Psychologist offers mental health advice amid COVID-19 outbreak

Everything surrounding COVID-19 can be overwhelming and stressful. A psychologist gives advice on how to turn negatives into positives.

MADISON, Wis. — With the outbreak of COVID-19 came an outbreak of frustrated and stressed out people around the world. Mass cancellations, shut downs and disappointing news have taken over social media. Shilagh Mirgain, a psychologist at UW Health, says it’s natural to feel anxious, angry and stressed considering everything that’s going on.

Mirgain gave several tips we can all take into account as we notice and recognize what’s causing us to feel this way, but said it’s important to not become our feelings.

1. Temporal distancing: “See the Coronavirus in a year or two from now when the virus has a cure, and think about now from that future point in time and think about what memories you want to create and what you wish you knew,” Mirgain said. “We also want to calm the body. We are flooded with stress hormones and we don’t clearly think. Practice slower and lower breathing by breathing in for four breaths and breathe out for six to bring the body back into balance.”

2. Don’t panic: “Prepare. Wash your hands frequently and think about self care. Exercise regularly, spend time in nature, eat good foods, and practice gratitude every day by saying out loud three things you’re grateful for.”

3. Check the news only once a day for 30 minutes or less if possible: Try not going on social media as much because there’s a lot of amplified misinformation. The social contagion effect happens when we start to share all this doom and gloom and it makes others feel anxious.

Mirgain also recommends reaching out to a counselor. She said some places are offering telecounseling through video calls to respect the social distancing rule.

For those who can’t escape the news or who live in its reality (newscasters, health professionals, etc.), Mirgain recommended to find three positives in your life for every negative thing you hear or see.

“We can choose where we focus,” she said. “Put your focus on the things that are going well. There is a silver lining here for everyone. We sometimes just have to search for it. Focus on the opportunities like maybe I get to connect with new people I would have never met, and maybe I can help somebody like my neighbor bringing them groceries or flowers or maybe I can call somebody who is struggling or maybe I get to spend more time with my kids.”

Mirgain also suggests meditating. If you would like to meditate, Mirgain suggests using the free guided meditation here.

“At a time where we hold one another’s lives in our hands, its a time where we turn towards one another with our hearts,” she said. “This is a global experience. It can actually draw us closer to one another. We are willing to do whatever it takes to help our neighbors, our strangers and our friends.”