Isolation

We have to stay six feet apart, yet the walls seem to be closing in around us as the precautions needed to flatten the curve of the coronavirus take their toll.

So what can you do to stay on the sane side of life?

Take a bit of a break to focus on yourself and get away from the stress, the worry, and the anxiety the pandemic is creating, according to Lane Johnson, M.Div., LPC and Chief Clinical Officer for Gulf Bend Center in Victoria. The center also has a location inside Port Lavaca Clinic.

And while it may be impossible to get to a place where you are not worried or stressed, you “need to take time to step away and relax. Take deep breaths, listen to some relaxing music, or sit quietly for five or ten minutes to rebalance yourself,” he said. “Fight or flight keeps the stress hormones stimulated so you need to find a balance – sit, breathe, hydrate, turn off all distractions or pray or meditate for five to 20 minutes. Doing this a few times a day keeps you grounded and focused, which is what sanity is.”

The things people need to do to combat the virus can lead to feelings of stress, anxiety, and anger.

“Doing these things, while seemingly easy enough, truly isn’t. As human beings, we crave other human touch or contact. When denied, our systems grow frustrated and angry about our confinement. Add in the fear of getting and/or spreading the virus puts all of us on edge,” said Dr. Barbra Torgusen, who practices in the Olivia-Port Alto area and volunteers at The Harbor Children’s Alliance & Victim Center as a counselor. “Now, if we take frustrated, angry, fearful adults and confine them to a small space (because I have not seen too many Steven Spielberg mansions in Calhoun County), these are clear opportunities for mini-explosions within households or workplaces.”

To avoid an explosion, she suggests giving yourself permission to feel the fear and anger and express it calmly out loud to yourself or to your partner, spouse, roommate or such.

To make it more manageable, Torgusen suggests breaking it down into manageable bites such as:

* Follow CDC guidelines on wearing a mask, even at home, washing hands, and social distancing.

* Let children make and decorate masks, sing or say the Lord’s Prayer. Show them how to properly wash their hands. Make up games, such as seeing if they can measure six feet from each other, and limit their interaction with electronics.

* Let the family spend at least 10 to 30 minutes outside each day.

* Stay away from negative social media and surround yourself with positive input. “Watch shows that are funny or uplifting, call those you have been meaning to call, all those cousins and extended family that we only see at wedding or funerals and vow to stay in touch. Do it now, see what good things are going on in their lives, and share the good in your life. I hear people say, “I don’t have anything good,” but that isn’t true. You are still walking, talking, breathing and loved in this world. It may not be ideal or what you have aspired to, but this is a time you can make a difference in your own life. Read a book, take an online class, or write thank-you notes to those that make a difference in your life.” She also suggests making a list of positive things about your family and children and posting it on the refrigerator or online.

* Talk to your children about why they are homeschooling and challenge older children to use their imagination to find ways to connect or to help others that may need it.

* It is important to stay aware of your body and know how to manage your emotions in a safe and appropriate manner.

And while we are cloistered in our homes, Johnson noted that it is important to keep up with the networks of your life. “We are fortunate to have technology that allows us to social distance but not social disconnect. You can stay in touch by phone, Facebook, Facetime, texting,” he said. One thing he suggested was starting a journal, then stopping in mid-sentence and sending it to someone to pick up where you left off. “Think of the fascinating story that gets told or written,” he said.

But in the worst case, The Harbor’s crisis hotline, 361-552-HELP (4357), is still being manned, according to Maria Walton, executive director of The Harbor. The office is closed, but calls are being forwarded.

“We are manning the 24-hour hotline with staff and volunteers on the weekends if people need to talk, want information or resources,” she said.

With school out, which is a safe place for many children, there is no one to keep an eye out for the child. “We are trying to stay vigilant,” she said, noting they are putting information such as tips, warning signs and such out on Facebook.

Walton said during April, which is Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month as well as Sexual Assault Awareness Month, they are usually in the schools, providing information on safe touching and other information to the children. She is concerned that if school doesn’t resume until September, that’s four months the children were without the needed information.

“We’re working around that trying to get the word out,” she said. “The biggest thing is if you see something, say something.”

Torgusen suggests the following for stress management:

Stress Awareness

* Breath Rate: Taking short, shallow breaths is a definite sign that your body is stressed. Pay attention to how you are breathing throughout your day. When you realize your breaths are short and shallow, tell yourself, “Oh yeah, my body is stressed again.”

* Heart Rate: Your heart rate is your body’s Check Engine light. Pay attention to it. When your heart starts pounding, that’s your body sounding the alarm, telling you there’s a problem. When you realize your heart rate is extra fast, tell yourself, “Oh yeah, my body is stressed again.”

* Mental State: Whenever you find yourself repeating the same stressful thought such as, “I gotta get out of here,” “I can’t take it anymore,” “This shouldn’t be happening to me,” etc., I want you to tell yourself, “Oh yeah, my body is stressed again.”

* Emotional State: Whenever you find yourself feeling angry, sad, overwhelmed, upset, etc., tell yourself, “Yeah, my body is stressed again.”

Stress Management

* Touch the Tension. Gently place your hand on the area that is tense when you are stressed (usually the chest, stomach, or head). Touch is therapeutic. The calm cells in your hand help the tense cells in your body return to a stable state of being. This begins to physically disengage stress.

* Breathe Deep and Slow. Science proves breathing deep and slow switches gears from stressed to rest. This begins to emotionally disengage stress. Start with a long inhale through the nose, hold to the count of 4, then exhale, counting backward out loud from eight to one. Additionally, if you wake up in the middle of the night, do not turn on the TV or get up. Keep your eyes closed and practice breathing until you fall back asleep.

* Once per breath, silently say, “I’m Okay”. Mantras, such as this have been used to facilitate relaxation for thousands of years.

“Finally, each day, we need to incorporate routine and relaxation into our daily lives. This consists of making a list of things to achieve each day and mark them off when they are completed. Go outside for at least 10-30 minutes each day, exercise, and try to eat healthy. Do positive self-talk about your abilities to take care of yourself and your family. And most importantly, when you feel yourself getting angry and abusive to yourself, your spouse/ partner or your children, STOP, take a break and, when possible, call someone to talk. If you feel as though there is no one, The Harbor has a Crisis Line, and we are here to help. Whenever possible, it is better to be able to prevent the abuse, and you can help with that by being aware of your surroundings and your feelings during this challenging time. Talk to us before the anger goes past the point where someone gets hurt through spoken or physical means,” Torgusen said.

Johnson offers the following self-care tips to get you through the COVID-19 requirements:

* Take a break from the news: For many people, it is hard to distance themselves from the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, news. It’s all over: on TV, online, throughout social media and on the lips of pretty much everyone right now. When you feel that you are missing information, you may become more stressed or nervous. But we encourage you to take a break from the noise of the virus, as it could make you even more anxious about what’s going on in the world. Although it’s important to stay updated on what’s going on in your state, we recommend at least a 15-minute break. Turn off the television, close down your social media and news apps, and enjoy the silence. You can listen to uplifting music or simply lay down and close your eyes for a few minutes.  

* Check in with your loved ones: Sometimes you need some encouragement from those who know you most. Whether it’s a family member, friend, or mentor, reach out to your personal community of people you love to stay connected. Although the CDC still recommends to “social distance,” there are a few ways you can still spend time with your network of loved ones. If you have FaceTime or other video chatting technology, set up a call! It’s nice to communicate “face-to-face,” even if it’s digitally. Write your loved ones an email and encourage them to continue the chain of conversation. Writing a letter sometimes helps ease stress. Start a book club with friends or family members. You can have a weekly virtual check in to go over what you read.

* Take breaks: Make time to unwind and remind yourself that strong feelings will fade. Try taking deep breaths. Try to do activities you usually enjoy. Instead of fretting over what you can’t do right now, use this time to challenge your imagination to create whole new ways to do things.

* Put on some relaxing music: If you are feeling overwhelmed by the noise of the news and social media, some soothing music could relax you. In this time, you should be certain to validate your feelings. You have the right to feel overwhelmed and anxious. Use relaxing music to cope with it in a constructive way. You know the type of music that allows you to destress, but there are many different playlists out there via music streaming services that are meant to calm your nerves or even help you sleep. Want to make your music selection interactive? Ask your friends and family members what they’re listening to. There might be some genres or new albums that you haven’t heard that will keep your brain occupied.

* Make a list of your favorite indoor activities: Accepting that the stay-at-home precaution might last weeks or even months can be mentally challenging. That’s why we’re recommending that you plan ahead. There are many activities to take part in at home and indoors. Now is the perfect time to start a new puzzle or to play a board game – even virtually with your friends. You can also do activities like coloring, painting, cooking, reorganizing your closet, or writing in your journal. By making a list, you’ll remind yourself what you can do when boredom starts kicking in.

* Do some stress-reducing meditations: If you are new to meditation, know you are not the only one. But this calming activity can be a great way to destress and give yourself some much-needed self-care. There are thousands of meditations online that can direct your breathing and thoughts into positive directions.

* Nourish your body: During this hectic time, it is important to ensure you are taking care of your health. If you are working with a nutritionist or medical expert regarding your diet, you should talk to them about how to continue these guidelines for food. If you aren’t working with a nutrition expert, we recommend a balanced diet with good proteins (such as meats or legumes), fresh or canned fruits and vegetables (depending on what you have on hand), and drinking plenty of water. Keep your body nourished to help it stay healthy.

Finally, Johnson recommends that people remember what makes America strong – “we are at our best when things are at their worst. You see stories of people stepping up and helping other people, lending a hand, pitching in. This gives us a sense that together our homes, community, and country is getting through this and it will be over at some point.”