Cumberland River Behavioral Health, the local Community Mental Health Center, has been providing mental health, substance abuse, and intellectual/developmental delay services to residents of the counties of Bell, Clay, Jackson, Harlan, Laurel, Knox, Rockcastle, and Whitley in southeastern Kentucky for over 50 years. We would like to take a few minutes to acknowledge that there is much anxiety in both adults and children during the Coronavirus-19 (COVID-19) pandemic and to also provide some ideas on how to cope and to assist children in coping during the pandemic. Anxiety is not generally a bad thing and protects us from danger. Our brains are wired to monitor our environment for signs of danger and tell our bodies when and how to react to perceived danger. Typically, anxiety reactions range from freezing, fleeing away, or fighting back. However the recent COVID-19 outbreak in Kentucky has caused our brains to be overloaded with the uncertainties of what will happen to us, our loved ones, and how our daily routines will have to change. These uncertainties have made it difficult for our brains to filter out what is a danger and what is not a danger thereby making it difficult to focus upon anything else other than the pandemic which is increasing our anxieties. Although everyone is impacted by the increased anxieties, the following groups are more likely to have increased reactions: people with a higher risk for having significant difficulties if they contract COVID-19, children and teens, health care providers and first responders, and people who have pre-existing mental health and substance use disorders. Someone who is having difficulty coping with the increased anxieties may exhibit the following symptoms: fear and worry about their own health and the health of their loved ones, changes in sleep or eating patterns, difficulty concentrating, worsening of chronic health problems, and an increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs.
So what is a person to do when there is a nation full of uncertainty and anxieties? The Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Psychological Association offer the following tips:
First, keep yourself informed by using reliable sources such as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, or the daily press conferences that Governor Beshear is holding. Although staying informed is important, there needs to be a balance between staying informed and focusing solely on the COVID-19 developments. Only allow yourself to watch new updates and not just the same news repeatedly. Children are also impacted by not knowing what is going on when there are changes. Make sure that you keep your children informed on a developmentally appropriate level using terms that they can understand and being open to any questions that they may have.
Second, have a routine for each day. If your work is interrupted because of the virus, make sure to make a new routine until your old one can be re-established. Make time in the routine to do things that you enjoy. Routines are also important for children in reducing anxieties. Children are currently out of their normal routines because traditional school is not in session. Make a new routine for your children that includes time for schoolwork and fun until the crisis is over. If people know what to expect, anxiety is reduced.
Third, follow the recommendations to keep the spread of the virus reduced, but don’t completely isolate yourself or your children. Maintaining relationships and social support is important in reducing anxiety. Fortunately, many people have access to technology that makes this easier. Children have grown up with technology and are already good at communicating in this manner, so adults can learn form them.
Fourth, take care of your body. Try to feed your body healthy foods, have a regular sleep schedule, and be physically active. Doing these things will allow your brain to receive the message that the threat is not as great and you will likely be better able to relax and not panic.
If you find that you are unable to cope and you need professional help, our services are available either through telehealth or in person sessions throughout the counties that we serve. You can contact any of our offices for more information. We also answer the National Suicide Prevention Hotline which can be accessed by calling 800 273-8255 24/7.