Panic-shopping at Food 4 Less Highland Park

Panic shopping at at the Food 4 Less in Highland Park on Friday, March 13.

Avoiding anxiety and panic is easier said than done while being bombarded with a near-constant stream of news on the coronavirus fallout. But mental health professionals are stressing the importance of maintaining a healthy mental well-being as the infection continues to spread.

“We have seen a huge increase in worry, rumination and even panic attacks resulting in distraction at work, checking the news more frequently and insomnia,” said Brandy Engler, a clinical psychologist at Silver Lake Psychology.

Dealing with shortages, stay-at-home and quarantine orders, the closure of many businesses and schools and the change in work and school routines -- all of these can be emotionally draining for many.

“Clients report fearing shutdowns and quarantines both for economic reasons and the loss of personal control and freedom,” Engle said. “There is a sense of upended social order and uncertainty.”

Social distancing and self-isolation has therapists concerned about loneliness, already a public health issue that increases depression rates. But “social distancing doesn’t mean disconnecting,” said Silver Lake-based psychotherapist Matt Casper who, along with other therapists in the area, is now offering video and phone therapy sessions in lieu of face-to-face meetings with clients.

In an effort to help you stay sane during these trying times, Engler and Casper have shared tips with the Eastsider that can help you fight anxiety.

Brandy Engler, a clinical psychologist at Silver Lake Psychology

Notice the "what if" questions in your mind and respond with "I don't know" to release yourself from the mental effort of striving for an answer.

 Tell yourself it's ok to feel scared of uncertainty. Then take some extra time to do deep breathing and care for yourself. Take a moment to notice what is peaceful around you like the sunshine, the spring flowers, birds chirping or the beautiful view from your Eastside home.

 Avoid catastrophic thinking. Instead of focusing on worst-case scenarios, think of the alternative outcomes as well (it could be mild or moderate or temporary).

 Take a media break. Do not engage in obsessive checking every hour for new details.

Matt Casper, MA & MFT

 As a community, I hope we will stay focused and informed, calm and vigilant and remain mindful of our relationship with the media and social media.

 Keep track of what professional agencies such as the U.S. Center for Disease Control recommends, while limiting exposure to the more anecdotal stories that are often most effective at spreading fear.

 This is a time for us as a community to work together. Rather than coming from a place of hoarding (rushing out to stock up on toilet paper for example) I would love for us to shift perspective to how we can all help one another stay both physically safe and mentally calm.

 Social distancing doesn’t mean disconnecting. In fact, I think it’s imperative that we remain connected. Phone calls and texts and actual letters (yes, mailed ones) to those that we love and care for is not only therapeutic, but crucial as we all move through this strange and unfamiliar time together.

 Even if you don't have symptoms, or you are in a group that is less susceptible to more severe symptoms, every time that you wash your hands or cover your sneeze, know that you are doing this not just for yourself but for others. I believe that the less we focus solely on ourselves and self-protection, and come from a place of care and compassion for others, our anxiety will actually decrease.

 Oh, and breathe. Don't forget to breathe. Deep breaths.

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