Fear and Anxiety About Coronavirus is Very Real. So I Talked to Four Therapists and a Chaplain About it

April 15, 2020

 

 I don't know what to say right now, and I usually have no problem with that. I've always been able to give advice and draw on my life experiences to try and give wisdom to my daughters about any problems they faced, whether it be life, love, work, friends, exercise, eating etc. But now when we're afraid due to the coronavirus crisis I'm not sure how to help them. LA daughter Alana, whose job has been placed on hold, has anxiety. I've always had an experience to share or just the right words to comfort them when they were worried. But I don't now, besides the obligatory eat well, exercise, go outside, find a hobby or distraction and try to get sleep. I can't reassure her everything will be alright because we just don't know how this will end.

 

 

I've lived a long, rich life. Witnessed a lot of tragedies from JFK, RFK and MLK assassinations and Vietnam War protests in the 60s; the oil shortage and waiting in gas lines in the 70s; the AIDS/HIV epidemic when I lived in LA in the 80s; to the Challenger explosion and California's electrical energy shortage in 2000-2001 and being in the New York area for 9/11. Heck, I was quarantined in the newsroom twice when suspected anthrax came by letter to KFBK. All the school and mass shootings. I thought I saw and lived through it all. But in my lifetime, I've never experienced a worldwide pandemic and seen my huge state of California on lockdown. One that has taken 23,000 lives so far as of this writing on April 14, 2020.

 

Both California Gov. Gavin Newsom and President Trump have addressed the mental health aspect of COVID-19. 

I'm blessed to have smart, wonderful people in my life and it just turns out some of them are highly trained psychologists/therapists with decades of experience. I've asked four of them and one chaplain to give their advice about what to tell a loved one, family member or friend, who may be anxious during the coronavirus epidemic. I hope their wisdom and words may help you and bring you comfort.

 

Sandy Russell is a therapist in Fair Oaks. I interviewed her when I was researching a story about fear after the capture and arrest of Joseph DeAngelo, the accused Golden State Killer. She says our fears are real and shouldn't be ignored.

 

"I would encourage to really acknowledge your fears. Getting up in the morning, acknowledging those feelings. Let's acknowledge the trauma we're going through. None of us have ever faced this. None of us are prepared for this."

 

"What part do do you have control of, and what do I don't? Think how you can control it. I'm going to drink some water, eat healthy, do some breathing. We have way more control over our brains than we think."

 

Russell cautions for people with past traumas, this current event may make them resurface so acknowledge it.

 

 I've known Toni Horvath since our daughters went to school together in Fair Oaks, CA. We also went to the same church - Fair Oaks Presbyterian under the leadership of the late wonderful Pastor Henry Wells. Her daughter, Leslie, was in my Girl Scout troop. Toni's thoughts:

 

Toni Horvath, LMFT: "I am reminded of what it was like after 9/11.  There was high anxiety and fear all over the country. We had a solidarity in that fear. People came together and supported each other."   

 

"For people with high anxiety and panic attacks, it’s really important to be careful about what news they watch and how often.  Exercise, meditation, downloading apps on their phone that focus on breathing and mindfulness (“Calm” is a good one).  If they wear a smart watch that tracks their breathing, there are exercises on the watch to follow for relaxation breaths.  Practicing breathing exercises when one is not anxious helps people to breath more effectively when they are.  I ask my clients to practice 4 count breathing (inhale through the nose to the count of 4, hold for 4, exhale to the count of 4 through the mouth. Repeat 4 times. 4x4 breathing exercises) Before getting out of bed, before every meal, before going to bed.  Breathing, while an autonomic process that keeps us alive, is not automatic when afraid or worried. Most people hold their breath or hyperventilate." 

 

 

"Make a list of 20 ways that you can experience joy and relaxation.  When anxious, look at the list and choose one to do. Garden, walk, journal, listen to music, dance, pray, meditate, color, paint, watch a comedy, watch a Ted Talk, call a friend, do a Zoom meeting, or Zoom exercise class, sing, call someone that has much less than you, pour into someone that is hurting or alone, make a list of gratitudes. Right now people can download and watch full theatre productions on Broadway; you can also watch live the animals at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Take an online class – cooking, on mindfulness, …"

 

"John Kazinsky has a positive news program that is on YouTube. It’s really great. One of my daughters did a cooking class on Zoom with 5 friends.  My daughter Leslie and I have taken a Zoom Zumba class together at a distance.  There are a lot of ways to get creative in this very unusual season."

 

Tim Dakin is a therapist in Fair Oaks and also a Pastor at Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church. I've known him for more than 20 years and often had him on KFBK to give advice in times of trouble because Tim talks in an easy, conversational manner.

 

Tim Dakin, LMFT: "1) Talk about your fear; things that loom large and scare us often shrink in the light of conversation and good preventative advice. 2. Do all you can prophylactically to keep safe from the virus. 3. Vigorous exercise lowers cortisol levels and stimulates more realistic thinking. “If I do all I can to prevent getting this ( staying home, washing my hands, etc) I must realize the odds are low that I’ll contract it. 4. Consider seeing a therapist, via telemedicine if that feels better. A professional in extreme times is actually quite helpful. 5. Lastly, for out of control anxiety, there are medications available. But for people in recovery you want to avoid benzodiazepines that can cause relapsing." 

 

Michele Zumwalt is a Chaplain with the Sacramento Law Enforcement Chaplaincy. She is also the author of the book "Ruby Shoes: Surviving Prescription Drug Addiction."

 

"Everyone handles adversity differently, but I usually try to re-focus my thoughts on gratitude, God, and others. I do a gratitude list everyday. It helps me remember all that God has done for me. They I surrender my life daily to Him...seeking His will for me and His direction in my thoughts and my actions everyday. Finally, the biggest "fear buster" for me is rolling up my sleeves and getting busy serving others. If I'm stuck in my house, I have to find other ways...calling, texting, zoom meetings, prayer, whatever I can do to get out of myself and serve other people. Those three things usually get me right out of my fear and I start feeling hopeful and purposeful again."  

 

 Laura Venable is a therapist in Gold River. She's a close friend (we did a half marathon together) and leads a Women's book study at Bayside Church, Folsom. She talks about how we're usually in control of our lives but now find we can't control the virus or the unknown.

 

Laura Venable, LMFT:

"A time, such as the one we currently find ourselves in, runs us smack up against a reality we normally have methods to avoid or deny...our own lack of control!  We have all become fully versed in the practical and necessary steps we must take to "flatten the curve".  These guidelines serve to restore a very shaky sense that there is at least something we can control, but there is no getting away from the fact that we remain keenly aware and startled by what we can't control... and of our very precarious vulnerability in this life we are leading each day!" 

 

" But, I encourage you to pause and look more closely at another invitation that is "afoot" here.  As our worlds become smaller and more limited, our view of God can be enlarged...and this is actually what our souls hunger for always...coronavirus or not.  Richard Rohr, the author and Franciscan priest, asks during such a time as this,  "...is there something deeper that you can surrender to, that can ground you in disruption?"  The coronavirus has pulled back the curtain of belief that we are in control of our lives, (at least enough).  What is revealed is our need to surrender, to give ourselves up and into the hands of the One who has always held us, whether or not we have even been aware of that. 

 

I love these responses. Acknowledge your fear. It's real. Make a list of the things that bring you joy then refer to it when you get anxious. Help others or volunteer. When you give to others, you forget about yourself. Practice breathing. Surrender yourself to your Higher Power. Pray and meditate.

 

California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced new guidelines for dealing with mental health issues during COVID-19. I believe he teared up when making an emotional plea urging people to seek help if they are troubled or in despair. 

 

"The toughest and strongest people I know ask for help," Newsom said.

 

"Staying at home doesn't mean you're alone," Newsom said. "As a state, we are here to do what we can to support you and to be there at a time of need."  

 

 

 

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Sacramento, CA, USA

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