The growing coronavirus pandemic is, of course, a serious health concern that has prompted emergency measures in Maine and across the country. If possible, you should stay home as much as possible, keep a distance of at least six feet between yourself and others if you do have to go out. And, wash your hands frequently.
As the virus spreads, anxiety has heightened. The closure of schools and many businesses has displaced workers and their families. Social distancing, which includes the cancelation of gatherings of more than 10 people and working from home if possible, means that many social networks are broken.
Stress levels for many are already high, and likely to increase as even more restrictions are put in place, either voluntarily or by the government, and as more people contract the virus. You may be worried about your own health or that of others. Many are concerned about their employment and financial security.
It can feel overwhelming and isolating, so some stress is natural. Managing that anxiousness is important for the days and weeks ahead. Both the Maine Office of Behavioral Health and the U.S. CDC have many resources available online.
First and foremost, says Jessica Pollard, Director of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services Office of Behavioral Health, is to remember that social distancing — staying more than six feet apart from others to minimize the possibility of spreading the virus — does not mean social isolation. Although you may be working from home, taking classes online rather than at school and not gathering with friends and family, maintaining social connections is crucial. Talk with friends and loved ones by phone or video chat. Use social media to share photos and humorous anecdotes.
Stick to your routine as much as possible. Eat meals together, walk the dog (keeping a distance from other people on the street or trail), work your regular hours.
Helping others will boost your mental health and ease stress. So engage in acts of kindness and support others as much as you can safely do. Reach out to older relatives and neighbors. Local nonprofits need volunteers and donations.
While it is important to stay informed, Pollard advises people to consume media in moderation. As journalists, we can attest that continually reading and hearing about coronavirus can be overwhelming and exhausting. Don’t forget to add in feel-good media as well, such as reading a book, listening to music and keeping tabs on friends and family on social media.
Most of all, know that feeling stressed is normal in a situation like this. Minimize that stress by taking time to do breathing exercises, go for a walk, take a soothing hot bath. Set a reminder on your phone if you need to be prodded to step away from work and other responsibilities for times of relaxation.
Talking to children about the coronavirus, and why school is closed and families are staying home, is also critical. Parents should talk about the situation in terms that their child understands. It is also important to give children as much information as possible because, without it, their imaginations may conjure up situations that are even worse than what is happening. Children are already hearing about coronavirus and related concerns through the media, friends and overhearing adult conversations. Be sure to allow them to ask questions and be attuned to what might be worrying them.
It is also important to recognize the warning signs that you or a family member needs help managing the stress surrounding this unprecedented situation. If you or someone you’re concerned about is lashing out, having trouble sleeping, isolating themselves or increasing substance use, professional help may be needed.
Behavioral health providers in Maine remain available via telemedicine, meaning you don’t have to go to an office to meet with a provider or to get medication. An emergency bill, approved by lawmakers this week, allows MaineCare to reimburse providers for virtual case management services.
In addition, many resources are available online and by phone.
A national disaster distress hotline is available 24 hours a day by calling 1-800-985-5990 or texting TalkWithUs to 66746. You will be connected with a trained crisis counselor.
Sadly, domestic violence advocates are already seeing increased demand for their services. Isolation can put victims of domestic and sexual violence at extra risk.
“At this time, when so many Mainers are rallying around one another in communities of care, we encourage folks to check in with their loved ones who are experiencing abuse, as well,” Regina Rooney, an education coordinator with the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, told the Bangor Daily News.
If you, or someone you know, needs help, call the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence Statewide Domestic Violence Helpline at 1-866-834-4357. Chat support is available via the National Domestic Violence Hotline, thehotline.org.
As Gov. Janet Mills, who has offered reassuring, thoughtful and steady leadership through this crisis, said earlier this week: “Things are likely to get worse before they get better, but they will get better and together, we will get through this.”
Things will get better. But, for now, we must take care of ourselves and one another as we all work to minimize the spread of coronavirus.