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Experts advise not to ignore pandemic feelings

The ‘new normal’ may call for a ‘new schedule’

Lisa Fitch | Editor-in-Chief | 5/8/2020, midnight
The “new normal” during the coronavirus pandemic is a very different..

The “new normal” during the coronavirus pandemic is a very different place. The home may no longer feel like a castle of refuge, but a prison of isolation. Trips to the store for groceries are different: Keep a social distance; staff swirls around, wiping down each refrigerated section handle; and if you do recognize a friend behind their mask, they cannot see your smile, hugs cannot be shared.

It’s a different place that gives everyone different, sometimes fearful feelings. The good news is that there are things that can be done about it.

“Home can feel like a prison when our rhythms are disrupted, but it's not,” said Dr. Itai Danovitch, chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences at Cedars-Sinai. “Social distancing does not mean emotional distancing.”

In addition to reaching out to others via phone, letter or internet, Danovitch says it's important to acknowledge your own personal feelings.

"The foundation of health — both physical and mental health — is safety," Danovitch said. “In a crisis, we perceive external threats to that sense of safety.”

Experts say that during times such as these it is important to determine exactly how one feels. Is that feeling fear, stress, helplessness, worry, sadness or anger? These feelings are real and are the body’s natural, biological reaction to any threat.

"It helps to ensure that the day doesn't get consumed by worrying, because our fear and our worries, when we don’t have control over them, can sometimes have the effect of overtaking other activities," he said. "We want to acknowledge our emotions. It's OK to worry, and it's OK to have fear. On the other hand, we want to try to put a container around them so that they don't consume all the other components of the day.”

Danovitch stressed that it is important to distinguish feelings.

“An emotional response to a real threat is a fear,” he said, giving an example of a biting dog. “A worry creates anxiety, a fear response to an imagined threat, a threat that you perceive can happen in the future, but it’s not there in front of you. A ‘what if?’ It’s important to separate them.”

Next, Danovitch said, one needs to make a plan and respond to what your brain is telling you.

“Write down what you're worried about,” he said. “Sometimes when you put things down in writing, sometimes your own inner wisdom gives guidance on how to respond. Show yourself that you’ve taken reasonable precautions. You may be having an emotional reaction even though you’ve done everything you need to do.”

Although it’s impossible to escape the news stories about COVID-19 in the various media—this threatening disease is making its mark worldwide—it’s important to limit the amount of news you take in.

Danovitch stresses the importance of making sure that the limited amount of news you do take in is from trustworthy sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), doctors, scientists and local public health authorities.