Managing grief and stress during COVID-19: Insights from NIH directors

For many Americans, this is the fourth week of self-isolation and that conjures up a wide range of feelings depending on your personal situation. Finding ways to work, educate and entertain your kids, and manage the stress, anxiety and grief brought on by this painful crisis takes an emotional and psychological toll.

We don’t know how long we’ll need to remain isolated – there are many variables dictating the timeframe. Therefore, if you’re struggling with a lot of heightened emotions now, it’s important to find ways to manage and express your feelings, either with a friend or professional, or through other means, such as writing a letter, or keeping a journal.

Hear it from the experts

Last week, Francis Sellers Collins, a physician-geneticist and the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, had a personal conversation with Joshua Gordon, M.D., director of NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health about the emotional and psychological effects of COVID-19. Because of their deep shared knowledge on mental health and well-being, and their insights on ways we can help manage our own stress and anxiety, we recommend reading the transcript from their video conversation.

Here are some insightful points from the doctors’ conversation about the stress, anxiety and grief we’re all experiencing in various degrees, ways to help manage them, and get help:

  • Grief might be caused by the loss of normal day-to-day interactions, the loss of our ability to physically connect with people and the loss of certainty and self-power.
  • It’s important to be able to talk about your feelings, and hear from others going through the same thing.
  • Focus on the facts. There are rumors, uncertainty and hyperbole out there. But to the extent that you can, learn and share the facts about the virus. If you know what’s happening, it reduces the uncertainty.
  • Set aside periods of each day where you turn off social media, TV and the news, and do something you enjoy. It could be art, it could be exercise, it could be picking up the phone and talking to someone about something other than COVID-19.
  • Taking care of your body can help your mind. Try yoga, exercise, resting, naps and keep regular mealtimes. All these things can be helpful.
  • Connecting with others is really important in this day of physical distancing. So connect with others, reach out to people, use digital tools, use telephones, use email and text, or write a letter.
  • Signs that your anxiety is pushing you over the edge: you can’t get your work done or can’t do the thing that you set out to do. You start to withdraw from people, have trouble sleeping, your appetite changes and physical energy levels drop, or you become irritable or angry. If you experience any of those things reach out for help either from a friend or from a professional.  If you are experiencing distress because of COVID-19, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration has the Disaster Distress Helpline: 800-985-5990 or text “TalkWithUs” to 66746. For those who are really struggling, and are thinking of hurting or killing themselves, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or text “HOME” to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
  • If you have pre-existing mental illnesses, it’s really important that you reach out to your provider and find ways of to connect.

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