Author: Kat O’Hara; Survivor Counselor
While Covid-19 is running its course through the world, many of us are trying to remain calm through the press releases, presidential addresses, and social media posts. We are refusing to panic and bulk buy toilet paper at the grocery stores. We are social distancing and washing our hands—but others in our lives might not be fairing as well just yet. When supporting a loved one struggling with anxiety or panic, it can feel difficult to know how to help.
When people panic, their brains go into a state of “fight, flight, or freeze” where survival is the only goal. This makes it tough to reason with them, calm them down, or distract them from their panic. Having a productive conversation with someone in this state isn’t typically realistic, so try and make your priority support rather than reason. Simply be there for them until their heart rate lowers and the panic has dissipated.
Reasoning, educating, and calming people during this COVID-19 pandemic is only helpful when the person is ready to listen. You can start with encouraging them to put down social media, turn off the news, and asking them to be open to what you have to say.
BUT WHAT DO YOU SAY?
First off, talk through the importance of social distancing: let them know that its purpose is to prevent contact and not a reaction to an already uncontrollable exposure they should fear. The point of self-quarantine is to keep healthy people healthy, prevent widespread infection, and to protect those at higher risk. This does not mean that everyone they encounter has been exposed to the virus, only that taking precautions now is the safest course of action. It gives hospitals a chance to treat people diagnosed with the virus, while keeping the ratio of nurses to patients low.
Talking logically about the virus may also help. Generally, those under 60 without preexisting conditions or autoimmune disorders are likely to experience mild flu-like symptoms. Keeping these people home and out of the hospital gives those at higher risk the chance of more available resources.
It might help to show your loved-one graphs, and articles documenting to the positive change already being seen since the outbreak. Here is one option.
During time away from work, school, or their social life, it could really make a difference to those experiencing anxiety to receive check-in calls. You can ask about how they’re feeling or to even do distracting things together like watch a movie together while on the phone. Here are 8 things to do under quarantine, but there are many more articles to look up!
Ultimately, if your friend or loved one is beyond consoling, encourage them to reach out to a therapist. Resources like Families First, Telehealth, have many therapists ready to talk and process with them through this time. Although many agencies are closed, in the coming weeks there might be options for phone or Skype assessments to get started with therapy.