How to manage COVID-19 stress, anxiety

Updated: Mar. 24, 2020 at 4:53 AM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - COVID-19 is affecting every part of our lives.

From staying home to changing the entire family’s daily routine, every Louisiana resident is affected by the novel coronavirus.

That’s a lot to manage mentally. But there are things you can do to help navigate this new, temporary, normal.

It seems like we’re constantly getting new information about COVID-19 from federal, state and local leaders.

It’s easy to be glued into social media feeds and the 24-hour news cycle but it could be doing more harm than good.

Dr. Kathleen Crapanzano, is the Program Director of LSU and OLOL’s Psychiatry Residency. She’s also an Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychiatry.

She explained how taking a break could be good.

“I would really recommend turning off the news,” said Dr. Crapanzano. “I have a lot of patients who have it running in the background 24/7 and it just ramps up their anxiety. My phone is beeping all day long. Another case, another case, death, now it’s in Baton Rouge, now it’s in my hospital. I think if you’re already anxious you don’t need to have that sort of constant reminder.”

Instead, she recommends checking for updates once a day.

“Make sure you’re up to date with what’s going on and what you should be doing but you don’t need to bombard yourself,” she said.

If you start noticing things like unusual muscle tension, headaches, tiredness or fatigue it could be a sign that you’re carrying stress.

Dr. Crapanzano explained some psychological symptoms can include anxiety, worry, depression or insomnia.

When you start feeling these symptoms she said it’s important to remember what is within your power.

“I think the first thing is to remind yourself what you can control and what you can’t. Whatever is going to happen with this virus in our community, whoever is going to get infected, whatever the response of the government and the hospitals, is beyond any individual’s control," she explained. "What we can do is take care of ourselves. Follow the instructions of our government officials. Wash your hands. Stay away from crowded places. All those sorts of things.”

Something else you can do is the activities and hobbies you enjoy doing.

“Do things to unwind or distract yourself. Personally, I like to work in the garden. Read a good book, watch a movie, everyone has their own things that are helpful to them. It’s hard to be stressed or worried if you’re doing something else. Especially if it’s something you enjoy," said Dr. Crapanzano.

For some, stress and anxiety could increase with the pressure of homeschooling children.

Clinic Psychologist and LSU Psychology Professor Dr. Mary Lou Kelley recommends this method for tackling school assignments with your children.

“Some of the things that I’ve recommended to parents are to set small goals rather than let them see the whole group of assignments maybe their child would do better just taking one assignment breaking it down into small parts, taking a break after you’ve done a couple of parts. Other children benefit from having a checklist. What they need to do and cross it off,” she said.

Dr. Kelley believes the most important thing for children to have during this time is an established routine.

“Children find security through predictable routines," she said. "They are also going to be a lot more cooperative. So if you wake up, you have a time you wake up, you have a time you go to bed, you have activities that are scheduled. It’s a school day Monday through Friday so it should be treated as a school day.”

It is also advised children have limited screen time.

Dr. Kelley recommends children spend time being active and maintaining friendships.

“They can FaceTime their friends from school,” she said. "They should be physically active so part of their day is playing outside or walking around the neighborhood. Things they can do that are active but yet safe.”

Something else parents and children can practice together while staying at home is proper handwashing techniques.

“I would encourage parents to practice good hygiene with their children. That again is something they can control. How they wash their hands, how often they wash their hands, that type of thing," Dr. Kelley explained.

If you would like to speak to a trained counselor about managing anxiety the Louisiana Department of Health has a “Keep Calm Through COVID” Crisis Hotline.

Call the Keep Calm Through COVID hotline at 1-866-310-7977 at any time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. All calls are confidential.

Other mental health resources can be found below:

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