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COVID-19: What to Expect During a Period of Uncertainty and Potential Panic

Consider the following story as it relates to this week’s topic.

As a parent, worrying about the flu or common cold every year is nothing new. My husband and I are always prepared, but this year is different. COVID-19 caught us off guard and we aren’t quite sure what to do. Not only is the possibility of catching the virus scary, but it’s also causing our kids to ask a lot of questions that we don’t know how to answer. Also, my parents are getting older and they seem to be at the highest risk. Between news outlets, social media, and our friends, we hear so much conflicting stuff, and I’m getting a little scared. I want to do all I can to keep my family safe, but don’t know where to start. 

Rather than report more medical information and statistics that you’re already being barraged by from other media sources, we at Rice Psychology Group understand that the fear of not knowing what COVID-19 is going to morph into is leading many of us to experience major anxiety. We also recognize how important your psychological wellness is. Our licensed psychologists and therapists have put together some information below that will keep you informed, along with some steps to help you be safer.

What to Expect

The anxiety surrounding the uncertainty of an outbreak can easily overwhelm even the calmest person. Perhaps having a better idea about what to expect, both on a psychological and practical level, will minimize your stress levels at least a bit and put your mind somewhat at ease. If an outbreak requires social distancing or quarantining, you could experience anxiety, stress, or fear due to:

  • Worrying about your health or those around you.
  • Worrying about what others might feel or think if forced to self-quarantine due to interactions with you.
  • Being submitted to monitoring from either medical experts or yourself.
  • Lack of income as a result of work shutdowns.
  • The need to acquire sustainability at grocery stores that are crowded or understocked.

Apart from the worry and uncertainty, there’s a possibility that you may feel the following, especially as a result of kids not attending schools, having to work from home, and the cancellation of events and social gatherings:

  • Loneliness
  • Anger
  • Boredom
  • Frustration
  • Depression
  • Confusion

According to Malila Jones, Ph.D., MPH, there’s a possibility that life may feel “a lot more panicky all of a sudden.” As testing for COVID-19 increases, we’ll likely see numerous new cases arise, perhaps in the hundreds or thousands in our country alone. As the numbers grow, panic and anxiety will likely increase right alongside.

“Flattening Out the Curve”

If you’ve been keeping up with the news, then you’ve heard about many (if not most) schools, businesses, and sports and entertainment events being canceled and/or postponed. This is being done to prevent both the spread of the virus and overburdening our healthcare system. Without canceling events that see thousands upon thousands of people, there’d be a surge of infected individuals like we’ve been hearing about in Italy.

This is called “flattening out the curve.” Continuing business as usual will only serve to spread the virus, so keep in mind that this is all being done as a safeguard for everyone, not as a response to panic!

What You Can Do to Protect your Sanity

When we treat anxiety, we typically try using logic and reality as a first-line approach. Logic tells us that this virus has not been particularly dangerous for children and that many people who become infected experience mild or even no symptoms. This information may bring some comfort when anxiety takes hold and sends you into a tailspin.

A major concern, however, is how to keep “older” folks safe and healthy. The good news is that there are plenty of steps available to keep the virus from becoming a serious threat to the older population:

  • The best way to stay on top of COVID-19 developments is by being informed and educated. Follow reputable news sources on TV and social media and only follow the advice of physicians and health experts. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is perhaps the best source of information available to the public. And don’t be afraid to reach out for information.
  • Once informed, though, turn off your television and social media outlets! We know that repeated exposure to upsetting information can be traumatizing. Allow yourself a finite amount of time at the beginning and end of the day (around 30 minutes) and be done with it! Listen to music, an audiobook, or an interesting podcast the rest of the time!
  • Stay physically healthy by eating real food, staying hydrated, and exercising.
  • Stay emotionally healthy by doing things you enjoy, such as playing with your pets, games with your children, shooting hoops, riding your bicycle, and working out.
  • Make the most of your time at home. You can do some early spring cleaning and organizing! Go through that stack of papers on your desk or clean out that junk drawer you’ve been meaning to get to for so long! And don’t neglect your garage; what a great time for a cleanout!

For Parents

Your child may have already heard some things at school or on the news about COVID-19, so discuss with him/her/they what they know. Keep in mind that if your child is too young and doesn’t understand the situation, it may be a better idea to not discuss the topic. Doing so can prevent unnecessary stress and worry.

Given that there seems to be an increasing possibility of your kids’ school shutting down for the foreseeable future, try to keep it positive. Tell your kids that it’s the perfect time to catch up on some reading, enjoy new games, or spend time together.

It’s important to listen to your kids’ concerns, so take them seriously and discuss them further. Keep the conversation at an age-appropriate level to avoid confusion. If they have questions, answer them as best you can and go over the steps to prevent the spread of the virus.

Click here for an age-appropriate video for kids about COVID-19.

We’re Here for You

At Rice Psychology Group, we know how difficult it can be to wrap your head around something as uncertain as this unpredictable virus. However, we don’t want your stress and anxiety to make things even worse for you. If you need someone to talk to about your stress or anxiety related to COVID-19, then we’re here for you. 

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