Lessening pandemic anxiety

By McKenzie Caldwell - [email protected]

As the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases continues to rise throughout the country, anxiety also continues to rise. The Paint Valley Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health (ADAMH) Services Board offered tips to help manage anxiety during these uncertain times.

The board encouraged community members to ask themselves questions like “What do I see? What do I hear? What do I feel? and What do I taste?” when dealing with anxiety.

“Questions such as these will help you bring your thoughts into the present moment,” the organization advised. “Take a few deep breaths and focus your thoughts on your breathing.”

The Paint Valley ADAMH Board also recommended exercising, eating well, getting six to eight hours of sleep as well as calling a friend or loved one and writing.

“Try journaling your thoughts, write thank you notes to others, create a gratitude list, or even write a letter to yourself reminding yourself of all your capabilities,” ADAMH said.

Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services Director Lori Criss appeared on WOSU Radio’s All Sides with Ann Fisher on Wednesday to offer tips for managing anxiety during the pandemic.

“Generally, in times of stress, people are looking for ways to feel more in control of what’s happening to them,” Criss said. “All of us deal with stress every day, and we have our normal coping mechanisms. I think what’s different about this is that our normal coping mechanisms may not be available to us, or not in the way that we’re used to experiencing them.”

Coping mechanisms, or adaptations to stress that can give someone more control over their mental well-being and overwhelming emotions can include going to a movie theater, exercising, and spending time with friends, but these things can become inaccessible during self-quarantine.

“While we may not be able to go to the gym, if you’re a person who does that, there are still other ways we can exercise and move our bodies to help deal with that physical stress and get rid of some of that extra energy. If we’re used to hanging out with friends at a restaurant, we can still connect with them through phone calls, social media, going outside and gathering in different ways than we have before,” Criss said. “It’s just a matter of taking what we know and thinking about how to do it differently and then taking action.”

Criss also discussed ways to help children understand and maintain their mental health during the pandemic.

“Kids read our energy and feel our emotions, so it’s important to inform them about what’s happening and to say it in a way they can understand and so they can also feel in control of the situation and like they’re contributing to a healthy environment for the home,” Criss said. “The other thing I find helpful as a parent, even in times of stress, is remembering to use manners. Saying please and thank you and having them do that as well helps to keep a less stressful tone.”

According to Ohio State University Chief Wellness Officer Dr. Bernadette Melnyk, common signs of anxiety in young children may include restlessness or hyperactivity, temper tantrums, nightmares, and clinging behaviors; signs of anxiety in older school-age children and teenagers may include difficulty concentrating and sleeping, anger, restlessness, and physical complaints like stomachaches and headaches. Children and teens may also return to things they did when they were younger to help make themselves feel more comfortable and secure.

Melnyk also encouraged parents to give their children the opportunity to voice their concerns — and to take the time to listen.

“Ask your children, ‘What is worrying you most right now?’ and take time to listen. Decrease anxiety in your child by reassuring them that you’ll get through this together. Emphasize that adults are doing everything possible to take care of the stressful situation,” Melnyk suggested. “Reassure your children that they did nothing wrong to cause what happened. Toddlers and preschool children often feel guilty when stressful things happen. Tell children and teens that what they’re feeling is normal and that others are feeling the same way.”

Melnyk reminded parents that how they react to the situation will reflect in children’s coping mechanisms both in the present and the future.

“Children watch how their parents cope and often take on the same coping strategies. Showing your children that you use positive coping strategies to deal with stress will help them to develop healthy ways of coping,” Melnyk said. “Help your children to replace negative thoughts with positive ones: If your child seems stuck in worry, ask them what negative thoughts they have and see if you can reframe them in positive ways. ‘I might get sick’ might be replaced with, ‘I’m going to stay well.’”

Melnyk also recommended providing as much structure as possible in children’s daily schedules. If your children have a difficult time talking about their feelings, Melnyk recommended asking young children what their stuffed animals or dolls are thinking and feeling; older children and teens may find journaling about their thoughts and feelings to be helpful.

Staying socially active while also practicing social distancing is also important, Melnyk said.

“Ask your child to help you think of how many ways they can stay in touch with family and friends without visiting them to boost social wellness,” Melnyk said. “Strategies include writing letters and email, Skype or FaceTime conversations and phone calls. Some video games such as Minecraft encourage social interaction and can be played without giving access to strangers — check to see what server your child uses and who has access.”

Paint Valley ADAMH Board Executive Director Penny Dehner said, “If you are experiencing an overwhelming feeling of anxiety, or other distressing mental health symptoms, please call 740-773-HELP or text 4HOPE to 741741.”

Reach McKenzie Caldwell at 937-402-2570.


By McKenzie Caldwell

[email protected]