Each month Joe Martino will write an article for his Thoughts from the Therapy Chair column.
If you’re like me, you’re probably still trying to come to terms with everything that happened last week.
No matter where you turn now, you hear something related to Covid-19.
Markets are crashing. Sports seasons are canceled for the foreseeable future.
Not surprisingly, anxiety about the future is on the rise.
Anxiety about the present is on the rise.
There is an avalanche of information, and most of it appears to be contradictory.
I can easily find an article that says the threat is being overblown and that we are giving in to fear. The next moment, I can look and find an article that states how we are not taking it seriously enough. That we should be more afraid.
And then school was canceled for a month. Gatherings of more than 250 people were banned. More cancellations and restrictions are coming.
The impact on our families is stressful.
The impact on our economy is stressful. I know many people who are worried about how it is going to affect their ability to pay their bills.
How do we handle the stress? How do we talk to our children? Here are a few ideas.
- Limit your media exposure. I know this one is hard. Especially with Facebook and our social media lives today, but as much as possible, take a break from the media. Very few people need to follow the news every minute of the day. Many will benefit from keeping informed of the broad strokes. This is especially true for people who find their stress levels increasing from interacting with the media. As an additional thought here, please don’t forget that most of our friends on Facebook are not Virologist. They are entitled to their opinion and to share it, but that does not mean that it is an accurate opinion. You can unfollow people who have posts that you find stressful and anxiety-inducing. You can also just scroll on. Whatever you choose, don’t give up your power to run your life based on something on social media. Just this week, I have found this to be true for mainstream media sources as well. One news source posted that there was X amount of confirmed cases in a particular county. Someone from that county’s health department page contradicted that headline. It was changed shortly after that. It is important to balance being prepared for what could happen and understanding what is happening. There is almost always a difference.
- Don’t engage in fear shaming. Regardless of how you feel about the response to this situation, please avoid fear shaming. This particular virus of shame cuts both ways. Someone is afraid and encounters someone who is not or who thinks the current situation might be overblown. Disparagement ensues. Names and mean labels get slung like mud off a four-wheelers tire. Conversely, someone who feels the response is overblown meets someone who believes the current measures are appropriate or may not be enough. Scoffing and mudslinging become the staple of the interaction. Do. Not. Do. This. Seek to understand where the other person is coming from. Try to understand their fear or concern. Above all else, be kind.
- Work to be informed and accept that rarely does information comes without an agenda. A painful truth to accept today is that almost all purveyors of news have a goal. They want you to move people to their position. There is a spin added to the information. We can fight this reality or accept it and allow it to inform how we understand what they are sharing with us. Wisdom would be seeking to understand their bias (and our own) and filter the words through that lens. It can be exhausting and challenging, I know, but it is also incredibly necessary and beneficial.
- Take common-sense precautions. I realize this message has been on repeat for quite a long time, but it is essential. Do what you can to protect yourself. Wash your hands regularly. Utilize good nutrition. If you don’t want to go to the gym, go outside for a brisk walk. Try to get forty-five minutes of total walk time. Get adequate sleep. Nutrition, exercise, and sleep can help your immune system.
- Talk to your kids. I think this one might be the scariest for many people. It is also imperative. If you have kids, they are looking to you for clarity about what is going on in the world. They watch you for an interpretation of what is happening. You are either forming their inner voice or, you are their inner voice. Be honest with them. If you don’t know something, tell them that. Admitting to not knowing something can be scary. Let them know that the situation that we are in is not normal, and that can lead to anxiety. Let them know that we have to accept change when it comes. Change is constant. We can admit that and still grieve. It’s OK for them to feel sad, angry, overwhelmed, scared, etc. They can feel all of the emotions. Remember that the younger the child, the fewer words they have to express their concern. Many families have had vacation plans canceled. Children do not always have the vocabulary to express the emotions that go with these losses. They do not always have the words to express their feelings. This will often lead to expressing themselves through actions that parents find annoying or “naughty.” This is a great time to ignore your reaction to their behavior and to teach them words and responses that are emotionally appropriate. If we parent with intensity, we should not be surprised when our children respond to distress with intensity.
- Live your life. Don’t stop living. Visit your friends either via social media, phone, or when appropriate, in person. We must find the balance between being proactive and still engaging in our life. This is an excellent opportunity to take some time to slow down and interact with our families. Play board games, go for a walk, hang out with your kids in a non-sports or franchised activity. My son and I have been burning the tires off of our RC cars. We have to accept that we do not know how long this is going to last; therefore, we have to be wise in how we balance living our life and being cautious.
- Consider talk therapy. It’s probably pretty clear that I am biased about this as a helper. I implore you to consider talk therapy. Having an opportunity to express and name our anxiety can be incredibly helpful. Allowing someone else to sit with us in that anxiety and distress has proven benefits. I am proud that our network of offices was one of the first to offer telemedicine therapy sessions. They are HIPPA compliant, and you do not need to leave the comfort of your home to engage in the session. If you have been trying to manage this anxiety and stress with your usual coping skills, and they haven’t been working, please consider talk therapy. You can go into the office, or in many cases, you can do telemedicine.
This is not an exhaustive list, and I am confident that there are many more ideas out there in how can respond to this unprecedented incident. I am all for them, as long as they are responses and not panic reactions. We will get through this together.
Joe Martino is a counselor with Joe Martino Counseling Network. He has locations in Lowell, Grand Rapids, Greenville, and Grandville. For more information about Joe and his business, check their website or Facebook page. He and the rest of the counselors and staff are eager to help those in need.