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How to manage your anxiety and mental health during coronavirus

(AP Photo/David Goldman)

With phrases like “social distancing” and “quarantine” constantly discussed in the news lately, coping with anxiety and managing one’s mental health are as important during the coronavirus outbreak as ever. Clinical psychologist Dr. Jeannie Whitman of the University of Texas joined KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show to discuss how to calm our nerves during these trying times.

“The first thing is to recognize that we’re resilient people. Sometimes we need to pause and say, ‘OK, what do we know about ourselves as a people? What we know about our history as a nation and what we’ve been through in the past?'” Whitman said.

“So we have a track record of facing uncertain times and questions of what we do now. … We’ve been able to step back a little bit, get some perspective, and then get our facts straight and collect our data and recognize that what we’re going through right now is a normal response to a situation that’s anything but.”

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Dr. Whitman says feelings of anxiety are perfectly normal in what are extraordinary times, and recognizing these feelings within ourselves is a good first step.

“It is an understanding that we don’t like uncertainty. We don’t like being unclear about what we can and cannot do. We like to have a sense of control. This virus is changing daily and this turns up the volume on that,” she said. “So it’s a normal response to say, ‘Just somebody tell me what I’m supposed to do and how to take care of myself and my family.'”

“Anxiousness and worry are normal responses; panic on the other hand, fear that paralyzes us, is not.”

Whitman believes it’s essential to understand what we can and cannot control, and reach out to others, even if we’re hunkering down.

“We need to be able to reach out to people who can help us know what we can do, that can be support for us, that can be a voice of calm. … I know that many people are are disconnected now. We’re actually being encouraged to to hunker down. But that part of us that needs to be connected will find a way: telephone, internet, apps that allow us to talked to our loved ones.”

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“We need to unplug sometimes from the media that can get too much with all coronavirus, all day long. … Being able to keep things as normal as possible, as routine and scheduled as possible, even if your schooling or working from home. Being able to focus on how to lower our stress, which is to busy ourselves. The boredom is an enemy.”

Whitman says the key is to activate the things in your life that you know work, trying to maintain a sense of normalcy despite the ongoing worry.

“It’s keeping a routine, connecting with people with whatever avenue we have, and also putting into effect the things that we know. For many people, it’s their faith. For many people, it’s doing mindfulness meditation. For many, it’s looking to find the facts, and creating a support group of people to share information, but not anxiousness.”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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