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ECU psychologist offers tips for coping with COVID-19-related cabin fever, stress

GREENVILLE — Along with the fears and uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 and changes to daily life that have come with it, stress and anxiety can emerge and impact the way people cope and function.

For some, the pressure that comes from balancing a full-time job from home while simultaneously homeschooling children in different grade levels seems impossible to overcome.

“We get in our heads that we’re supposed to still be the best employee and the perfect parent and now also a full-time teacher for however many children,” said Dr. Marissa Carraway, director of behavioral medicine at East Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine. “So, I think first and foremost we have to lower our expectations a little bit. And it’s OK. This is temporary, and we’re all adjusting and trying to figure out a way to make it happen.”

People should allow themselves some time to figure out what works and what doesn’t work for themselves and their families, Carraway said.

“Eventually you will get into a rhythm,” she said. “This will eventually pass, that is one thing we know for sure. We don’t know when, but we know eventually it will pass.”

Carraway provided the following helpful tips on living, working and thriving in the “new normal” during the pandemic.

 Mind your media

“Don’t rely on social media or friends and family for your facts. Choose one or two reputable news sources and stick with these sources for your information. It may help to choose one or two specific times per day to get an update. If you find yourself feeling anxious or on edge, you may need to limit exposure to social media or certain individuals.”

Stay connected

“Although it is not wise to get together in groups, it is important to stay connected. Get creative about ways to stay connected to friends, family and your community. Use technology, write a letter, connect with social media. Be intentional about taking time to connect with those in your household too. Talk about what’s going on, share your feelings, laugh together. For guidance on talking to children about COVID-19 and specific strategies and tips, visit a reputable source like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s webpage.”

Get out and get moving

“Being outdoors — fresh air, sunshine, nature — is good for your mood and overall well-being. Plus, it’s important to take a breather from your work, homeschooling or whatever other project you’re using to fill your time. If you’re getting some movement or exercise, that’s even better. Go for a brisk walk, play with your kids in the yard, sit on the porch with some lemonade and a good book. Just be mindful of social distancing.”

Focus on meaningful activities

“Prioritize activities that are meaningful and enjoyable to you. This kind of activity boosts your mood. If you’re unsure what these activities are for you, think about what you consider most important. Consider your favorite memories, when you’ve felt the most joy, what you do for fun. It might be a hobby, creative expression, a way to help others or something that leaves you feeling spiritually filled. Focus on how you can adjust meaningful activity for the current environment and build more of it into your routine.”

Lower your expectations

“This is uncharted territory for many of us in many ways. Some are juggling full-time jobs while managing children who are schooling online. Others are out of work and carrying the burden of uncertainty about the future. Allow yourself time to figure out what works (and doesn’t work) for you and your family and be easy on yourself through the process. Don’t expect to be a full-time teacher, employee of the month, stay-at-home parent, master chef, housekeeper and expert organizer. This will only lead to disappointment. Or burnout. Remind yourself that others are also adjusting in their own way to similar challenges. Set realistic goals for yourself and your family.”

Create structure

“If you are someone used to having the structure and routine of going into the workplace and are having to adjust to the chaos of being home (whether working or unable to work) and all of the related demands of this transition, create some structure for yourself. Set a routine and stick to it. Find comfort in doing some of the things you would normally do. Get up at the same time. Get dressed and style your hair. Eat the same breakfast. Schedule breaks.”

Don’t try to control the uncontrollable

“Uncertainty breeds anxiety. In these uncertain times, there is no shortage of things to feel anxious about. While it’s important to take action to tackle life’s problems when we can, it’s not helpful to let our thoughts run rampant with scary possibilities and ‘what ifs.’ Try to remain focused on the things within your control. Notice when your mind might be getting carried away and try to shift your focus to something else or remind yourself of things that bring you comfort. This will pass.”

Relax

“Often in the face of stress, it’s tempting to eliminate activities that feel unnecessary or cut out self-care because it seems selfish. However, this may be the most important time to prioritize self-care and relaxation. Whatever it is that relaxes you — taking a bubble bath, singing at the top of your lungs, dancing in the living room, talking with a friend, a household project, exercising, watching something that makes you laugh, meditating, practicing yoga, praying — do it as often as you can.”

Don’t hesitate asking for help

“Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Instead, knowing when you need to ask for help is a sign of wisdom and strength. Tune in to your emotional health. If you feel your mood or anxiety is impacting your ability to work, parent, function or is overwhelming you, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Many mental health providers are using technology to offer support for emotional and behavioral health needs. Contact the ECU Family Therapy Clinic at 252-737-1415, ECU Navigate Counseling Clinic at 252-744-0328 or PASS (Psychology) Clinic at 252-737-4180, ECU Physicians at 252-744-4611 or contact Trillium Health Resources 24/7 at 1-877-685-2415.”