Thinking about the potential spread of coronavirus can be terrifying.
Mental health experts are urging all of us to take care of our emotional well-being and that of our loved ones.
One of them is Nadine Kaslow,a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University.
She joined GPB's Rickey Bevington to discuss self-care during the coronavirus pandemic.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.
Rickey Bevington: At this point, what are you advising people to do to navigate this crisis in a mentally healthy way?
Nadine Kaslow: I'm recommending that people find a reasonable balance. On the one hand, we all need to take normal health-related precautions. We need to stay informed, but avoid overconsumption of the media. We need to keep our immune system healthy. We need to use our coping skills when we get anxious to manage our anxiety. But we really have to strive not to inflate the risk. When we hear something frightening, our brains often go into this sort of fight-or-flight reaction, and we need to try to steer to a middle ground.
Bevington: Do you have any specific tools that you give people to manage that anxiety and fear?
Kaslow: I think that to manage anxiety and fear, it's really important to reach out to people who can be supportive to us to get good social support. When you notice that you're thinking over and over again, try to combat those irrational thoughts. I think mindfulness strategies can be really useful right now. Noticing the anxiety, letting it ride in and out, kind of like waves, doing things like meditating and then doing things to distract us like exercise and finally, getting news, but from reliable sources.
Bevington: There are a lot of parents who have to talk to their children about this. How do parents do that in a healthy way?
Kaslow: One of the most important things is for parents not to be afraid to discuss the coronavirus with their children. They're hearing about it. They're seeing things related to it. Parents need to discuss with their children, and they need to keep talking to them about it. They need to do that in a way that's age appropriate. Don't volunteer too much information as this might overwhelm your child, but don't give too little information, and that often means taking your cues from your child.
I think we need to, as parents, deal with our own anxiety. If we're too anxious and too stressed out, we can't really do a very good job helping our children with their anxieties. We need to be reassuring to them, but maybe not overly reassuring. Focus on what you're doing to keep safe and what they can do to keep safe. To the degree that's possible, it really helps to stick to a routine with children.
We have routines for the schools [but with them] closing, many of them will get disrupted. So as much as possible, stick to what's familiar and what's routine. And finally, just loving your children, supporting them and being available to them. It's what makes all the difference in the world.
Bevington: If we know someone who's in isolation or quarantine, or if we ourselves come under those conditions, what are ways to stay mentally healthy?
Kaslow: We know that isolation or quarantine takes a negative toll on people. People really feel like they don't have much freedom. They're more anxious and afraid. The longer it goes on, the more they're likely to develop problems like PTSD, feeling really detached and having difficulty eating and sleeping.
There are a number of things that we can do. One is reach out to people who are in quarantine or isolation. If we find ourselves in that situation, reaching out to others, again, making sure we have access to appropriate information, making sure their are supplies, and then do things to reduce our boredom and to stay connected.
Bevington: Can I ask what you're doing in your day to day life to stay mentally healthy through this crisis?
Kaslow: Right now, I'm actually trying to continue to stay the course as much as I can, certainly doing things like washing my hands more and everything that's being recommended. [I'm] staying up to date on the news, but on these sites that I think have the best scientific information. [I'm] not giving up my life, not stopping doing things that I don't need to stop doing.
And quite frankly, right now, [I'm] trying to do my best to be supportive and helpful to people who are either particularly anxious about this and high risk or people who have already been impacted either directly or indirectly and need extra support and emotional assistance.