You Asked: Is This The New Normal With Coronavirus?

Mar 19, 2020

How are you dealing with the onslaught of coronavirus news? Are you suffering from loneliness, anxiety or depression? Indiana Public Broadcasting's All IN talk show brought in four experts to address these concerns and provide recommendations for managing stress. 

Guests included Shandy Dearth, an epidemiologist with IU Fairbanks School of Public Health; William Graham Carlos, chief of internal medicine at Eskenazi Health; and psychologists Julie Steck and Sandra Burkhardt.

What's something restaurant and retail employees people can do to keep the worry from completely taking over?

STECK: First of all, I think they need to make sure they're connecting with others and connecting with people who not only share their concerns, but who can provide some support in a positive way. It's easy to connect with other people who are in a negative place. So trying to connect with people who are who could be more positive. The other thing I would look at is there are some areas that are clamoring for people to work. Amazon's hiring, I tried to get online storage or delivery today, and it couldn't be done till next Tuesday. So clearly there are some areas hiring. I don't want to be naive and think it's easy to get those jobs. But taking action usually makes people feel more empowered and more in control.

Indiana psychologist Sandra Burkhardt joined All IN to talk about ways to manage stress during the coronavirus pandemic.
Credit Photo from Children's Resource Group.

I have a friend who has a daughter with autism and she has a real need for structure and social interaction. And this has been particularly hard on her. Her dad is doing everything that he can to connect her with her teachers and her friends online. Isolation can be hard on anybody, but what is this gonna be like for someone like her?

BURKHARDT: I think that parents that have any children with special needs, even mild special needs, have to understand that this adjustment period is going to be very overwhelming. Clearly, there's no way to put in place the immediate kinds of supports that kids had when they were in school, and may be interacting with their clinical specialists and special ed teachers. So what we want to do is set realistic expectations. No. 1, try to keep the routine as routine as possible. Reaching out on social media and those types of things are important. Many individuals need some downtime, and so kind of mixing in breaks, sensory breaks, whatever we want to call it, in between some of the E-learning activities or other things. I think parents can go a long way to setting up a new normal type of schedule for their child that is a balance between structure, but also the flexibility necessary for us all to kind of get a deep breath and cope.

STECK: If you're not hearing from your school, particularly if your child has an [individual education plan], I would email them and ask for guidance in how you can support the young person at home. You know, we recognize everyone's going to have an adjustment in this first week or two. I mean, even our office we're trying to do most everything through teleconferencing and phones, but even the internet is slow right now. So give schools a week or two, but I think it's very appropriate to then email the teacher of record or the special ed director and say, Please give us guidance on how we're to go forward.

What would you say to people who are beginning to think maybe we're blowing this out of proportion?

DEARTH: I would encourage you to think about your parents and your grandparents. Those are the populations we're really trying to protect right now. … We've had some time to see what happened in China, in Italy and Spain, and we need to learn from those lessons. So I don't think we're over-reacting. I don't think this is blown out of proportion. 

Is purchasing take-out food safe? 

DEARTH: So, you know, the public health side of me says eat as healthy as you can on a regular basis. But in reality, I've got some of my favorite restaurants that I plan to head out more often than usual just because I am also trying to support some of those local businesses and using the food delivery services, the carry out options, that's fine. We have had some questions about, you know, can I go into a place and have a drink while I wait for my food? No, the restaurant should not be serving any food to be eaten or any drinks to be consumed while you're at the establishment. The goal is to get in and get out as quick as possible. Touch as few items as possible. So you're not contaminating anything. You're not picking up any contamination. 

Shandy Dearth is the Director of Undergraduate Epidemiology Education, IU Fairbanks School of Public Health.
Credit Photo from Fairbanks School of Public Health.

I wasn't prepared for how much I would miss my grandchildren. My nearly 95-year-old mother is in an assisted living facility that isn't allowing any visitors. She's in hospice care it's very difficult not to be able to see her.

BURKHART: Psychologists a lot of times like to talk about emotion-focused coping and problem-focused coping and I think take out from your local restaurants and those things really get at the idea of problem-focused coping. When your mom is in hospice, and you can't visit and you're passing food on the porch, from your grandchildren and little cards and and you're leaving them goodies in return. These are the heartbreaking emotion-focused coping that we're talking about right now. Mental health care professionals of course, we will worry about this not only for people who may have anxiety and depression and other kinds of diagnosed disorders. But for every single person who's experiencing a change in the kind of social and emotional support that they get. I think that we have to mourn it. And we have to acknowledge and validate that it really is tough not to be able to keep up your social contacts, those important relationships.

If people are at home and they don't see the light at the end of the tunnel for this, and indeed we don't know when this will be over with what kind of mental illnesses could be exacerbated by that level of uncertainty?

BURKHARDT: People have been dealing with mental illnesses, well, either mild or more severe. Many of them do have access. They continue to have access to the professionals that help them get through that. We are offering telepsychology, there's telemedicine, certainly psychiatrists, and people who are in the know, in this specialization, are making arrangements to make sure that their patients continue to have an adequate level of care. 

I think the discomfort that to people who don't have diagnose disorders or maybe have have had them under control for a long period of time, they may be experiencing an incredible increase in symptoms and then really sort of panicking about not necessarily the circumstances, but the way they're feeling their their sleep is being disturbed. They're waking up with a knot in the pit of their stomach. They're fretting over what might happen to their children or their parents or themselves. 

I think that that kind of all worry that can seize people can lead -- if we don't interrupt that cycle if we don't take a break from that shut off this source of the recurring breaking news. If we don't give ourselves a little break from that, we do put ourselves at the risk of a kind of mental fatigue, mental exhaustion.

This story was produced by Side Effects Public Media, a news collaborative covering public health. Throughout the year, Side Effects will work closely with Indiana Public Broadcasting and WFYI to ask Americans about health issues, as part of the America Amplified: Election 2020 initiative. To join our texting group, text elections to 73224; we'll send questions each month and use your answers to inform our reporting. To contact us directly with a question, email health@wfyi.org 

America Amplified: Election 2020 is a public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. America Amplified is using community engagement to inform and strengthen local, regional and national journalism. Follow America Amplified on Twitter at @amplified2020.