The COVID-19 pandemic is a cause for very real fears.
Doctors are in consensus that COVID-19 is a quite lethal strain of the coronavirus family. There are a few key reasons why this strain is particularly dangerous.
- In the initial phase of the illness, infected individuals are usually asymptomatic, not showing any symptoms, on average for 5-7 days and up to 14 days. This is the most dangerous stage of a person’s infection because they are unknowingly infecting others around them.
- The virus is transmitted by person-to-person contact or contact with contaminated surfaces.
- As per reports from the CDC, “current evidence suggests that SARS-CoV-2 may remain viable for hours to days on surfaces made from a variety of materials”1. It also lingers in droplets in the air for hours after a cough or sneeze.
So what’s the solution? It’s simple: Practice social distancing. This means avoid coming into close contact with others. If you must go out, cover your nose and mouth with a mask, wear gloves, and goggles or glasses. This will help you from contracting the illness or spreading it.
Psychological Issues stemming from COVID-19:
Due to the pandemic, anxiety levels are high. For most Americans, life has changed dramatically in a matter of days and the situation doesn’t show signs of improving anytime soon. Change is hard even when it happens slowly so it’s normal to feel anxious when struggling to deal with drastic changes.
Many people around the world are experiencing psychosocial issues as a result of this pandemic. A few examples are:
- Loss of employment
- Financial strain
- Limited social interaction
- Postponing of major life events (weddings, births, funerals, graduations, etc)
- Canceled vacations, religious gatherings, sporting events, and other emotionally-recharging activities
Signs of Anxiety:
Most people will be able to manage the evolving situation with a positive approach and attitude, but a small group of people will experience high levels of anxiety. This group may experience some or many of the following symptoms:
- Excessive worrying
- Sleeping issues
- Muscle tension
- Inability to relax
- Irritable moods
- Difficulty with attention and concentration
- Fear of unknown or impending doom
People with a prior history of anxiety or a family history of the condition may experience more severe anxiety symptoms and/or panic attacks, i.e.:
- Severe anxiety
- Heart palpitations
- Shaking or tremors
- Tightness in the chest and difficulty breathing; disorientation and feelings of fainting
- A crippling fear of dying
Please contact your doctor or call 911 if you experience sudden severe anxiety with chest pains as this may be signs of a serious medical condition that requires urgent help.
Signs of Depression:
If the current situation persists or continues to deteriorate, some people may experience depression. Signs to look out for are:
- Depressed mood, unshakable sadness
- Loss of interest; low motivation
- Tiredness; low energy
- A hopeless and helpless feeling
- Crying spells
- Decreased appetite
- Sleep problems
Please contact your doctor or call 911 if you experience extreme depression or have suicidal thoughts.
How to Prioritize Mental Health in Difficult Times:
- Stay Positive
It is incredibly important to stay positive in difficult times. It’s not easy but you don’t have to do it alone. First and foremost, protect yourself and your family by taking proper precautions (limit physical interactions and wear protective gear when you must go out).
- Don’t Lose Hope
If we all follow social distancing protocols, in a few months, hopefully we will overcome this situation.
- Take Your Medications
If you are taking medications for any medical illness (diabetes, blood pressure, thyroid, etc.), please continue taking your medicine as prescribed. Hospital visits should be limited to only what is necessary. Many insurance companies are easing their policies around prescription refills right now. Check with your insurance about their policies.
- Keep to a schedule
Establishing new norms and maintaining productivity is a great way to reduce anxiety. Make a schedule at home. Try to involve the whole family in the planning phase. Set time blocks for work, exercise, homeschooling, cleaning, cooking, relaxation, meditation, prayer and more.
- Healthy body, healthy mind
Breathing and relaxation exercises will help reset after long days or stressful moments. If you experience significant anxiety, please repeat these exercises repeatedly. Physical fitness is also great, and many companies are offering free workout classes online that you can do at home.
- Make Time for Bonding
Playing board games, challenging each other with puzzles, riddles, and trivia, etc. can all be great ways to enjoy and engage children. Take this opportunity to engage teens; listen to their points of view without interruption so you understand them better. Eating lunch and dinner with loved ones can also do wonders. Quarantined and unable to do so? Designate a time where everyone jumps online for a virtual meet-up.
I hope these tips help you and your family during these difficult times.
Dr. Mohammad Sarfaraz Khan, MD
Adult, Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Services
Cited Sources: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/cleaning-disinfection.html