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Health + Wellness Wellness

Coronavirus Hits Metro Detroit: 5 Tips for Preserving your Mental Health

March 11, 2020

Worried about COVID-19 in Metro Detroit? You’re not alone. One local therapist shares strategies to stay sane during the outbreak

By Arianna Endicott

On March 11th, the World Health Organization classified COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, as a global pandemic.

One day before that grave announcement, Michigan reported its first two confirmed cases of the disease and — in hopes of slowing the virus’ spread  — Governor Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency.

Fallout from the news has been swift: Several colleges, including the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University, have suspended in-person classes (in some cases until late April); major events like Detroit’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade have been canceled; and businesses are urging employees to work from home.

And, say experts, it’s only going to get worse. (In fact, those were the exact words that Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, delivered to lawmakers in a hearing today.)

So how do you keep your cool when Coronavirus-related news dominates your workplace, your Facebook feed and even conversations overheard at the supermarket (where, incidentally, shelves are being emptied of everything from disinfectant wipes to canned beans)?

Dr. Lori Harrison, MA, LLP, is a therapist who specializes in anxiety disorders at Advanced Counseling Services in Taylor. We asked her to share tips on preserving your mental health in the time of Coronavirus.

1.  Understand that cancellations and closures are preventative measures

Zac Band Brown scrapping next week’s concert in Detroit doesn’t mean we’re all going to die — it’s simply a layer of protection against spreading the virus. “I think they’re following the proper protocol for what needs to be done to slow this down so that as people get sick, we don’t overwhelm the healthcare system,” says Dr. Harrison. The word “pandemic” can be triggering, she adds. “When you hear it and everything is being canceled, that reinforces anxiety and makes you think, ‘what does this mean for my life?’ or ‘should I stay home?’ or ‘are people around me going to die?’ If you already tend to overthink or obsess over things, it reinforces that thought pattern.” Her advice? “Be mindful, slow down and focus on the things you can control,” she says. “Know that this will pass — we just have to be patient.”

2. Prepare without panic

You may have heard that it’s wise to stock up on food and other supplies in case you can’t leave your house. Sound advice, Dr. Harrison says, as long as “you get what you need without hysterical reactions.” In other words, don’t rush the aisles of Costco in a panic, pulling every last package of toilet paper into your cart. “Just be reasonable,” she adds. “Get a little bit extra in the event that you need to be home for 14 days.”

3. Unplug from the outside world

“Limit exposure to the news and social media on this topic,” says Dr. Harrison. Constantly refreshing your Twitter feed, for example, will only stress you out — and stress is known to compromise the immune system, which, ironically, can make you more likely to get sick. “For the large majority of people, if [Coronavirus] is detected, it’s just going to be a flu-like illness,” she says. “Overthinking and worrying is counterproductive — it might make [you] feel better in the short run, but in the long run it makes [you] more vulnerable to the infection.”

4. Don’t believe everything you read

Stick to “proper websites” like the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization or your local health department, says Dr. Harrison. They’ll have the most reliable, up-to-date information. Also, if you find yourself going down the anxiety rabbit hole, take a breather. “Check in once or twice a day, but beyond that there’s really no point in following a story any more closely.” (And no, your Aunt Roberta, whose friend’s husband’s cousin is a doctor, doesn’t count as a reliable source for virus-related news.)

5. Eat, sleep and breathe (deeply)

Try to maintain a proper diet, get plenty of sleep and practice relaxation strategies like deep breathing (check out apps like Headspace or Calm). If you’re doing all those things and your anxiety is still making it hard to get through the day, Dr. Harrison recommends seeking professional help. “Call a therapist if you feel like your reaction is becoming out of line with the actual threat,” she says.

Anyone feeling unwell or exhibiting flu-like symptoms is encouraged to seek professional medical assistance and self-quarantine in order to prevent the spread of illness. For more information on COVID-19 in Michigan, visit michigan.gov/coronavirus

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