Expert Pitch
University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV)

UNLV Mental Health Expert Offers Strategies for Combating Coronavirus Anxiety as Communities Reopen

4-Jun-2020 2:30 PM EDT, by University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV)

By now, we all understand the importance of washing our hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

We know that we should clean high-touch surfaces regularly, and avoid touching our faces.

We know that wearing a mask protects those around us.

These activities help prevent the spread of COVID-19, but can also be a powerful set of tools in our arsenal to combat feelings of anxiety as states continue forward with reopening plans.

“Focusing on the few things that you have control over, and narrowing it down into a manageable framework helps to declutter the brain,” said Dr. Michelle Paul, psychologist and director of The PRACTICE Mental Health Clinic at UNLV. “When the brain thinks ‘I have 50 things to worry about,’ it feels like it’s getting attacked from all angles. But when you focus on those things that you can control, it frees you up to be able to make decisions and go about your day.”

Restaurants and bars are opening their doors. Water parks and community pools are beckoning families to come visit.

And people are headed back to work — either for the first time in a few months, or transitioning back to an in-person setting after working from home.

Here, Paul provides some strategies on how to work through feelings of anxiety as people and communities transition into the next phase of recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

As states, including Nevada, continue on with their various phases of reopening during the coronavirus pandemic, why are people feeling anxious about returning to work or other activities outside of the home?

We’ve been successfully educated about the dangers of failing to take this virus seriously. It is a serious virus which spreads rapidly, and affects more groups of people than we originally thought. And you can’t see it, so you can’t avoid it. There’s a certain amount of generalized anxiety around it because until we have a vaccine, there is always going to be a level of risk that’s higher than what we’re used to, say with the flu for example.

And if you get sick, we have also been successfully educated to appreciate that we can’t rely on it being a mild set of symptoms. It can be very serious, even for young healthy people.

So all of that leads to you walking out of your home every day with the possibility of contracting illness that could be very serious for you. And there’s no way to understand how serious it can be for each individual person because doctors, researchers, and public health officials are still learning about the disease.

It certainly affects vulnerable groups but it also affects those of us who are not vulnerable. And because it can be passed by people who are non-symptomatic, it makes it very difficult to have a handle on where the danger is.

There is a real danger, and so naturally, there is a real fear.

Can feelings of anxiety differ depending on the activity?

The answer is yes, I would expect that to be true. People are going to feel differing levels of anxiety depending on the nature of the activity and the amount of risk that the activity poses, given what we know about the disease. We’ve been educated to know that COVID-19 is transmitted through respiratory droplets. And so that means that when you’re in a more densely populated area, there’s a higher chance of exposure to infected respiratory droplets.

So closed spaces where there’s a lot of density in terms of the numbers of people, is going to be a higher risk. In closed spaces with lots of people coming in from other parts of the country or the world, where the infection rate is higher, there’s an even higher risk. If there’s a concert, and people are coming in from California, Arizona, downtown Las Vegas, or Henderson, there’s more risk.

But if you’re going to a birthday party with another family that you know has been isolated, and they’ve not gone anywhere and you have not gone anywhere, and nobody has shown any symptoms for two weeks, you can feel pretty comfortable that that birthday party is relatively safe. You can also feel relatively safe going on a hike outdoors.

It’s all, however, on a continuum, because there’s not going to be a zero risk activity until we can all get vaccinated.

What about when it comes to returning to work?

When it comes to working outside the home, we know that work is not the same for everyone. The extent to which someone feels anxious about going into work is going to depend on the level of risk associated with that particular work environment.

Are you working in a restaurant with lots and lots of tourists coming in? Are you working in a small office where your interaction with the public is only a handful of people a day? Are you sitting in a big office space with cubicles and 100 people working?

If everybody’s in their office, and everyone is wearing masks, and the doors are closed, and employees are screening and saying they’re symptom free, that’s a lower risk, and presumably lower anxiety work environment than a higher density office space where you can’t just close your door.

What are some strategies that people can employ to work through their anxieties?

On a personal level, it helps, and can even be calming to go to reliable resources, like the CDC and the Southern Nevada Health District. There are some really great, easy-to-read guidelines on how to comport yourself so that you can minimize personal risk.

You can also alleviate some anxiety by understanding the data. Visit the Nevada Health Response website and see that the rate of testing is going up, while the percentage of people testing positive is going down. This data can reassure you that the state is getting a handle on it. It doesn’t mean that you completely stop all protocols, but it means that what we’re doing is working, so keep doing it. If those numbers start to creep up again, then you can remind yourself that you can adjust your behavior accordingly.

I know it sounds simple, but one of the main ways to protect yourself is very frequent handwashing, and keeping your hands away from your face. It’s about remembering what you have control over. We have control over quite a bit, and can make choices that are wise under the circumstances.

You can wash your hands and clean high-touch surfaces frequently, wear a mask, and practice safe social distancing. When you choose to wear a mask, you can remember that it’s helping to protect others. We all are in this together, watching out for each other — so take comfort in that.

What can employers do to help ease anxieties that their employees might be feeling?

People need to feel psychologically safe. And I think that managers in workplaces have a great deal of influence on the extent to which their staff members feel safe. Psychological safety may mean that employers might have to go above and beyond in terms of implementing policies, procedures, and protocols than what might initially feel necessary.

It’s important for managers and leaders to communicate, communicate, communicate. Communicate early and often, and check in: Here’s what we’re thinking of doing — how does that sound to you? Is there anything we’re missing? Is there anything we didn’t think about? Can we stagger shifts? Can we create traffic flow that minimizes bumping into people?

These kinds of questions will help people feel like they have a place to share what they’re worried about, and that they feel heard.

Employers need to reassure their employees that health and safety is the paramount concern. And employers also need to reassure their employees that if things get worse again, they’ll be protected. They need to communicate that they are not going to be careless or naive, and that they’ll monitor the situation, which continues to evolve every day, closely.

It’s about trying to find the balance between the risk of not working and the risk of getting ill.

Are there other strategies for combating anxiety that might not seem as obvious at first?

Compassion — finding compassion for ourselves and others is really important.

When you think about having compassion for yourself, you make room for taking a break from social media. You make room for allowing yourself to have the feelings you’re feeling when you’re feeling them, validating those for yourself and others. And you find opportunities to try to infuse hope, joy, and playfulness despite the dangers that are out there.

You can define self compassion and self-care for yourself. For me, this weekend, I just really needed to clean. I needed to do a deep scrub. But self care the weekend before that was going on a really big hike — being outside, breathing in the Mt. Charleston air, and enjoying a change of scenery.

Filters close

Showing results

110 of 2528
Released: 10-Jul-2020 3:05 PM EDT
Simple blood test can predict severity of COVID-19 for some patients
University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston

An early prognosis factor that could be a key to determining who will suffer greater effects from COVID-19, and help clinicians better prepare for these patients, may have been uncovered by researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). Results of the findings were published today in the International Journal of Laboratory Hematology.

Released: 10-Jul-2020 12:50 PM EDT
Genetic ‘fingerprints’ of first COVID-19 cases help manage pandemic
University of Sydney

A new study published in the world-leading journal Nature Medicine, reveals how genomic sequencing and mathematical modelling gave important insights into the ‘parentage’ of cases and likely spread of the disease in New South Wales.

Released: 10-Jul-2020 12:35 PM EDT
Our itch to share helps spread COVID-19 misinformation
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

To stay current about the Covid-19 pandemic, people need to process health information when they read the news. Inevitably, that means people will be exposed to health misinformation, too, in the form of false content, often found online, about the illness.

Newswise: Pandemic Inspires Framework for Enhanced Care in Nursing Homes
Released: 10-Jul-2020 12:25 PM EDT
Pandemic Inspires Framework for Enhanced Care in Nursing Homes
University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing

As of May 2020, nursing home residents account for a staggering one-third of the more than 80,000 deaths due to COVID-19 in the U.S. This pandemic has resulted in unprecedented threats—like reduced access to resources needed to contain and eliminate the spread of the virus—to achieving and sustaining care quality even in the best nursing homes. Active engagement of nursing home leaders in developing solutions responsive to the unprecedented threats to quality standards of care delivery is required.

Newswise: General Electric Healthcare Chooses UH to Clinically 
Evaluate First-of-its-kind Imaging System
Released: 10-Jul-2020 12:15 PM EDT
General Electric Healthcare Chooses UH to Clinically Evaluate First-of-its-kind Imaging System
University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center

University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center physicians completed evaluation for the GE Healthcare Critical Care Suite, and the technology is now in daily clinical practice – flagging between seven to 15 collapsed lungs per day within the hospital. No one on the team could have predicted the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, but this technology and future research with GEHC may enhance the capability to improve care for COVID-19 patients in the ICU. Critical Care Suite is now assisting in COVID and non-COVID patient care as the AMX 240 travels to intensive care units within the hospital.

Released: 10-Jul-2020 11:50 AM EDT
COVID-19 Can Be Transmitted in the Womb, Reports Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal
Wolters Kluwer Health: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins

A baby girl in Texas – born prematurely to a mother with COVID-19 – is the strongest evidence to date that intrauterine (in the womb) transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) can occur, reports The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal, the official journal of The European Society for Paediatric Infectious Diseases. The journal is published in the Lippincott portfolio by Wolters Kluwer.

Released: 10-Jul-2020 9:45 AM EDT
How COVID-19 Shifted Inpatient Imaging Utilization
Harvey L. Neiman Health Policy Institute

As medical resources shifted away from elective and non-urgent procedures toward emergent and critical care of COVID-19 patients, departments were forced to reconfigure their personnel and resources. In particular, many Radiology practices rescheduled non-urgent and routine imaging according to recommendations from the American College of Radiology (ACR). This new Harvey L. Neiman Health Policy Institute study, published online in the Journal of American College of Radiology (JACR), evaluates the change in the inpatient imaging volumes and composition mix during the COVID-19 pandemic within a large healthcare system.

access_time Embargo lifts in 2 days
Embargo will expire: 12-Jul-2020 7:00 PM EDT Released to reporters: 10-Jul-2020 9:00 AM EDT

A reporter's PressPass is required to access this story until the embargo expires on 12-Jul-2020 7:00 PM EDT The Newswise PressPass gives verified journalists access to embargoed stories. Please log in to complete a presspass application. If you have not yet registered, please Register. When you fill out the registration form, please identify yourself as a reporter in order to advance to the presspass application form.

Released: 10-Jul-2020 9:00 AM EDT
Team is first in Texas to investigate convalescent plasma for prevention of COVID-19 onset and progression
University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston

A research team is the first in Texas to investigate whether plasma from COVID-19 survivors can be used in outpatient settings to prevent the onset and progression of the virus in two new clinical trials at UTHealth.

Showing results

110 of 2528