Mental health continues to be an important topic during the COVID-19 crisis. Dr. Jessica sat down with two more therapists to get their take on how to deal with anxiety specifically.
What has been the effect of COVID-19 anxiety?
DR. MATT GLOWIAK: Oftentimes, anxiety stems from a fear of the unknown. This fear may lead to catastrophizing, rumination of negative thoughts, and difficulty trying to relax. Given the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, and especially considering continued conflicting information, the fear of the unknown continually increases. This can lead to anxiety, even for those who have not previously experienced it to a clinical degree.
DR. FRAN WALFISH: There’s so much uncertainty which, for many people, can lead to feeling insecure. No two people experience trauma the same way, but most can agree that it’s an extremely stressful and difficult situation, both mentally and physically. Research shows that stress can take a serious toll on everything from your sleep habits to your heart.
What are some of the signs of increased anxiety?
DR. WALFISH: Highly stressful life events can impact one’s health and well-being. Some signs can include drastic weight change, metabolic syndrome, depression, and cardiovascular disease. For example, some people turn to comfort foods because it might temporarily perk them up. For others, stress has the opposite effect and they lose weight.
What has the shift to telemedicine been like?
DR. GLOWIAK: Although telemental health has been met with some reservations since its inception, it has proven to be an effective means of working with those who would otherwise go without services. This includes both existing and new clients. For those professionals versed in telemental health, little has changed. For those who are not, there has been a push to partake in various trainings that solicit the adaptation of face-to-face skills online. By becoming versed in these skills, telemental health services better mimic those used in the traditional setting.
DR. WALFISH: I really and truly believe that this is a pivotal moment in life where it’s beneficial to seek out a good therapist, even if it is through telemedicine. It is essential to gain support from someone who’s emotionally removed from the situation. It’s a golden opportunity to write a new, brighter script for the next chapter in your life.
What would you say to someone struggling with anxiety right now?
DR. WALFISH: I’d recommend gratitude journaling and art therapy, two extremely respected forms of psychotherapy and analysis. This technique of self-expression facilitates the person to wrestle with conflicts and expel powerful feelings out of the body and onto paper ridding them of unpleasant emotions.
DR. GLOWIAK: For those struggling with anxiety at this time it is important to know that you are not alone. Millions of people in the US and billions worldwide are experiencing similar feelings. It is okay to feel how you feel right now. As you recognize increased anxiety–or perhaps any variations from the way you think, feel, and/or behave–it is important to take action.
Speaking with a trusted loved one and/or professional may help. It is also important to rely on previously helpful coping strategies. Although some coping strategies may be compromised due to COVID-19 restrictions, it is important to adapt accordingly–much like professionals have adjusted to telemental health services. Simple activities such as reading a book, working out, meditating, journaling, listening to or playing music, creating something artistic, etc. are all great coping skills for diverting the mind of the negative and being present with something positive that you enjoy.
While we do not know for certain what the future holds, we each individually have the power to control how we respond in the present. By choosing to engage in positive coping strategies, you are choosing to battle the anxiety–that for many–is more debilitating than the COVID-19 virus itself.
Dr. Matt Glowiak, Ph.D., LCPC, CAADC, NCC, is a practicing therapist, a professor, and a mental and behavioral health writer for Choosing Therapy (a Mental Health Startup based in Brooklyn, NY). He’s authored chapters in multiple textbooks and published online in the likes of Counseling Today, CONTACT, and The Advocate Magazine.
Dr. Fran Walfish is a leading Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist, author of The Self-Aware Parent, regular expert child psychologist on The Doctors, CBS TV, and co-star on WE tv. They were also on clinical staff in the Department of Psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center for 15 years and recently completed their 4 year-term as Chair of the Board of The Early Childhood Parenting Center founded at Cedars-Sinai, Los Angeles. Their website is www.DrFranWalfish.com.