How to Manage Anxiety Caused by COVID-19

ALBANY – The NYS Office of Mental Health has developed and distributed guidelines to help people manage the anxiety caused by their concerns over the COVID-19 epidemic. The guidance document, available on the OMH website has general information for the public, as well as specific guidelines for people receiving mental health services, mental health providers, caregivers of elderly individuals and for parents, including parents of children with pre-existing anxiety disorders.

OMH Commissioner Dr Ann Sullivan said, “While we continue to address and mitigate the physical risks caused by the COVID-19 virus – including washing our hands often and avoiding large crowds and people who are ill – it is just as important that we understand and ease the emotional stress caused by fear and anxiety. These guidelines will help people take better care of themselves, their loved ones and the individuals in their care.”

The guidelines offer advice on practicing self-care, understanding the difference between typical and atypical stress, and staying well-informed while avoiding information overload and unreliable sources.

For people receiving mental health services, the guidelines describe how to work with their provider to develop a coping plan, and having alternative options prepared in case their routine services are disrupted. These might include using telemental health services, getting prescription medication, or engaging in supplemental mental wellness activities.

In addition to protecting their children from infection, many parents are also concerned about the emotional toll that fear of the virus is causing their children. The guidelines provide advice on talking about COVID-19 to their kids, most of whom are already getting information from their friends, classmates and the internet.

While many parents are reluctant to discuss the emergency with young children, avoiding the topic is likely to feed anxiety. Discussing it openly and honestly increases the likelihood that children will come to their parents if they have questions or anxieties in the future.

For parents of kids who are out of school, the guidelines offer advice on working with their children to create a structured routine, which includes time for outdoor activities and exercise as well as mealtimes and bedtimes.

Providers of mental healthcare, who often neglect their own health while they serve others, are advised to place a priority on self-care. This includes getting adequate rest and exercise, eating healthy food, maintaining social connections, and taking time away from service provision as possible.

Caregivers of elderly individuals are especially concerned because of the increased danger for older people. While the elderly are being advised to isolate themselves as much as possible, the resultant social isolation and loneliness can take a toll on their physical and mental health.

To prevent that isolation, caregivers are advised to set up and provide technological assistance to keep the elderly connected with their family and friends. Other recommendations include helping elderly individuals find ways where they can help others.
One of the most important ways to reduce anxiety is by reducing the risk of infection. This includes practicing good hygiene, avoiding large crowds and practicing social distancing.

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