country going through this,” Chanel Schumann said. “Yes, we are all going through this differently. But this a first for all of us. We aren’t taught the proper or exact right way to get ready for the unexpected events like this. Some believe we are acting too little or too much. But we have to understand that if we follow the rules and respect our fellow neighbors and the people around us — we can get through this.”
Still, around 35 percent of those who took the poll said they were not experiencing anxiety in regard to the pandemic.
“I’m less worried about the virus, than I am about the governmental overreach,” Dustin Johnson said. “But of course, that’s seen as a necessity since people can’t control themselves.”
“I, for one, think this has blown up into a way bigger deal than it ever should have,” Dana Leigh said in a comment. “If you look at statistics, it is not even as bad as influenza is every year. I’m frustrated because my freedoms are being limited due to businesses closing and/or limiting hours. Not to mention I am now unemployed because I work in the food industry.
“Already suffering with anxiety and depression issues, I am limited to where I can go and what I can do, being expected to just stay home all the time does cause mental illness to worsen. I am not afraid of the coronavirus itself, again, the media has blown this thing up to be a way bigger deal than it should be. Yeah, people have died, but also the people that have died are the same people that would likely die if they contracted influenza. They are older people with pre-existing health conditions.”
The Emporia Gazette reached out to local mental health care providers for their thoughts on how to manage mental health at a time when recommendations change minute-by-minute.
CrossWinds Counseling & Wellness CEO Amanda Cunningham said it’s normal for people to feel overwhelmed by the amount of information coming at them throughout the day. Anxiety, she said, is intense and excessive worry that can be focused on specific situations or events.
“Anxiety is all typically about the things that we cannot control,” Cunningham said. “If we are talking about something as simple as a fear of spiders, the spider itself isn’t what’s causing the anxiety. It’s what the spider might do.”
With that in mind, she said it’s important to remember that there is little that we can control in regard to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The focus can really be on, ‘What can I control?’” Cunningham said. “I can wash my hands. I don’t have to do it over and over again, but when should I? I can control if I sit around the whole time, or if I remain active and keep a schedule. I can control how much of the TV or how much social media I take in. We really need to focus on those things. We really want to focus on that basic self-care — movement, diet, sleep, intake of good fluids, having a good support network.”
As social beings, having a support network is a huge component of getting through a crisis. However, with guidelines in place for social distancing making that difficult, Cunningham said checking in with friends and family by phone or video calls was a good way to stay in contact. People can also play games together online, or watch movies or shows together even when they are miles apart.
And, go outside as much as possible.
“We want to get outdoors; we want the sunshine,” Cunningham said. “We need sunshine. We need air. So, unless we hear otherwise, we want to encourage people to get out and do that as much as possible, we just don’t want people to be confined.”
For people caring for children during this time, Therapist Katie Crook of Katie Crook Counseling Services said it’s important to remember that children are learning how to react to emergencies and stressful situations.
“Remember your kids see and hear everything,” she said. “If they don’t understand the words, they can still sense the tension and unease. It’s important, now more than ever, to model a calm and cool demeanor. We need to show our kids resiliency right now. We are teaching them how to respond in moments of uncertainty and chaos.”
As a parent herself, Crook said she understands how difficult it is for parents right now with school buildings closed for the remainder of the year. But, it’s not just hard on the parents.
“Everyone’s routines are completely thrown off right now, which can be very difficult for children,” she said. “Don’t spin your wheels right now stressing over long division. Right now, focus on making your kids feel safe and settled. Listen to them and be sure to repeat back to them what you’re hearing so they can feel heard and validated. Division can wait.”
Crook said some good ways to get rid of anxiety is to find an outlet as a family, either with dance parties or guided meditation sessions. Another idea, she said, is to put a “gratitude board” somewhere prominently in the house and have everyone write something they are grateful for each day. Even the small things.
“Your kids will remember your dance party for years to come,” she said. “Once this immediate dust settles and we know more of what to expect, it will be important to write out a schedule for your kids. When children have a clear understanding of expectations, anxiety will lessen.”
CrossWinds is still providing behavioral health services in all seven counties it services, but is currently transitioning to virtual locations with the use of Zoom — an app available on both cell phones and personal computers. People who currently have appointments will be contacted by CrossWinds staff with details. If you would like to make an appointment, call 343-2211 or visit www.crosswindsks.org.