If hard times, challenges and change are a normal part of life, why are so many of us struggling with fear and anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic?
John Kupfner, MD, a psychiatrist with Peninsula Behavioral Health, says it’s rare for everyone across the nation to be experiencing negative change at the same time. To make matters worse, no one is sure when this crisis will end.
“There’s not a message in the media so far that everything is going to be okay,” Dr. Kupfner says. “There’s public fear and paranoia at a level I’ve never seen before.”
With life being played out against a dark backdrop, it’s easy for deep feelings of anxiety to creep in. For those who are emotionally or mentally fragile, social isolation can make matters worse. The National Institute of Mental Health has created an infographic outlining the differences between anxiety and COVID-19 symptoms to help individuals who may be overwhelmed or concerned.
“For the first time in America we’re watching people walk around with masks on. I see images of that in China. I’ve never seen that in America,” Dr. Kupfner says. “It definitely sends a message that this is alien and more dangerous than anything we’ve faced before. That level of paranoia and fear increases adrenaline flow, and that exacerbates most psychiatric chronic conditions.”
Dr. Kupfner has some expert advice for making peace with the chaos of the pandemic:
- In a world that seems out of control, focus on things in your life that you can control.
- Take care of yourself with proper nutrition, adequate sleep, exercise and exposure to sunlight.
- Keep a regular and predictable schedule, including a normal sleep-wake cycle.
- Use technology for support. Call a friend or family member, or use video conferencing with tools like Facetime, Zoom and Skype.
- Remind yourself that the pandemic isn’t permanent. “Life will return to normal,” Dr. Kupfner says. “This, too, shall pass.”
Mental health centers remain open to help those in crisis, and Peninsula Behavioral Health is accepting new patients.
“We all need to come together as a society and be supportive of one another, and follow the guidelines of the governor and the CDC,” Dr. Kupfner says. “If we do that, we can remind each other that we’ll be okay.”
Dr. Kupfner is confident that our country and our community will emerge from the pandemic stronger and with individuals more connected to one another, having banded together during this unprecedented time.