How to stay positive

A Springfield psychologist on caring for your mental health during the virus crisis

The coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) has created significant anxiety in individuals throughout the world. The incidence rates continue to grow, and shelter-at-home executive orders result in unforeseen adjustments, including working from home, reduced income, children not attending school and loss of jobs. However, our ability to process these transitions through a positive lens may promote healthy ways to manage stress.

During a crisis, our bodies and minds process stress with excessive worry, difficulty sleeping, moodiness, irritability, and having trouble with concentration. Increased alcohol or drug use may also occur during times of stress. Recognizing these symptoms can be helpful in self-monitoring and reducing the effects. Promoting resiliency begins by recognizing threats to our well-being, and taking action to self-regulate in a mindful, healthy manner.

What can we do?

Normalize our anxiety. Most individuals are experiencing a level of stress that would be expected, given the pandemic and related adjustments. Acknowledge that our feelings come from a natural place, which can lead us to positive momentum.

Recognize what we can control. We can control the activities of our days, ensuring breaks from the news, and doing our part to reduce the transmission. Washing our hands, sanitizing surfaces, engaging in social distancing and avoiding unnecessary trips are things we can control.

Find ways to connect. Despite being isolated in our homes, we can reach out to others. Using technology, we can see our loved ones' faces through video chat, or we can send a message or text to connect with others. Even sending an old-fashioned card or letter may be appreciated.

Contribute to others. Studies have demonstrated that altruism can reduce stress, in terms of measurable improvement in emotional well-being. Checking on immune-compromised neighbors or family members, determining how others' needs can be helped (e.g., groceries, supplies) and giving to charity are all ways to contribute.

Take care of your body. When we encounter perceived threats, adrenaline and cortisol alter our immune system and interact with other physical and mental processes to exacerbate stress symptoms. Therefore, eating a healthy diet (avoiding processed foods), getting the right amount of sleep and exercising are ways to combat the stress response. Exercise in particular reduces the body's stress hormones and stimulates endorphins. Finding physical activities while maintaining social distancing can involve bike riding, walking or doing yoga at home.

Engage in relaxation activities. We can encourage the slowing down of our autonomic nervous system by engaging breathing techniques, mindfulness or visual imagery. A few apps include Headspace, Breathe, Calm, and GoNoodle Kids.

Find a creative outlet. Doing a preferred hobby or engaging in an expressive way to release emotions are helpful strategies. Create a bullet journal, engage in an artistic endeavor, build something, play a musical instrument or find something else that promotes your creativity.

Don't neglect your mental health issues. Continue to manage your existing psychiatric symptoms with prescription medication and psychotherapy, and reach out to providers if symptoms change. Many practitioners provide telehealth services during this crisis.

There are many strategies that can promote a sense of positivity during this time of stress. Practicing positivity includes listing things we are grateful for daily, connecting with others, and taking care of ourselves. Enjoy nature, laugh and appreciate this time for what it is...a time to show human resiliency and to feel the profound connection with not being around them. Be safe.

Melissa Fisher Paoni, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-owner of the Springfield Psychological Center.  She specializes in assessment and therapy of children and adolescents.

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