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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

A Coronavirus Q&A with an ODU Psychologist

By Tiffany Whitfield

How would you recommend people dealing with anxiety?

First, understand what anxiety is. Anxiety is normal and, believe it or not, it is there to help you. Anxiety is an alarm system. It prompts you to put your seatbelt on, to look both ways before crossing the street, and to get your schoolwork done on time. Like any alarm, anxiety does not feel comfortable. It needs to be uncomfortable to motivate us to do what we need to do. Understanding that anxiety is normal, helpful and that it needs to feel uncomfortable can help us accept anxiety. Nonacceptance of anxiety can lead to frustration and anxiety about feeling anxious. That type of anxiety is not helpful, and it can lead to high levels of anxiety that are difficult to tolerate.

Second, take reasonable actions to solve problems when you can. But accept that your control over situations is limited. For example, you can wash your hands and limit social contact. These are reasonable, evidence-based actions recommended by the CDC. But excessive, unreasonable actions, such as washing your hands multiple times in a row, checking for coronavirus news updates 30 times a day, or hoarding supplies, are not helpful. Excessive, unreasonable actions may produce some immediate relief, but they increase anxiety in the long run and let it take more control over your life. If you find yourself in that situation then you can reach out to a therapist who specializes in anxiety treatment.

Third, find active ways to cope with anxiety. Anxiety thrives off of time to sit and think. Being active can help. Studying and working ahead on coursework, practicing a musical instrument, learning a new skill, playing video games and exercise are just a few options. Listening to podcasts or audiobooks during cognitive downtime (when driving or doing chores) can help prevent worry. Exercise is especially beneficial because it increases the release of endorphins, which have mood-boosting effects. Social interaction with people who treat you well is also important. Social media and technology can help you stay connected to people who matter to you. Mindfulness meditation has been helpful for many people to learn to accept anxiety and to understand their thoughts and feelings. Learning and practicing mindfulness is easier if you use an app.

How can people cope with isolation?

Positive interaction with others is important for maintaining healthy mood. Just as we must brush our teeth to prevent cavities, we need regular contact with people who matter to us in order to maintain healthy mood. This is harder to do during social distancing. You can be proactive by making a list of people whom you like to be around. Then list the ways that you can interact with them (in person, Skype, texting, phone, etc.) while following social distancing recommendations to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Make it a priority to communicate with these individuals. Checking on family members and friends with a text, playing a game with someone who lives with you or jogging with a friend - all of these are possibilities while following CDC recommendations. Engaging in activities with someone else is a great way to combat anxiety and depressed mood. Technology makes possible many options for spending time with people at a distance.

If you are having depressed mood or you need someone to talk to then I recommend that you meet with a therapist. Many therapists are offering teletherapy, which is therapy online using video conferencing software. If you are having thoughts about killing yourself then you should reach out for help. You can text "Help" to 741-741 or call 1-800-273-8255.

How can people deal with stereotyping cultural groups in this tense situation?

Unfortunately, the foreign origination of the virus has caused some individuals to voice xenophobic views. Virus mutation can happen anywhere. As it turns out, viruses do not care about countries or ethnicity. Stereotyping cultural groups shows that a person lacks accurate information. In some cases, offering correct information gently and confidently can change people's minds. If you hear someone make an insensitive comment, you can speak up. You can say, "Hey, I don't think that is true, and it is also offensive. That kind of talk can make people feel like outsiders." For those of us who are privileged, it is especially important to speak out when someone says something that is offensive. Encourage others to treat people they way they want to be treated.



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