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WAYNE MARTIN, LCSW - THERAPIST IN FORT WORTH

As the coronavirus quickly spreads, we’re witnessing a lot of reactive responses from fear to dismissal to outright panic. The coronavirus is a slow-rolling disaster, presenting unique challenges because of the unrelenting reports of what’s likely to come our way.

But we don’t need to get caught up in terror for the future. Or for today.

 After 9/11, fear, uncertainty, and unease swept our nation and the world. Everyone began wondering about “what ifs,” with each “what if” getting worse and worse and worse. Because of that overreactive, unhelpful, unhealthy response, I wrote a 9/11 self-care email listing proactive ways to cope with the enormous stress of the time. Much to my surprise, it went global via email, and was translated into several languages (I’ll dig it up and post it for reference sake soon.)

Our best responses to other disasters have always been proactive responses. So let’s take a deliberate approach to preparing for the coronavirus now. Here’s what I’m doing:

Maintaining healthy office hygiene

I now clean all surfaces clients might touch in between sessions. I always have hand gel available. We now greet each other without a handshake to keep germs from spreading (I’m a natural hand-shaker, and this one is taking a lot of deliberate attention on my part!). Crucially, if you are ill or have been exposed, please don’t come in. I won’t either! I also now offer video and phone based sessions to my clients in the event that it’s better for you to stay home.

Managing news-related stress

Dine on a healthy news diet. Be mindful of the frequency. (You try not to overeat, right? Well consider intermittent news fasting where instead of grazing on news throughout the day you have limited time for news consumption and longer times without.) For me, I look at the news (in small doses) twice a day. In the morning, I scan the online news. In the evening, I usually spend another 5- to 10 minutes looking at news with an emphasis on what’s happening locally and focusing on the balance of news, not just the worst of it. Keep the news dosage deliberately minimal. Filter the news by asking: What’s actionable? (If the news only raises your anxiety, that is not actionable.) I personally never watch news on TV since I feel that TV news has become too toxic.

What to do: Adopting good mental hygiene after news exposure

We wash our hands after germ exposure, it’s just as important to clean our minds after mental exposure to viral news. How? Breathe intentionally. Stretch. Move. Have a deliberate and clear break from the news content so that you don’t ruminate on it (and it then disrupts your sleep). Listen to music you really like. Look at photos that make you happy. Read something uplifting to get your mind going in a different direction. You can deliberately change the mental channel you focus on (even though like a faulty TV remote control the brain’s default mode network goes hunting for problems — a process we need to understand and work with).

Our Immune System on the Defensive

A virus puts our immune system on the defensive, and playing defense is what it does best! But we can act by playing offense to support a healthy immune system. By choosing these healthy practices, scientific research shows that the immune system functions better and more successfully defends us against threats.

Give Your Immune System an Edge

  • Sleep: Be more intentional about your sleep care. Sleep restores us and enhances the functioning of the immune system.

  • Eat a healthy diet: Boost your digestive microbiome with probiotic foods and healthy vegetables that function as prebiotics. In addition to helping the immune system, studies show that prebiotics and probiotics also can reduce anxiety!

  • Practice good mental hygiene: Use the strategies advocated by reliable sources (like the CDC and WHO) to prevent physical exposure. Likewise take a moment to cleanse your mind after it’s exposed to stressful content on the news or social media.

  • Stay connected: Even though we need socially distancing to maintain physical health, we need social connection more than ever! Fortunately it’s possible to do both. Convey warmth with your words and expressions, and with compassionate gestures. Stay connected to your loved ones using video chat if you can’t see each other face to face.

  • Practice kindness: Collectively we are more stressed, and so be mindful that the people around you may be more quick to jump to conclusions, argue, or drive aggressively. Bring kindness and compassion to your fellow humanity in this time of strain.

  • Relax: Emphasize your relaxation response since stress weakens your immune system and relaxation boosts it. Relax through meditation, imagery, and breathwork: https://waynemartinlcsw.com/resources

  • And one more thing: start a smiling practice! Smiling has many health benefits, including boosting your immune system. Smiling reduces your stress response and boosts your immune system. Here’s a work in progress that I’ve created which helps you to practice smiling (and which appears to have strong positive effects!): https://admin.typeform.com/form/y8I8O5/share#/

We’ll Get Through This

We’ve weathered many other storms and tragedies before. We’ll get through this too. By giving a little thought to how to cope proactively, you can boost your immune system and position yourself to get through the COVID-19 pandemic in the best way possible. Let’s also remember to treat each other with kindness and compassion in these difficult times!