Barre, VT – The unknown. It’s a source of fear and anxiety and, often times, sleepless nights. Add to that an unknown pandemic that has gripped the globe and is fueled by an endless stream of news via social and traditional media. What’s real? What’s not? Who do we listen to? How widespread or deadly is the virus? Who do we trust? Feelings of stress, anxiety, sadness and depression are normal during a pandemic or other global crisis. There are tools that can help keep our minds and bodies gain strength during these challenging times.
“Navigating times of crisis can be a challenge for many,” said Mary Moulton, Executive Director at Washington County Mental Health Services, “Worrying about things for which we have no control creates stress or other emotional reactions that can have a negative impact on our physical health as well as having a traumatic psychological impact. None of us is immune to these stressors during times like we’re experiencing now. However, if we examine ways we can maintain some level of normalcy in our day-to-day lives, even when and if we are confined to home, we will be healthier in mind and spirit enabling us to have a positive impact on ourselves, our families, friends and colleagues.”
According to Ms. Moulton, there are many ways to help manage the potential for stress and other strong emotions which can impact those around us, especially for children as they look to their parents and other familiar adults for guidance. The Designated Agency highly recommends planning healthy activities and meals and limiting television-watching during this long break from school, while also checking out the guidance provided by the Vermont Department of Health (VDH) and the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) regarding mitigating the spread of COVID-19, which we share below, in addition to some special tips from our WCMHS Team:
• Limiting the amount of exposure to traditional news, social media and other electronic resources of information. For the latest updates:
o Visit the Centers for Disease Control – cdc.gov
o Visit Vermont Department Health – healthvermont.gov
• Practice social distancing – this will help mitigate the spread of any virus
o If possible, work from home
o Limit exposure to public gatherings of more than 10 people
o Avoid public spaces
o Conduct business meetings via tele- or video-conference when possible
o Maintain a recommended distance of at least six feet from ill or at-risk people
• Hand washing with soap and water is the best method for eliminating contact germs. When unavailable use alcohol-based sanitizer
• Breathe – focused breathing slowly and deeply can help stay in the moment, helps oxygenate the brain, increases clarity and slows the thought process to a manageable speed, eliminating “freight-train brain”
• Find or make quiet time for reflective thinking and relaxation. Research indicates problem solving will be more creatively accomplished, provide for greater insight of the challenges and create an appropriate plan for dealing with them
• Acknowledge and name the challenging thoughts and feelings. By naming and even describing our experience, curiosity can help diffuse the emotional intensity.
• Try recognizing where the feelings are in your body. Name it, describe it, allow it and then find an activity that is nurturing.
• Stop overthinking. If a tendency for overthinking is typical for you, set aside 10 minutes every day to let it out. But there are guidelines to this:
o Only allow 10 minutes
o When the 10 minutes are up, stop and move on
When stress-filled thoughts pop up, and they surely will, breathe to get the focus back and
• Exercise, get enough sleep and eat healthily.
• Reach out, stay connected and ask for help – you are not alone and there are many that are experiencing what you are. While social distancing may be the most effective way to prevent the spread of the virus it can be isolating and unhealthy. Use your telephones, video chat and online messaging services can help stay connected
• Routine and structure can create feelings of containment. If your old routine is no longer available, consider creating a new one. Setting up goals and structure, even if you’re homebound, can help fuel a sense of purpose and be calming.
• Be kind to yourself, treat yourself to something good…get outside. Revel in the rhythms of the nature around us that are ever present. It can provide the opportunity to expand awareness beyond what we are currently experiencing. Stand next to a tree and notice the moss. Look at the sky and clouds with a curious mind. Listen to the birds and sounds of nature.
Caring for Children
• Process your anxiety first. Showing panic or anxiety will only serve to make children panic or become anxious
• Assess what your children know and what their understanding of the crisis is.
o Explaining that COVID-19 is like the flu, is very helpful and easy to understand
• Do not dismiss your child’s fears, ask them how they feel
o Saying, “it will be alright” can make them feel you don’t care
• Talk at an age appropriate level
o Examples would be, “there’s lots of viruses, like when your tummy hurts, or you have a runny nose. Coronavirus is another type of virus.”
o Explaining social distancing, “Coronavirus is like a cold or the flu, people are trying really hard to make sure it doesn’t spread.”
• Talk about the importance of good hygiene, and make it fun, like washing hands and singing “Happy Birthday” two times or some other fun song.
• Be available, making sure your children know they can talk to you.
• Talk about school closures as something positive. Suggestions include saying, “there are a lot of yucky bugs at school and we’re going to hang out while the cleaners take their time to thoroughly clean them out.”
Support your community and be a good neighbor by checking on your neighbors, particularly those that are at risk or are vulnerable, but don’t put yourself at risk. Calling or knocking on doors while maintaining the recommended distance of at least six feet is a good way to make sure they are ok.
If contact has been made with a person that potentially has contracted COVID-19 or if symptoms are being experienced, contact your primary care physician and follow their instructions . If there is an emergency, contact 911.
Taking care of yourself, your kids and the community around you by practicing social distancing, good hygiene and staying connected will help in ‘flattening the curve” and getting us beyond this crisis. And if you need help, contact WCMHS 24 hours, seven days a week at 802.229.0591. More information on support can be found at www.wcmhs.org or by clicking https://bit.ly/2U6bUvD.
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About Washington County Mental Health
Washington County Mental Health Services advocates the inclusion of all persons into our communities and actively encourages Self-Determination and Recovery. We serve all individuals and families coping with the challenges of developmental and intellectual disabilities, mental health, and substance use by providing trauma-informed services to support them as they achieve their highest potential and best possible quality of life.
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