The Journal Gazette
 
 
Wednesday, March 25, 2020 1:00 am

Crisis boosts anxiety; find help coping

LISA GREEN | The Journal Gazette

If the rapid-paced coronavirus developments – most of them dismal – have you feeling unsettled, you're not alone.

“Possibly most of us” would score high on an anxiety test because of the current situation, said Carmen Schlatter, a licensed clinical social worker with the Mental Health America of Northeast Indiana.

“This crisis is something that is going to build,” said Heather Miller, the association's youth and family services manager. “There are certain people who have lost jobs. ... I think the anxiety is going to increase slowly over time, the longer we have to stay at home.”

Schlatter and Miller made those statements during a Saturday afternoon telephone interview – about 48 hours before Gov. Eric Holcomb officially made Indiana a stay-at-home state. His order took effect at 11:59 p.m. Tuesday and came after several other states, including Illinois and Ohio, took the same step to help slow coronavirus infections.

The new virus – for which there is no vaccine – has killed thousands globally and several in Indiana, though general information released indicates some victims had underlying health conditions.

Still, hundreds of Hoosiers and thousands in other states suddenly find themselves:

• On unrequested – and in many cases unpaid – leave from work that will last at least two weeks.

• Shopping at grocery stores where shelves typically fully stocked with meat, eggs, orange juice, toilet paper and other items are sometimes bare as customers stock up, abiding by limits stores have placed.

• Seeing the balance in 401(k) and other retirement accounts plummet on numerous days with the volatile stock market.

• Trying to coach children studying at home who are receiving online lessons from teachers as schools and universities have moved to virtual learning.

• Unable to attend faith-based gatherings and worship services if more than 10 would be in attendance.

• Shut out of health clubs, hair salons and dine-in restaurants – unless they are using a drive-thru or picking up carryout meals.

• Having vacation plans scrapped due to necessary cutbacks by airlines and cruise ship companies. And for those who might have wanted to drive to their getaways, few entertainment venues would be open anyway.

That's a lot.

Some people will be better than others at coping with restrictions in this new season of “social distancing” where people have been encouraged to keep at least 6 feet of space between them, experts at the Mental Health America said. The nonprofit is an advocacy and education organization.

Miller said the association is adding online resources “so people will have a place to go when anxiety may increase,” in a couple of cases shifting groups that met in person to online forums.

People will think it's normal to be anxious and depressed about the circumstances, but “just because it's natural doesn't mean you shouldn't seek help or support,” Miller said. “It's really beneficial for people to talk about their emotions and reactions with other people who are experiencing similar things.”

Schlatter, manager of education and training with the Mental Health America, offered several approaches to help reduce anxiety. They include enjoying the sunshine, taking breaks from watching and reading the news, meditating, deep breathing, stretching, maintaining a regular schedule – including with meals – and staying connected with others, including through technology such as FaceTime or Zoom.

“Isolation can be very dangerous in this time,” she said.

Schlatter encourages people to reach out to those who might be prone to shut down and avoid communication.

Some signs of depression include people deviating from normal routines and obsessing, such as constantly checking for news updates.

Miller said those who are struggling to cope could call a qualified health professional for guidance.

It's important, she said, to focus on reality, “stressing the idea that this is going to end, it's going to resolve. ... We don't know when, but it will.”

Dr. Jay D. Fawver, a psychiatrist with Parkview Health, emphasized the same during comments Tuesday at a news conference with local government officials, including Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry.

The loss of hope can lead to suicidal thoughts, Fawver said, so people should focus on hope – the positive that's ahead. Mentioning Ebola and other examples, Fawver pointed out that this is not the first time society has battled a dangerous, deadly virus.

Fawver is placing his hopes on coronavirus being contained, isolated and treated.

One advantage, he said, is spring's warmer weather, making it tougher for viruses to thrive when proper precautions are followed. And fresh air, warmth and sunshine can help individuals struggling with anxiety.

“The governor did not put us all on lockdown for home detention,” Fawver said.

lisagreen@jg.net

For more info

The Mental Health America of Northeast Indiana offices are closed to the public until further notice, but staff members last week began working remotely to adapt support services to an online platform. These will be available at no cost.

• One resource is the MHANI Facebook group, Strong Parents Lounge, a community of parents interested in sharing information and support. You may join this group from the MHANI Facebook page at http://bit.ly/StrongParentLounge.

• MHANI staffers continue to compile and update a list of mental health resources related to COVID-19. These include general mental health information, emotional supports and information for parents. The list can be found on the MHANI website at https://mhanortheastindiana.org/coronavirus.

• Special resources are being developed for teachers adapting to continuous e-learning that will occur because of the pandemic.

This story has been corrected.

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