As we continue to practice self-isolation, many of us watch the news and see the health crisis statistics rise. This makes it difficult to see a way out, creating feelings of worry, uncertainty and anxiety. Despite that little voice in our head telling us otherwise, there is life on the other side.

We talked to Nashville, TN psychotherapist Dawn Kirk and Montgomery, AL psychiatrist and Head of Product Development at Virtual Psych Assessment Center, Dr. William Freeman. They explain why we experience these feelings of anxiety and how to manage our mental health during these trying times.

Woman standing in field at dusk

Times are tough right now, but Dawn Kirk and Dr. William Freeman remind us how to take care of our mental health.

Understanding Anxiety

A good place to start is acknowledging our anxiety, which often stems from fear. “These times present us with an opportunity to develop hardiness for holding fear, meeting fear – so to speak – rather than try to think it away or figure out a way to get rid of it. It takes practice to acknowledge fear when most of us have been told that fear is a weakness or fear means something is wrong with us,” says Dawn.

Dr. Freeman agrees: “[Anxiety is] the feeling one gets and the physiological response to stress, like shortness of breath, a tight chest, a racing heart, sweating, etc. and feeling scared, fearful, weary, frustrated or angry.”

Stick to a Schedule

There are multiple steps we can take to manage our anxiety and overall mental health. It may be easy to get wrapped up in the negativity around us, but Dr. Freeman emphasizes the importance of sticking to a schedule. Although many of us may be working from home, it is important to follow a similar schedule like you’re going into the office. “Manage your day like your job schedule … establish your routine,” Dr. Freemans says. “It’s important to manage yourself, manage your day, and eat healthy to support your immune system. It’s all a matter of sitting down and spending time setting up a schedule.”

Creating a routine is one of the first steps you can take to manage stress. It might be something we’ve heard time and time again, but now – more than ever – our mental health is a priority. “Focus on stress management basics, like consistent exercise, eating well, not overdoing things, and don’t drink too much or too often. This helps tone down the feelings and baseline of anxiety,” Dr. Freeman adds.

Woman working on laptop – Managing Mental Health During a Pandemic

While many of us are working from home, it is important to stick to a schedule like we are still going into the office each day.

RELATED: How to Meal Prep and Eat Healthy During Quarantine

Watch Your News Consumption

When considering what factors contribute to this stress, Dawn and Dr. Freeman agree that it’s important to control our news consumption. It’s easy to go down a rabbit hole when reading about the world’s current state, and although it is important to stay informed, this news can take a toll on our mental health. “Being continually tuned into the news – especially in times of crisis – gets in the way of being present and really listening. Our attention or focus is outside (on the external) rather than within,” explains Dawn. “Within is where we find what really feeds us at a soul or spirit level. I encourage people to take news fasts or sabbaticals, and use this time as an opportunity to remember or find what feeds you.”

Similarly, Dr. Freeman says that scheduling time to watch the news helps prevent anxiety from spiraling out of control. “You manage what goes into your brain,”he says. “Your brain is a computer, and it responds to the data you put into it. Turn off the radio and TV, and get your information in doses that you schedule. And don’t tend to Facebook too much to avoid opinionated data.”

Mindfulness

Both Dawn and Dr. Freeman express the importance of mindfulness. Whether you simply take a moment to practice yoga or just a few minutes to breathe, listening to your body is vital to your mental health. “Mindfully breathe – shallow breathing can contribute to increased anxiety,” Dawn explains. “Imagine breathing in peace and exhaling tension and anxiety.

Even if you’re not familiar with these practices, there are resources available to learn different techniques. “Get a brief article on meditation or mindfulness, and train yourself to practice these. If you feel [anxiety] building, distract yourself. Do a chore, watch a video, read an article – occupy your mind elsewhere,” Dr. Freeman adds.

Woman practicing mindfulness to manage mental health

Mindfulness and meditation are two common techniques we can use to check in on ourselves.

RELATED: How to Take Charge of Your Mental Health

How to Talk to Your Children

Anxiety does not have an age. Just like the rest of us, children are left asking questions and are feeling uncertain about the future. Both experts express the importance of having conversations with kids because the pandemic is not something we can pretend doesn’t exist. “Don’t sweep this under the rug and act like it’s life as usual. This is an opportunity for all of us to develop healthier emotional lives by owning what scares us, and thus connecting with ourselves internally and with others,” says Dawn.

And if you have older children, Dr. Freeman suggests educating them on the current situation. “Sit and watch [the news] together – it’s okay. Help them deal with reality instead of saying they need to be afraid. Tone down their fear and help educate.”

In addition to having these important conversations with children, there are online resources available to help you, too. Karen Lawrence (yes, Jennifer’s mom), the founder of Camp Hi-Ho in Louisville, KY, recently served as a spokesperson on behalf of 21st Century Prevention. In a six-minute video, Karen gives examples of how parents can help a child who may be experiencing anxiety, such as warning signs, coping mechanisms and what can happen if it is left untreated.

How to Get Professional Help

Although many businesses are closing their doors to the general public, there are still options for individuals seeking professional medical help. Many practices, like Dr. Freeman’s, offer telehealth options where clients can video chat with their doctor without having to physically go into an office. “We are going to stay on schedule. We’ve asked patients to download Zoom and call at their normal appointment times … it’s business as usual,” he says.

However, if someone feels like their mental health is taking a serious toll (i.e. suicidal thoughts), Dr. Freeman suggests going to an emergency room as soon as possible. He advises individuals to avoid hospitals in busy cities, and instead visit one in the outskirts of town to avoid large crowds. Many states also list resources on their official websites, and online resources are available as well, such as Crisis Text Line and NAMI. Individuals can also reach out to their primary care doctors as they are able to offer prescriptions if needed.

It’s no secret the world is a scary place right now, but by paying attention and listening to our mental health, we can come out of this stronger.

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