Pandemic got you anxious, depressed or uncertain? You’re not alone.

BY KRISTIN KRIPPA, News + Record Contributor
Posted 3/23/20

The certainty and predictability of our daily lives has suddenly become unpredictable, uncertain, and chaotic thanks to COVID-19.

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Pandemic got you anxious, depressed or uncertain? You’re not alone.

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Editor’s note: Kristin Krippa, a Pittsboro-based psychologist, reached out to the News + Record to share some helpful tips on managing anxiety, depression and other mental health issues during a pandemic.

The certainty and predictability of our daily lives has suddenly become unpredictable, uncertain, and chaotic thanks to COVID-19.

Every day we awaken to new information that changes or limits choices of how we live our lives. Expectations of our present and immediate future have clashed with the cold hard reality of an unseen virus and social isolation. Fear of getting sick has suddenly taken on a new meaning. Worrying about your children and teen’s behavior or academic performance has suddenly become a constant companion. If you are feeling stressed out, anxious, depressed and uncertain about the future, you are not alone. 

Experiencing unpredictable change can lead to irritability, anger, frustration and sleep problems. Children may report nightmares and teens may experience increasing moodiness and angry outbursts. They may be sleeping more than normal or significantly less. They may develop anxiety about health concerns. Given the uncertainty of the situation, anxieties and fears are increasing even in people who are typically unfazed. Here are some tips for dealing with these feelings.

Get outside every day.

Being outside can help you feel calmer and reduce depression. Exercise daily. Even housebound individuals can exercise with the aid of a YouTube video or old school body weight exercises. Get creative and use a video platform like Google Hangouts to exercise with a friend or coach.

Enjoy time with family and reconnect.

Take time to play board games with your children and teens. Read to young children and bake cookies or do crafts together.

Limit social media coverage.

Take in what you need to know and then turn off the scroll.

Set up a daily routine but enjoy flexibility as well.

Know that the world will not end, and your kids will not fail to get into college if you let them play outside for several hours a day right now. Worrying about not spending seven hours a day perfecting school at home? It’s OK to learn without assignments and worksheets. Read, write and practice living math. Khan academy has many great lessons for free. Know that your children will learn the most useful lessons from how they see you handle this crisis.

Practice mindfulness techniques.

Take slow, deep breaths, inhaling through your nose. Notice what you are feeling as you inhale. Does the air feel cool or warm as it enters your nose? Notice your chest rising as you inhale. Do you feel any places of tension? Just notice them and move on. Notice how your body feels as you exhale through your mouth. Can you feel tension leaving your body? Continue this for 5-15 minutes.

Another breathing technique I like is 4-7-8 breathing; inhale to the count of 4, hold your breath to the count of 7, and exhale to the count of 8. Do this for several rounds until you feel the tension leaving your body.

Another mindfulness technique that works very well is 5-4-3-2-1. This technique is great for someone experiencing anxiety,  even acute, intense anxiety or panic. Look around the space you are in and find five things you can see and name them. I like to find five things of one color. For instance, find five blue things. Next identify four things you can feel. This might be the chair under your legs, your shoes, or your clothing. Next identify three things you can hear.  Can you hear a clock ticking, a fan, or someone talking in another room? Next, notice two things you can smell. Smell your clothing, a flower, or perhaps a favorite scent. Finally, notice one thing you can taste. Take a sip of water or even brush your teeth. You can do this for several rounds to help bring down your anxious feelings.

Hum or sing.

The act of singing or humming can stimulate our vagus nerve which can reduce anxious feelings.

Try...

...slowly rubbing one palm over the other starting at the heel of your hand and stroking toward your fingertips. Or cross your arms as if you were giving yourself a hug. Stroke from your shoulders to your elbows. Do this for 5-10 minutes while focused on the feeling of your hands on each other or your hands on your arms. This action increases delta wave production in the brain which is normally present when we are in deep sleep. This can be deeply calming.

Identify potential cognitive distortions and change your mindset.

Cognitive distortions are thoughts and beliefs that we hold that may not be accurate. Common cognitive distortions include:

• Negative predictions: Overestimating the likelihood that an action will have a negative outcome.

• Underestimating your ability to cope with negative events.

• Catastrophizing: Thinking of unpleasant events as catastrophes.

• Assuming current feelings will stay the same in the future: For example, “I feel unable to cope today; therefore, I will feel unable to cope tomorrow.”

• Worry and overthinking: The belief that worry and overthinking will lead to problem-solving insights. Actually, overthinking can impair problem-solving ability and may lead to avoidance.

A shift in mindset can be the difference between feeling depressed and anxious to feeling calm and capable of coping with your present situation. Examples of mindset shifts: Instead of thinking “I’m stuck at home,” try: “I get to stay safe at home with my family and enjoy doing things together.”

Instead of “I am going to get sick!” try: “I am washing my hands and taking needed precautions to keep myself safe and healthy.”

Instead of “I will run out of things that I need!” try: “I have prepared well, and I have what I need right now”.

Instead of “I don’t know what to do, I can’t handle this!” try, “I am doing everything that I can to stay safe. I can use mindfulness skills, practice breathing techniques, exercise, use calming techniques, connect with people through phone or video, and enjoy some relaxing down time. This too shall pass.”

In the event of symptoms that are severe, persist longer than two weeks, or do not respond to coping strategies, seek support from a licensed clinician who can provide assistance via video sessions during this current crisis.

Despite these unpredictable and worrisome times, there is solace in knowing the whole world is experiencing this. It is a very rare time in which we all truly are in this together and we can overcome together.

Kristin Krippa, M.A, LPA, HSP-PA ICST, is the owner and clinical director at Krippa Family Psychological & Wellness Services located at 200 East St., Pittsboro. Krippa has an MA in Clinical Psychology from Radford University and has been a Licensed Psychological Associate for 28 years treating children, teens, and adults. She is an Internationally Credentialed Sandtray Therapist and is a Sandtray therapy trainer. She specializes in treating anxiety, trauma, PTSD, and children and teens with behavioral concerns. The practice specializes in treating children, teens and couples in individual and group settings. Kristin is also the Director of Healing Hearts Healing Minds, a nonprofit focused on meeting the needs of children and teens who could not access services otherwise.

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