JONESBORO—If you feel like the COVID-19 emergency is messing with your mind, you’re not the only one. Nicole Albert, a licensed psychotherapist with Jewish Family and Career Services of Atlanta, says that feelings of shock, worry or stress right now are perfectly normal. The News asked Albert to explain some behaviors affecting many people during this crisis and to suggest some coping strategies.
PANIC BUYING/ HOARDING
People empty store shelves of bottled water, surgical masks and firearms due to “having a lack of a sense of control in a world and a situation that is completely out of control,” Albert said. “When people are in crisis, it feels like the bottom is falling out, essentially. And so they do whatever it is that they can do to cover their bases,” even if it’s not logical. Surgical masks are an example: “You know that the masks aren’t going to be protective, but the visual effect that they’re going to create a barrier will give them some emotional sense of comfort.”
Albert says people with a history of trauma will be triggered but that anyone can be affected: “If you haven’t had any kind of threatening situation in your history, to normalize that the anxiety that people are feeling is really important.” She encourages routine and a self-care regimen “to establish that new normal” plus reaching out to others.
“It’s important for kids to let them name it (fear),” Albert said. “When you don’t talk about it, it becomes even more scary.” She suggests adults “allow (kids) to feel their emotions so that they can feel that it’s OK to speak openly about what they’re afraid of.” For teenagers, “just make space for them to be able to talk about how uncertain this all is. Instead of assuming to know what they’re feeling, be curious about what they’re feeling.”
SOCIAL MEDIA MISUSE
Take extra care not to repost automatically to social media or put people on blast: Albert says count to 10 before you post. Be sure “that people are not exacerbating the situation by spreading information that is not accurate.” Otherwise, “It’s like throwing fuel into the fire.” Take a break, observe nature, exercise.
Setting a routine can give you some control over the situation and reduce stress, Albert said. “None of us, certainly in this country, is used to being confined to small quarters. In Europe, they are more accustomed to it than in America (where) everybody’s used to having their own space.” Take a shower, make breakfast, check your mailbox, do your homework, exercise, connect with family and friends, stick to your bedtime.
”Create an opportunity to do things that are proactive and productive instead of spiraling down the wormhole into boredom and becoming lethargic,” she said. Otherwise, “there is a chance where people will find stress levels and emotional levels becoming very difficult.”
What if you need mental health support right now but can’t get an appointment? “I can’t speak for all health care facilities, but I know that there are many working remotely and offering support in the community,” Albert said. Many people are using HIPPA-compliant online counseling or virtual support groups; she recommends Googling “free support group” or “online counseling.”
What about people who think the COVID-19 emergency is overblown? “Denial is a dangerous thing,” Albert stated. “When health care organizations like CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and the World Health Organization put out guidelines that are serious, we as a community, as a society, should really honor them. It’s not to be taken lightly. When folks are kind of slack about that, it does put everybody at risk.”
Denial “is born out of fear. You refuse to want to believe what’s going on because it’s too frightening to tolerate ... it’s a psychological defense mechanism because the alternative is just too frightening.”
Albert suggests using FaceTime and making group calls to relatives, playing online games, and taking advantage of things like free online classes, Broadway musicals and tours. “Now there’s an opportunity to maybe rethink how we live,” she said. “How do we reconnect with the people around us and how do we reevaluate what’s important?”
For a full list of mental health resources, visit https://namiga.org/community-resources/
The Georgia Crisis and Access Line is (800) 715-4225.
If you have a plan to hurt yourself or others, call 911.