Coping with Coronavirus Stress – Advice for Veterans and Everyone Else

  • Worrying every time we cough, standing in line for toilet paper, and reading articles about using hand sanitizer when hand sanitizer has been sold out for weeks, can get to be a bit much. and anxiety:
  • It’s sometimes difficult to understand what’s worth our concern and what’s not.
  • Avoid dwelling on things you can’t control. When uncertainty strikes, many people immediately imagine worst-case scenarios.

“I just feel so damn useless,” I snapped. That was my retort to some encouragement my 20 something son was attempting to impart.   Recognizing that I was showing signs of cabin fever, I quickly pushed reset and thanked him.  Heck, neither of us has experienced something like this.  So, we both start at the same frame of reference… Uncertainty.

This pandemic has literally thrown a monkey wrench into our societal norms by proscribing large communal actions. While health care providers, grocery stores and other essential workers rise to the occasion, most Americans have focused on passive tasks like self quarantining and social distancing.

Limit exposure to news. As if we actually could avoid the Coronavirus News right now.

Worrying every time we cough, standing in line for toilet paper, and reading articles about using hand sanitizer when hand sanitizer has been sold out for weeks, can get to be a bit much.  Unlike other disasters such as hurricanes, twisters and earthquakes which tend to have an end date, this seems like it will last forever.

Despite the clear warnings of disease specialists reported in the media, until rather recently many Americans believed that the threat of the coronavirus was overblown. In an age of social media hype and politics as usual that is understandable.  It’s sometimes difficult to understand what’s worth our concern and what’s not.

Now, it all feels a bit surreal. No, too real.  Most people are creatures of habit. Consequently when things go as planned, we feel in control. But when life throws a curveball, it can leave us feeling anxious and stressed. The entire world is learning the same lesson.  No one can avoid the unexpected. But there are steps that can help you better face life’s uncertainties.

Taking care of your well-being, including your mental health, is essential during this time. Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations.  Many people may experience stress, fear, anxiety, or feelings of depression. This is normal. According to the American Psychological Association (APA) and the guidance given by the Department of Veterans Affairs to Veterans, there are things that you can do to manage your stress and anxiety:

  • Exercise regularly, try to eat well-balanced meals, and get plenty of sleep.
  • Limit alcohol.
  • Practice breathing exercises and/or meditation. VA has many free mental health apps for Veterans.
  • Take breaks from the news (see below for tips).
  • Stay connected with others while practicing social distancing.
  • Participate in activities or hobbies that you enjoy, or learn a new one.
  • Keep your current mental health appointments. VA offers both video and phone telemental health options that do not require you to go to your closest facility in-person should you have a medical concern or need to follow specific social distancing guidelines in your community.
  • Learn ways to connect with VA providers using telehealth options and schedule or reschedule your appointment online. If you are requesting a new mental health appointment, please call your local VA and they will work to arrange an appointment for you. If you need same day access for mental health services, call your local VA to request this and you will be connected to care.
  • Be kind to yourself. Some people are better at dealing with uncertainties than others, so don’t beat yourself up if your tolerance for unpredictability is lower than a friend’s.
  • Remind yourself that it might take time for the stressful situation to resolve, and be patient with yourself in the meantime.
  • Reflect on past successes. Chances are you’ve overcome stressful events in the past – and you survived…”Hell, I know I have!”
  • Give yourself credit. Reflect on what you did during that event that was helpful, and what you might like to do differently this time.
  • Develop new skills. Even now, in the midst of this viral storm, make a point to try things outside your comfort zone. For example, some people have tapped into YouTube/Internet Tai Chi, Yoga and or mediation practices which can help build confidence.  That confidence comes in handy when life veers off course and becomes uncertain.
Develop new skills. Even now, in the midst of this viral storm, make a point to try things outside your comfort zone. For example, some people have tapped into YouTube/Internet Tai Chi, Yoga and or mediation practices which can help build confidence.

Here are some of the most important things you can do:

  • Limit exposure to news. As if we actually could avoid the Coronavirus News right now.  Obviously, when we’re stressed about something… particularly something as uncertain as this…it can be hard to look away.  Compulsively checking the news, unfortunately only keeps you wound up. Try to limit your check-ins and avoid the news during vulnerable times of day, such as right before bedtime.
  • Avoid dwelling on things you can’t control. When uncertainty strikes, many people immediately imagine worst-case scenarios. Particularly in the current Pandæmonium of the Pandemic, strive to get out of the habit of ruminating on negative events.
  • Seek support from those you trust. Right now people are encouraged to isolate themselves.  That’s a mental health disaster looking for a place to happen when we’re stressed or worried. Social support is extremely important, so reach out to family and friends via Social Media platforms such as Skype, and FaceTime.
  • Control what you can. Focus on the things that are within your control, even if it’s as simple as weekly meal planning or laying out your clothes the night before a stressful day.
  • Establish routines to give your days and weeks some comforting structure.
  • Ask for help. If you’re having trouble managing stress and coping with uncertainty on your own, ask for help.

Get Informed and Stay Well!

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Dana Matthews

Dr Dana Matthews is a Lieutenant Colonel, US Army Ranger (Retired). He holds a BA in Journalism, an MBA/JD Law Degree, and a Doctorate in Organizational Psychology.He is a Member of the National Press Club in Washington DC and has appeared on TV and Radio.He was awarded the Military Order of the Purple Heart for Combat Wounded Veterans.Dr Dana Matthews is a well published Journalist and writer with articles appearing in the Scripps Newspaper/ TCPALM.COMHe also co authored and published a novel entitled " El Segundo- One Man's Journey for Redemption". 

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