These are scary times for all of us, but there are many ways we can still help each other.
During these challenging times, anxiety, fear and depression are all common emotions many people are experiencing.
Human beings are not comfortable in the unknown or with social distancing. We are a species that needs to feel connected, so the onslaught of this virus and its consequences has put us all in a state of shock.
These are unprecedented times. Our knowledge is limited, and we are depending on science for answers that are not yet known.
The COVID-19 crisis has put us in a state of insecurity with both our health and economy, the two most vital issues in our lives.
The job losses, coupled with the number of cases and deaths that flood our television screens each morning can precipitate a communal type of post-traumatic stress disorder not unlike that experienced after the Great Depression, Pearl Harbor, the Vietnam War and 9/11.
As someone who’s been practicing as a psychotherapist since 1978, I would be hard pressed to imagine that there will be anyone who’s mental health will be left entirely unaffected by this catastrophic event. The question is, instead, to what extent and what can be done about it?
There are specific, different issues being faced by those of us living alone as opposed to those of us living with a spouse, partner, roommate, or family.
Each of these situations has its own hardships. Those living alone can feel isolated and over time, that can be a cause for depression. Those living with another person, whether their spouse, lover, friend, roommate or family, may face conflict and frustrations. And those who test positive for the virus are likely to be overwhelmed with the unknown consequences.
What can you do to help if you’re worried about someone while social distancing orders are still in place?
It all depends on what each person is distressed about and their level of discomfort.
Do they have symptoms? Are they without enough money to care for themselves? Do they have a family member who has the virus?
There are so many mitigating circumstances that it is impossible to have an answer for everyone and everything. So, what can you do?
Most people will feel some degree of anxiety and fear; that’s part of being human. But there are many distractions and resources that may be helpful to call on.
Here are 11 things you can do to help someone if you’re worried about their mental health while we’re still social distancing.
- Call the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI). The people at NAMI will provide you with a list of resources and guidelines on what to do. The helpline is available 24/7/365 at 1-800-950-NAMI, or in a crisis, you can text “NAMI” to 741741.
- Check out Google’s resources on COVID-19. The powerful search engine has created a special portal with the latest information, advice and answers to pressing questions about COVID-19.
- Get help from a therapist. If you have a therapist, you probably already know that most are currently willing to do telehealth sessions by phone, Facetime, or Skype. I have been offering free 30-minute counseling sessions through the month of April for anyone interested in receiving support and if the stay-at-home mandate continues, so will my offer. It is my way of giving back to the community what the community has given me. If you don’t have a therapist, call NAMI at the number above and they can help you find one.
- Ask what they need. Simply listening to our family members, friends and neighbors is helpful. Sometimes just hearing a friendly voice over the phone can alleviate anxiety. If someone is having a panic attack, have them blow into a paper bag several times. It works. It’s best to stay away from the emergency room during these precarious times unless they are struggling with their breathing and have other symptoms of the virus.
- Practice empathy and patience. Unless you are a trained professional, there is little you can offer therapeutically. However, there is so much you can do by being present, compassionate and understanding. Unless you are fearful they may be having suicidal thoughts, that is all you need to be. If you suspect that someone is suicidal, then you need to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) or 911. You are not prepared to take care of this issue alone. You will need professional help.
- Find out what interests the person who is struggling. Watching a television series or movie with them can be a good diversion. If you can’t be together, you can arrange to press play at the same time. Reading books and downloading fun new apps can be a great escape as well.
- Encourage them to do something they always say they don’t have time to do. Spring cleaning can be a great project to tackle. It can take their mind away from the day to day news.
- Suggest that it might be best not to check the news or the stock market. Doing these things every day during such difficult times might be causing them to lose sleep or increase their blood pressure. The stress has a strange way of interfering with neurogenerative processes like sleep, appetite and general well-being. Watching the news while things are so volatile may only make someone more anxious. And until COVID-19 is firmly behind us, the market will stay in volatility, so it’s best not to follow it daily either. I give myself this same advice!
- Sex is a great tranquilizer. I am sure there will be many COVID-19 babies! Of course, this is only an option if you have been homebound with your honey with knowledge that you are both safe and free from the virus.
- Give them an opportunity to be helpful to you. When we help others, we help ourselves. We morph our pain into purpose and passion which makes us feel good. I have dinner with my daughter and her father every evening. We sit at my dining room table, six feet apart. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than being alone. She cannot work now as she is a hair designer, and that is not considered an essential business. So, preparing new and exciting meals that she never had the time to do when she was working, is a rewarding and fulfilling accomplishment. More than that, she feels she is providing her parents with something they would not have otherwise. She is a gourmet cook and so she prepares amazing vegetarian dinners that keep her distracted from the day to day surrealism. She gets busy doing what she loves to do, and we reap the benefits of the fruits of her labor.
- Encourage them to try a new indoor hobby. Think puzzles, crossword puzzles, painting, knitting, crocheting, needlepoint, practicing an instrument, learning a new language … just about anything that can interrupt the compulsive worry gene.
The stay-at-home order has created many concerns for all of us, but when you think about your priorities, try to remember what is most important — your health or your money?
We are all in this together and it is most important to support our loved ones during this crisis.
These are defining moments. Our first responders are exemplary at providing both physical and emotional support. We can do it too in our own way.
There is help! Lean on the resources in your community. Do the best you can do. That is all any of us can do and that is enough!
Be gentle and kind to your husband, wife, buddy, kids, parents, neighbors and yourself. This too shall pass!
Joan E Childs, LCSW is a renowned psychotherapist, inspirational speaker and author of I Hate The Man I Love: A Conscious Relationship is Your Key to Success. In private practice since 1978, she specializes in individual and couple’s therapy, grief therapy, EMDR, NLP, inner child work and codependency. Learn more about her services at www.joanechilds.com.
This article first appeared on YourTango.