Training Opportunities

Manager Minute – How to fight fear and anxiety when quarantine ends
May 26, 2020

Few of us will be the same coming out of quarantine as we were going in:

  • People with pre-existing mental health conditions lost many of the routines that helped them cope, exacerbating their problems in the process.
  • Many have experienced fresh hardship, like the loss of a job or the death of a loved one, which they likely weren’t able to properly mourn.
  • And everyone has been forced to dramatically alter how they live, work, and accomplish even the most mundane tasks, such as shopping for groceries.

Emerging from such circumstances will create unique side effects. For many people, FOMO may have been replaced by FOGO — a.k.a. the fear of going out.

While some people are ready to rub shoulders with strangers, others will be apprehensive about returning to the social sphere, in part because without a vaccine, leaving our homes will come with a real risk of infection.

But anxieties about resuming public life have also been magnified by our months indoors, with the lack of exposure to people and places only intensifying our fears about the outside world.

How Americans will adapt to the new normal is the question on everyone’s minds. Vox asked five psychologists, whose expertise ranges from disaster resilience to the epidemiology of mental health, what they expect to see in the coming months.

Their advice for coping with the unprecedented challenges, edited for length and clarity, follows. A link to the full article can be found at the end of this Daily News post.

Accept that your anxieties are normal.
Roxane Cohen Silver, professor of psychological science, medicine, and health at the University of California, Irvine, says:

This is unlike anything we’ve experienced before, for a variety of reasons: There’s an invisible threat. We don’t know how bad this will get. We don’t know how long this will last. And, importantly, this is a global threat.

There are a few strategies that can help. None of them is perfect. People should moderate the amount of media they’re engaging with; a steady diet of bad news is not psychologically beneficial. People should understand that their feelings are normal and natural, and they’re not going crazy. This is a very unusual and stressful and worrisome time. It’s OK to be feeling anxious. And there are many, many, many people experiencing losses — and those are real, and those should not be minimized.

Learn to manage your emotional response to fear.
Christopher Pittenger, director of the OCD Research Clinic at Yale University, says:
I work primarily with people with obsessive compulsive disorder. They often struggle with uncertainty and have difficulty managing what’s dangerous and what’s not. That’s something we’re all struggling with now. Everyone else’s fear of uncertainty and their desire to avoid contamination is validating. And in this crisis, the ambiguity is gone. That clarity can be reassuring.

As we go back to going out into the world to socialize, it’s going to come with some real amount of risk. And we’re all going to have to deal with the question: How much of that risk am I willing to tolerate?

Practice mindfulness, and cut out unhealthy routines.
Rossi Hassad, epidemiologist and psychology professor at Mercy College, says:
If you ask any mental health expert today, they’ll say disaster equals post-traumatic stress disorder. During the Spanish flu, we didn’t have that classification. But if you go back to anecdotal reports and a few narratives from the 1918-’19 epidemic, the description fits: Spanish flu survivors reported sleep disturbances, depression, mental distraction, dizziness, and difficulty coping at work.

Most people are resilient, and they will weather this very well. If they do have mild symptoms, they will bounce back emotionally. But some people will need some form of psychological support, from self-care to professional care.

Mindfulness, as simple as it sounds, runs very deep. We encourage people to be mindful of how they consume the news. We want them to engage in healthy routines and be mindful of the use of tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs, which can worsen your mental health and physical well-being in the long term. And if people need more support, we want them to know they can contact their state and city health departments, the CDC, and other organizations to get information on accessing professional services.

Fight apprehension by keeping yourself distracted.
George Bonanno, director of the Loss, Trauma, and Emotion Lab at Columbia University Teachers College, says:

This is so unique. And it’s not a traumatic moment. It’s chronically stressful, so we begin to fall apart physically, and the stress response starts to fail to work properly, and then you start getting depressed or anxious.

The natural reactions we have to adverse events are adaptive, but they can become uncoupled from an actual threat and become a general apprehension about the world.

We’ve been trying to identify what makes people resilient for 30 years. We’ve identified a bunch of stuff: optimism, confidence in your coping strategies, mindfulness, social connection.

But scientifically, all of these things have small effect sizes. Optimism explains maybe 3 or 5 percent of resilience. Even if you add all these things up, you don’t get much of the story. The reason is that they don’t always work, because life is complicated. There are no magic bullets. There are no three things or five things that you can do that will solve the problem. We have to be creative.

We need social contact — people have been Zooming with their friends. Humor is really good. It’s not a panacea, but smiling and laughing works. People should distract themselves; there are plenty of movies to watch right now. But the idea is whatever you do, if it helps you, as long as it doesn’t become prolonged or harmful, that’s great.

Get involved to help stave off feelings of powerlessness.
Susan Clayton, environmental psychologist at the College of Wooster, says:
Our behavior has been changed so dramatically. Right now there’s this real sense of unreality for a lot of people. In the early days, it was like, OK, we’ll shelter in place for two or three weeks and it will all go back to normal.

It quickly became clear that was not the case. Now, when we transition back to a different lifestyle, we have to go slowly or it could be stressful, especially if we reopen the economy before we have a vaccine or a treatment.

The virus is going to force us to take baby steps. But it will be good for our mental health, and also our physical health, to try not to come out of the pandemic all at once. I think there are some things we are doing that are better — that we might want to continue to do — even when worries about the pandemic subsides: having more business meetings virtually, sleeping in, families spending more quality time together.

The need to go slowly does encourage us to be mindful and make more deliberate choices. It’s like, “All right, I’m going to do this one thing differently,” and not return to all our old behaviors immediately. We need to think about how this experience can contribute in a positive way to who you are.

Excerpts taken from:

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