Micah Krempasky, MD, and Richard Zenn, MD, psychiatrists with Mission Hospital Behavioral Health, talk about dealing with your emotions and feelings around COVID-19, as well as methods to communicate in a healthy way with your kids and older adults.
Coping with Social Distancing
[Micah] So, for anyone who knows me, you will know that I am probably one of the most social people alive. And, so when the words “social isolation” comes out, nothing is more terrifying for me.
[Richard] I think now is a time when we need to be close emotionally even if we have to stay distant physically.
[Micah] So, I’ve been working really hard to figure out other ways to connect with people.
[Richard] You know, I think this is an opportunity to really kind of connect and reconnect with those who we’re closest with and, perhaps, do things that we couldn’t do in our busy lives previously. So being able to play a game together, you know, a board game. Um, being able to listen to music together. Or, being able to discuss what’s going on in a meaningful way face to face, I think is a reasonable way to do that for those who are closest.
[Micah] We have tons of social media. We have all kinds of technology that can help us connect. So, making sure that we are staying in touch with the people who are important to us, that we’re having interactions is very important.
Caring for Yourself
[Richard] During these times where our world has been so disrupted, one of the things that I think can be helpful is to maintain routines as much as possible. We should really try to keep our sleep schedule as strict as possible. Keep our same eating patterns. Try not to get into the habit of overeating. We all have a lot of food in our houses now, so that’s easy to do. We know a lot about exercise and mental health these days. There’s emerging evidence about the importance of exercise in helping to prevent depression and anxiety. So, certainly, continuing to exercise in whatever way possible is important. We need to intentionally have times where we’re destressing, whether that’s by meditating or exercising. Being mindful of times away from just dealing with stress or doing things that can increase our anxiety level.
[Micah] Do something that you haven’t had time for. Take a nap. Go for a walk. Call a friend you haven’t talked to in a long time. It would be a great time to learn something new. Try a really complex recipe. Learn to bake bread. Learn a new skill. A craft. Take up sewing. Take up a foreign language. There’s a million things that I can think of that would be exciting. You could be doing something that you’ve put off for a long time. Cleaning a closet. It’s never fun to clean closets, but now we have time to do that. Do a repair that you’ve been putting off. Detail your car. Now, we’ve been given the gift of time and space to be able to take care of some of those things. So, not only do you get a task done, you also get that sense of accomplishment, which can really be a positive mood boost.
Dealing with Depression and Anxiety
[Micah] Many of us suffer with low moods, depression or anxiety all of the time. And, so when there’s something bigger that’s adding to that, it can really make things worse.
[Richard] Keeping good connections with your providers is really important. If you have a physiatrist, seeing what there provisions are.
[Micah] There are lots of new and creative ways that people are receiving care, so don’t think that seeing your therapist or your healthcare provider right now is out of the question, because it’s absolutely not.
[Richard] Now is not the time to isolate, you know, or to distance from treaters, even your primary care provider. Being able to reach out and know that you have that resource available to answer medical concerns that you might have.
[Micah] It’s really important to continue taking your medications. It can be somewhat scary to go out, and if you’re someone who really social distancing and isolating, it may scary to go to the pharmacist. But, there are ways that you can get to the pharmacy to get your medications with low risk.
[Richard] The stress of what’s going on can perhaps lead more people to feel hopeless and helpless, and even entertain suicidal thoughts. It’s really important to know that help’s available. There are suicide hotlines, and there are direct resources available in the community.
[Micah] Please reach out. Please take care of yourself. And make sure that you’re doing the things that you need to do to stay healthy.
Talking with Your Children
[Richard] During these unusual times, many of us have children home. The structure that they typically have to their day, going to school, engaging in after-school activities, playing with their friends. You know, it’s really kind of fallen apart due to the coronavirus crisis. So, that’s a challenge for kids who have been used to that type of structure.
[Micah] What I know is that kids pickup on what we’re putting out. And, so if we’re anxious, our children are going to feel anxious. And, if we feeling sad, our kids are going to feel sad. So, I think those emotions are really important. It’s really important to own what you’re feeling and for kids to see true emotions be modeled. But, I also think that we need to be mindful that their brains may not be ready for the full scope of information, and we have to do things on an age-appropriate level. So, being very aware of the conversations that they’re overhearing, sharing information in a way that’s important to them. So if you’re really struggling, share with them that you’re struggling. But, maybe get your support at a time when they’re not there, so that they don’t hear the really high-level things that are going on for you.
[Richard] The goal is not to let them think that we don’t have anxiety. We’re all anxious. I think it’s important to be honest about that we’re anxious, but that we’re coping and together we can get through this is kind of an important message to be able to give them.
Helping Our Older Population
[Richard] Many of our elderly population are fairly isolated. And, actually, I know my parents are like this. They wouldn’t be inclined to reach out on their own. So, I think it’s important for us to reach out as much as possible.
[Micah] Given that the elderly are more at risk for COVID, they’re really more affected by the isolation and the quarantines that are happening right now.
[Richard] This is challenging. I don’t know when I’m going to see my parents next time. I was lucky to see them a few weeks ago just as this was emerging. But, I’m trying to talk with them more than usual to keep that connection. I’m trying to not just talk about the coronavirus and the effects of that and what’s going on, but to kind of reinvigorate our relationship in other types of ways.
[Micah] The one thing that I know is that helping others helps that person, but, more importantly, it also helps you. Your brain releases endorphins and all kinds of things happen when you help others.
[Richard] There are friends that we have who are older and have to be socially distancing themselves now … reaching out can be a great way to help them, and really help us. I think during these times, we can benefit if we’re helping others as much as possible.
Micah Krempasky, MD, and Richard Zenn, MD, are psychiatrists with Mission Hospital Behavioral Health.