How to cope with being cooped up

| March 25, 2020 1:00 AM

As we weather the CLOVID-19 crisis, it’s important to think about our mental well-being and learn some tactics for avoiding unneeded stress and anxiety. It would be so easy to say, don’t worry everything will be fine, but you would just come back at me and ask me when that’s apt to happen. And, of course I have no idea.

Last week, Dr. Joseph Wassif was on KSPT talking about COVID-19 and dealing with the additional stress to our already stressful lives.

He said “Let’s be mindful of the fear-based environment that’s being created. Don’t let the virus monopolize every conversation you have. Take a break from the topic.”

The World Health Organization agrees. Their website says, “Avoid watching, reading or listening to news that cause you to feel anxious or distressed; seek information mainly to take practical steps to prepare your plans and protect yourself and loved ones.

Seek information updates at specific times during the day once or twice. The sudden and near-constant stream of news reports about an outbreak can cause anyone to feel worried.”

Dr. Wassif also said that we should be “mindful of keeping ourselves healthy.” He thinks the words “social distancing” could be changed to “physical distancing.”

He says what we should be doing is actually the opposite of “social” distancing because we need to stay in touch with people and should not disconnect.

“Physically isolating and then socially isolating is a key pathway to depression,” Dr. Wassif said.

He recommends checking up on family, friends and neighbors by phone, Facetime, Skype or even by writing letters. Someone had a great idea that children should draw pictures and write notes to residents of assisted living homes who are now sequestered.

WHO says that assisting others can benefit the person receiving support as well as the helper.

Think about running errands for someone who is at high risk of serious symptoms if they contract the virus. You know who they are, the elderly or those who are immunocompromised.

Dr. Wassif also said to open the window and get some fresh air. “Healthy things that you did before the announcement of the virus still works today,” he said. Do things like taking a walk, going for a run, eating healthy and basically “coming up with new and healthier solutions.”

The National Alliance on Mental Illness says that it can be helpful to create a structured, dedicated work environment if working from home. This can also be true for your children who are now being home-schooled.

“Structure and routine may be helpful for people with mental health vulnerabilities, especially during times of uncertainty. We encourage you to maintain a regular routine with the work hours that are usually worked, including keeping up with morning rituals. Dressing in regular work attire and taking regular breaks, including lunch time, may also be helpful,” NAMI said.

And, I’ll say that this may work for all of us, not just those who are vulnerable.

Going to sleep at the same time each night and making sure to get at least seven hours of sleep is important for adults and children alike.

Make a list of all the things you’ve been thinking you’d like to do. As long as the internet is functioning you can learn a new language, read long-forgotten or never read poetry or listen to a different genre of music. TV binge watching is great, but remember no screen time at least an hour before bedtime.

“During times of stress and crisis, it is common for children to seek more attachment and be more demanding on parents,” WHO says. “Discuss COVID-19 with your children in honest and age-appropriate language. Help children find positive ways to express disturbing feelings such as fear and sadness. Sometimes engaging in a creative activity such as playing, and drawing can facilitate this process.”

Try to keep your sense of perspective and humor.

This virus will not stay around forever. Don’t panic. Don’t become a hypochondriac. Unless you know you’ve been exposed to someone with the virus or are running a high fever, don’t try to get tested.

Just as you will call your primary care provider if you’re sick, call him or her if you’re feeling seriously depressed or anxious.

Even though you might be isolated, you’re not alone.

Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at