Social distancing, not social isolation
Coronavirus, or COVID-19, has definitely led to significant anxiety or uncertainty about the future. Anxiety is an unconscious reaction to the unknown. We tend to get anxious in situations and conditions that we are unfamiliar with. The reaction to the Coronavirus, however, has been much more than that that we would expect to see in most unfamiliar situations.
First, there is the fear of the unknown. This is a virus that is new, without any precedent. We do not have a vaccine and we do not have a cure. The images portrayed on TV as well as social media and the lack of consistency in the message and action from our governing bodies have been unsettling. Most patients in our practice have been calling to express their anxiety, fear and rapidly increasing stress they are experiencing especially related to this fear of the unknown. Some patients are requesting a 90 day supply of medications as opposed to 30 days, as they are anxious about running out. Toilet papers, paper towels and hand sanitizer, soap, and other daily essentials are disappearing from the shelves of the grocery stores.
People are concerned about the possible lives lost and the economic impact of this pandemic. Added to that, working parents of school-aged children are finding themselves scrambling to find child care, take time off from work, or make alternative arrangements to care for their children as schools are announcing weeks long closures across the country.
The emotional sequelae of the Coronavirus cannot be underestimated. In some parts of the country, we are just coming out of winter. To self-quarantine and stay indoors after several weeks of looking towards warmer weather and outdoor activities should not be dismissed.
Here is a breakdown of how I am recommending you proceed in the coming weeks:
1. Please update yourself with the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) guidelines and recommendations, unfortunately, they change almost daily. Knowledge is power and just turning the TV off is not a good idea. Be aware of the travel restrictions from Federal, State and Local Governmental agencies.
2. If you have symptoms like fever, cough, respiratory symptoms or other flu-like symptoms, please alert your health care providers before going to their office for in-person appointments. Most prescription refills may be completed over the phone or electronically. Patients being treated with Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) should be cleared by their physician or wear a face mask if they are coughing during the procedure to reduce the transmission of any viruses.
3. We also encourage washing your hands regularly for 20 seconds. Additionally, social distancing, like not shaking hands, not hugging, and maintaining a distance of at least 6 feet from others, should be followed.
4. We encourage limiting exposure to non-governmental websites or television stations than provoke increased fear and anxiety. This should not compromise the accessibility of accurate knowledge..
5. If you are quarantined, this is the time to catch up on things that have been ignored. Make that phone call to your old friend or relative, clean out your closet, read or write that book you have been postponing, or better yet keep a journal and make a daily entry.
6. Use technology such as Skype or Facetime to reach your friends and loved ones. Social distancing should not translate to emotional distancing. You can join group chats, support groups as well as virtual therapeutic environments.
7. This is an opportunity to get outdoors (while respecting social distancing and avoiding aggregation). Exercising outside may make us less reliant on more sedentary hobbies such as video gaming and improve cardiorespiratory functions. Take a walk, go for a run, hike a new trail and take time to breathe in the Spring air, relax and recharge.
8. Watch what you say and what you listen to. Your words, as well as thoughts, are very significant. Words are powerful and if you repeat a negative thought over and over, you believe it.
At Upstate Psychiatry, we are committed to your overall emotional, physical, and social well-being.
Acknowledgments to my Connextcare colleagues, Julie Hogle, Diane Plumadore, and Ashley Gilbert.
Adekola Alao MD