LINCOLN COUNTY — The constant stream of news about the threat of the novel coronavirus can take a real toll on mental health, and managing the stress is an important element of self-care, even if you don’t get sick.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that stress in the midst of a disease outbreak can lead to harmful effects on daily life, including changes in sleep or eating patterns, difficulty sleeping or concentrating, worsening of chronic health problems and increased use of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs.
Sheryl Fisher, deputy director of Lincoln County Health and Human Services Behavioral Health division, said, “We want to reassure people that this is indeed a very stressful and emotional time, it can be very overwhelming. It’s important to remember that everyone reacts differently. There’s no single right way to respond.”
Fisher referred people to the CDC’s website for strategies to cope with the stress. The CDC’s advice includes taking breaks from watching, reading or listening to news stories; tending to your physical health — take deep breaths, stretch or meditate, eat well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep and avoid alcohol and drugs; making time to unwind and engage in activity you enjoy; and connecting with others — talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling. You should call your health care provider if stress gets in the way of your daily activities for several days in a row.
Fisher said children are among the most likely to be emotionally affected by the situation, though they may be less likely to show it directly.
“Children are going to be at a greater risk of higher stress. Things to watch out for are acting out and regressive behaviors, such as a child who is potty trained wetting themselves or the bed. Even teenagers might regress, seeking out more hugs and affection. Parents should be aware that these behaviors are within the norm,” Fisher said.
Parents can help their kids by taking the time to speak with them about COVID-19, sharing reliable facts and answering their questions in a way they understand. It’s important to reassure kids and teens that they are safe, that it’s OK to feel upset and to share your own mechanisms for coping with anxiety. Routine is important for children, so with schools closed, experts advise creating a daily schedule for both learning and fun.
And while it’s important for the public to be aware of risks and advisories in their area, non-stop consumption of coronavirus news can do more harm than good.
Fisher said, “The biggest thing we see is people spending way too much time watching television or on social media. It’s important to be informed, but it can be very unhealthy to be exposed to it 24 hours a day.”
For more information on coping with stress related to the COVID-19 outbreak, see the CDC website on the topic at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/managing-stress-anxiety.html.
The National Council for Behavioral Health has also posted information on managing the crisis’s impact on mental wellbeing — www.thenationalcouncil.org/BH365/2020/03/03/navigating-the-behavioral-health-impacts-of-the-coronavirus.