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Deal with social distancing stress, don’t ignore it

Dr. David Buys, Mississippi State University Extension Service health specialist, says the domino effect of multiple changes caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic may result in trauma.

“Usually trauma is a major life event that leads to intense stress reactions,” he said. “But we are seeing so many changes in such a short time it’s a struggle to manage our feelings and thoughts without falling into anxiety and depression.”

Stress can lead to insomnia, which can then lead to exhaustion, which causes irritability, angry outbursts and possibly verbal or physical abuse of loved ones, said Buys. So Buys suggests keeping a positive attitude and a proactive stance.

1. Be self aware.

Try to look at yourself as though observing a friend or beloved family member. How is that person dealing with life right now? If you were a friend, how would you help that person? You would not yell at her or tell her to get her act together. You would help her figure out ways to deal with her feelings. Likewise, be gentle with yourself.

2. Brainstorm a list of positive coping strategies.

Make a list of coping strategies that have worked in the past and some new ideas worth trying. Stay connected with loved ones, choose healthy habits, engage in playful activities and make time for favorite hobbies.

3. Start a “silver linings” list of all the positive aspects of life now.

Rather than dreaming about a return to “normal,” what good things have you discovered that you want to carry forward when our routines resume? Cooking at home more, avoiding a packed schedule, walking daily, keeping a gratitude journal — many of the practices or behaviors you may have been forced to adopt because of COVID-19 may be valuable habits to maintain.

4. Adjust your expectations.

Don’t expect normal levels of productivity. A lot of people feel guilty because they have taken on additional roles and cannot be as productive at work as they were. They have become child care providers and teachers, too. Maintaining the same work productivity levels during this would be superhuman.

5. Choose coping strategies wisely.

Many people are now likely using alcohol as a coping mechanism, which is problematic given that it can be addictive and lead to numerous problems. Those who are in recovery from substance use are at elevated risk because isolation creates distance between them and the recovery communities that so often help them maintain sobriety.

6. So check in with each other, help support one another and encourage healthy coping.

Guard against feeling helpless and hopeless and completely disconnecting from the world. Human connections are essential for our well-being, so stay connected even while socially isolating. If you are struggling, don’t be afraid to reach out.

This is literally a worldwide trauma that could potentially qualify someone for post-traumatic stress disorder, according to Michael Nadorff, associate professor of clinical psychology at MSU.

The national suicide prevention lifeline is 800-273-825. More information can be found at www.dmh.ms.gov.