COVID-19: 7 Ways to Combat Anxiety about the Coronavirus

Learn how to manage anxiety due to the novel coronavirus outbreak in this post by the Bipolar Parent! 7 practical tips!

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7 ways to combat anxiety about the coronavirus - CassandraStout.com

You have to maintain distance in social situations. You have to work from home. Your kids’ schools are canceled. Churches are canceling services. All the major stores are out of toilet paper, masks, and hand sanitizer.

The World Health Organization (W.H.O.) has declared the outbreak a global pandemic. The U.S. government’s response has been less than inspiring. Nursing homes are showing major rates of infection.

The frothing panic about coronavirus hasn’t quite reached its zenith, but everyone’s life is already drastically affected.

Some people, already anxiety-prone, are facing a great deal of terror about impending infections or death.

Here are some practical tips on how to manage your anxiety levels during the coronavirus outbreak.

1. Don’t Inflate the Risk

There is still so much unknown about the coronavirus. Because of that, a pandemic like this is more frightening to people because it’s unfamiliar, unlike the flu, which infects millions more and kills 1% of them.

As of this writing, the novel coronavirus has infected 115,000 people globally, and killed about 5,800. The W.H.O. reports a death rate of 3.4%.

While these sound like scary numbers, they are not as scary as the SARS outbreak, which has a mortality rate of 9.6%.

The infection rate of 115,000 people is insignificant compared to the 7 billion people on the planet. Even if millions of people are infected, the likelihood of you catching the infection is fairly low, especially if you wash your hands properly.

Also, at least 75,000 people of those infected have recovered; 80% of those infected will only suffer mild symptoms similar to a cold.

2. Recognize What You Can Control, and Let Go of What You Can’t

If you’re having trouble with feeling like everything is out of control in your life, try this exercise. Take a piece of paper, and draw two circles on it. Label one, “What I Can Control,” and the other, “What I Can’t Control.”

Write down your worries, and categorize them into one of the two circles. Here are some hints to get you started:

What I can control: My actions and reactions, how much news I consume and from what sources, whether I wash my hands properly and avoid touching my face, how much my children understand about the outbreak…

What I can’t control: Infection rates and deaths among the elderly, whether the coronavirus spreads in my neighborhood, the news cycle, other people’s actions…

After you write down what you can and can’t control, try to let go of what you can’t.

3. Take Care of Yourself

Taking precautions like often washing your hands properly (sing the ABC song twice, or count to 20) and avoiding touching your face is only sensible in the face of a global pandemic.

There are other ways to take care of yourself. A healthy immune system is one of the best ways to fight the virus once you’re infected. So make sure you get enough sleep and >eat a healthy diet to support your body’s natural defenses.

If you are over the age of 60 or are immuno-compromised, then stay home as much as possible. Ask your younger family and friends to grocery shop for you, and utilize Amazon deliveries for household supplies such as hand sanitizer.

4. Go on a Media Fast

If listening to coronavirus news is making you depressed and panicky, consider going on a media fast. Block news apps from giving you notifications on your phone, and avoid reading news websites.

Limit your consumption of the daily media circus, and try to avoid thinking about the coronavirus and the chances of infection. You don’t want to stick your head in the sand, but you do want to go about your daily life with as little interruption as possible.

5. Journal, Journal, Journal

If you just can’t conquer your worries, write them down in a journal, online or off. Writing your fears down may help you recognize that they’re (mostly) about things you can’t control, so you can let them go (tip #2).

Above all, don’t ignore or try to stuff your anxiety. Give yourself space to be worried, and try to put into words exactly what makes you nervous. Don’t ignore the physical symptoms of stress, which can include a racing heart and shortness of breath.

Express your feelings in writing and allow yourself to be concerned about a concerning situation.

6. Be Prepared for an Outbreak

If you don’t yet have an outbreak in your community, prepare yourself for one. Ask your boss about your work-at-home options. Figure out your childcare options before your kids’ schools are closed. Tap into your support network to see what your friends’ plans are, and see if you can still check in with them over the phone if not in person.

Preparing as much as humanly possible for an outbreak in your community will help you see what you can control and let go of what you can’t (tip #2).

7. Seek Professional Help

If your anxiety is paralyzing you in your daily life, it might be time to pull in the big guns. Seek professional help. Some therapists will meet in online sessions with you, so you should be able to avoid getting sick or getting them sick.

Lean on your treatment team. They’re here to help you. A good therapist can help you cope with rational and irrational fears.

For a post on getting a psychiatric evaluation, click here. For a post on how to start seeing a therapist, click here.

Final Thoughts

These practical tips may help you curtail your fears about the novel coronavirus. Don’t inflate the risk of infection, let go of what you can’t control, take care of yourself, go on a media fast, keep a journal of your worries, prepare for an outbreak, and seek professional help if your worries keep you from enjoying day-to-day life.

Above all, give yourself space to worry. A global pandemic is a genuinely scary situation. You are allowed to be concerned. Just don’t let it destroy your ability to interact with your family or take pleasure in the little things.

I wish you well in your journey.

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7 ways to combat ancxiety about the coronavirus - CassandraStout.com

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The Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check In: Ice Edition

I cover my week being cooped up in the house, and ask you about yours!

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Hello, hello! Welcome to The Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: Ice Edition!

How are you? Is it snowing where you are? Have you been stuck in the house? How cold is the weather? What about your self-care routine–have you been sticking to it? Let me know in the comments; I genuinely want to know!

The Bipolar Parent's Saturday Morning Check in: Ice Edition - CassandraStout.com

My Week

My week has been utterly depressing.

I am used to a certain routine of preschool on Mondays and Wednesdays (where I meet with a friend from my writing group to write and clean the house, respectively), and toddler group on Tuesdays, which I attend with my kiddo as a co-op preschool.

Then the snowpocalypse hit. There’s still ice on the roads in our neighborhood. As I’m a anxious driver who has crashed in icy conditions before, I am very reluctant to drive.

School has been canceled for both my kids pretty much all week and we’ve been cooped up in the house. We all are suffering from cabin fever.

We normally go to a park or an indoor playground every day, even after toddler group on Tuesdays. I am ill-tempered due to nature’s inconsideration of my need for routine. My toddler has watched all sorts of random Netflix shows this week.

But it’s not all bad; we could be dealing with a power outage, like we did last year.

Luckily we live within walking distance of a grocery store, so my husband has been hoofing it there to pick up milk and bread. I am thankful that he was able to work from home.

So that’s been my week. How’s yours been? Have you, too, been cooped up in the house? Let me know in the comments!

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The Bipolar Parent's Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: Ice Edition - CassandraStout.com

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Can a Whole-Foods, Plant-Based Diet Improve Depression?

tomatoes.jpg
A picture of several ripe tomatoes. Credit to flickr.com user Frédérique Voisin-Demery
. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

When speaking of dieting advice, Michael Pollen put it best: “Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” But not all diets are about dress size. The challenge in eating healthy is even more of a challenge when it comes to managing your mental health. I’ve already looked at How to Follow a Mediterranean Diet to Help Bipolar Depression. But what about different diets?

The whole-foods, plant-based diet (WFPBD) has gained traction in nutritional psychiatry circles in the past few years. Proponents claim that the diet can reduce the risk of or even reverse chronic diseases. But can vegetarian, vegan, or whole-foods, plant-based diets help depression?

That depends on what studies you look at. There have been a few studies that imply vegan diets can help you manage depression. But there are some other studies that imply the opposite. Few people have studied this subject, so finding answers is a lot of piecing together and guessing. The studies that have been done suffer from small sample sizes.

An oft-cited German study which examined diet and mental health in a group of about 4100 subjects said that vegetarians were 15% more likely to suffer from depression. But the study also said that these people tended to start their vegetarian diets after already developing depression. The conclusion? Plant-based diets did not cause depression, but people who were depressed were more likely to choose a plant-based diet. This was the biggest study on the subject to my knowledge.

These results have been replicated in other studies. Another UK study found that 350 vegans/vegetarians (out of a subset of 9700 men) were more likely to be depressed than those eating meat. But the researchers caution readers that correlation is not causation; these men may have been depressed before adopting their diets.

Interestingly, research shows that plant-based diets may actually have a protective effect on mood. A small study of Seventh-day Adventists found that a vegetarian diet was associated with better moods. A second study, also small, found that moods improved when people stopped eating meat. New moms in Austria and women in Iran who ate vegetarian diets also enjoyed better moods.

Research also points to an alarming trend in meat eaters: women with a high-inflammatory diet, including red meats and processed foods, were 41% more likely to suffer from depression. Diets high in sugar have been linked to depression as well. And a recent study from the American Journal of Health Promotion found that vegan diets improved the levels of anxiety and depression in 36 participants.

This sounds scary, but plant-based diets aren’t without their problems as well. There are some good reasons that people eating a plant-based diet might be prone to depression. If you want to follow this diet, here are some limitations to be aware of: Deficiencies in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, and folate are all linked to depression, and vegans and vegetarians might eat fewer of these supplements than omnivores. A lack of iron and zinc, two minerals most easily found in meat, is also associated with depression. Additionally, vegetarians may eat more omega-6 fatty acids, which increase inflammation and are correlated with depression. People eating a plant-based diet may also consume higher levels of pesticides, provided they’re not eating organic foods.

If you eat a vegetarian diet and are suffering from depression, talk to your doctor about supplementing your diet. B12 specifically is only found in meat. According to a recent study, depression was reduced up to 50% in people who started supplementing with B6, B12, and folic acid.

Of course, it is irresponsible to say that people are depressed because of what they eat. Depression is usually a chemical imbalance in the body, especially bipolar depression, and cannot be blamed solely on what we consume. It is also important to note that while diet can improve mental health, treating depression sometimes requires medication or therapy. Seeking adequate treatment for mental health problems carries an unfortunate stigma, and it shouldn’t. There is no shame in trying to live a healthy life, where you can be the best you can be. If you feel like diet and exercise is not enough to treat your depression, then talk to your doctor.

I wish you well.

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How to Spot Depression in Children, Even Preschoolers

Trigger Warning: Brief discussion of suicidal ideation.

Preschool depression is often overlooked, because the symptoms are difficult to spot or may be explained away by hopeful parents and teachers. Depression in adults is widely known, but can preschoolers suffer clinical depression? Science says they can.

Scientists began studying depression in preschoolers 20 years ago, and the research continues today. According to the conclusion of a new study led by Dr. Joan Luby of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, preschoolers suffer depression. Luby’s team examined 306 children ranging from 3 to 6 years old. This study demonstrated that 23% of the 3-year-olds endured depressive symptoms every day for two consecutive weeks. As the age of the child increased, the rate of major depressive disorder diagnoses also increased. The 4-year-olds suffered depressive symptoms at a rate of 36%, while the 5-year-olds showed a rate of 41%. The children who had suffered extremely stressful or traumatic events in their lives also had a higher incidence of depression than the controls.

Preschoolers generally can’t describe their emotional states. They’re still learning what emotions are and they lack the ability to vocalize them. This is the difficulty in diagnosing depression in preschoolers, and why you may need help spotting it. In order to allow the study participants to express how they perceive themselves and get a sense of what young children were feeling, Dr. Luby’s team asked a series of questions using puppets. How the children responded gave the researchers a clue about how the kids were feeling.

Further complicating the picture is the prevalence of other conditions along with depression, like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). In Dr. Luby’s study, about 40% of the study participants also dealt with ADHD, which tends to drown out symptoms of depression, because the symptoms are similar. This can even persist later in life. Children who suffer depression are more than four times as likely to suffer an anxiety disorder later in life than kids who don’t suffer depressive symptoms.

preschooler
A preschool-aged boy in blue hoodie sprawling on a parent’s lap. Credit to flickr.com user Quinn Dombrowski. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

But what does depression look like in a 3-to-6-year-old?How can you, as a parent, spot it? Well, depression in children looks a lot like depression in adults. For example, anhedonia, the inability to experience pleasure from normally enjoyable activities, can show up in adults as a lack of enjoyment in things like golfing or writing. Preschoolers with anhedonia find little to no joy in their toys. Both adults and children with depression are restless and irritable. Depressed kids whine a lot, and don’t want to play.

When they do play, children may decide that their stuffed animals decided to “die” today and decide to bury them. Anytime you see a preschooler demonstrate methods of suicide or death with a stuffed animal without mimicking an episode of your life, such as a death in the family, your antennae need to come up. That could indicate suicidal thoughts.

But the most common symptom of depression in children is deep sadness. Not someone who’s sad for a day, but all the time, no matter who he or see is with or what he or she is doing. Sadness in the face of goals that have been thwarted is normal. But depressed children have difficulties resolving the sadness to the point where the misery affects their ability to function regularly. If your child appears to be sad to the point of inability to enjoy anything or regulate their other emotions, then get a recommendation from your pediatrician for a child psychologist or a behavioral therapist.

Other notable symptoms of childhood depression are an exaggerated sense of guilt, shame, and insecurity. Depressed preschoolers generally feel that if they do a naughty thing or disobey, that means they are inherently bad people.

Here’s a breakdown of the symptoms of depression in children of any age, including preschoolers:

  • Deep and persistent sadness
  • Irritability or anger
  • Difficulty sleeping or focusing
  • Refusing to go to school and getting into trouble
  • Change in eating habits
  • Crying spells
  • Withdrawing from friends and toys
  • Fatigue
  • Anhedonia – inability to derive pleasure from enjoyable activities, like playing with toys
  • Whining
  • Low self-esteem and insecurity
  • Shame and guilt
  • Timidity

Preschoolers may be especially vulnerable to depression’s consequences. Young children are sensitive to emotions, but lack the ability to process strong feelings. Early negative experiences–including separation from a caregiver, abuse, and neglect–affect physical health, not just mental. Multiple studies have linked childhood depression to later depression in adulthood.

This is why properly diagnosing and treating these children early is so vital. One established intervention for treating childhood depression is called Parent-Child Interaction Therapy, or PCIT. Originally developed in the 1970s to treat violent or aggressive behaviors in preschoolers, PCIT is a program where, under the supervision of a trained therapist, caregivers are taught to encourage their children to manage their emotions and stress. The program typically lasts from 10 to 16 weeks.

The Bottom Line

Dr. Luby’s research is met with resistance. Laypeople typically think the idea of preschoolers suffering depression ridiculous, and even some doctors and scientists don’t believe children are cognitively advanced enough to suffer from depression. Preschool depression remains a controversial topic, which makes it harder to diagnose in your child.

But depression in children 6 years and older has been well established by decades of data. Is it really so hard to think that preschoolers might suffer depression as well? Dr. Luby and her team have been looking at the data for 20 years, and have concluded that preschoolers can suffer depression, just like older children and adults.

Admitting that your child is depressed may make you feel like you’re a failure. After all, if you can’t protect your children from depression, who can? But clinical depression is chemical. This is not your fault. You may have been told that depression doesn’t exist in preschoolers, or that you’re overreacting. You may be called a helicopter or hovering parent. But trust your instincts. You know your child better than anyone else. Don’t be afraid to go against stigma for your child’s benefit.

Up to 84,000 of America’s 6 million preschoolers may be clinically depressed. If your child is one of them, you are not alone. There is no shame to depression. The condition is not your child’s fault, just as in adults. No parent likes to see her child suffer, and getting help for depressed children is vital to their well-being.

If your child suffers depressive symptoms, especially anhedonia, ask your pediatrician for a recommendation for a behavioral therapist or child psychologist. Typically, the earlier the intervention, the more successful the results.

Good luck.

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How Mental Health Affects Personal Hygiene

Hygiene is extremely important for health and morale-related reasons, but mental health conditions can negatively affect self-care. Keeping up a routine of frequent bathing can be difficult for many people suffering from bipolar disorder, unipolar depression, schizophrenia, and dementia. Teeth and hair brushing are burdensome for the mentally ill; indeed, getting that done on a daily basis is hard for me as well.

During my stay in the mental hospital, patients had to request that they be let into the shower, which was locked. The nurses required us to be dressed by eight a.m., but didn’t require oral care or hair brushing. As a result, my normally-straight hair became ridiculously tangled, to the point that I described it as a mass of Brillo pads piled atop my head.

toothbrushing
Credit to flickr.com user Niklas Gustavsson. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Self-neglect is one of the major symptoms of depression, and can easily be tied into mania as well. Body odor, soiled clothes, and poor oral hygiene are all signs of something going very wrong in a person’s life. Loss of motivation, a lack of self-worth, and social isolation all contribute to poor hygiene.

One way to help remind yourself to wash is to have soap and other supplies readily stocked. Fresh towels, even if it’s difficult to do laundry, are essential to cleaning oneself. People who care about you can help keep you on task as well by asking if you’ve had a shower lately. And you don’t need to bathe everyday. Showering every day strips the oils from your skin and hair, drying them out. So just get a bath in when you can.

Hygiene can be hard to maintain, especially if you’re in the throes of a mood episode. But it’s crucial to managing moods. Best of luck engaging in self-care!

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What is Bipolar Depression?

My apologies for setting the blog aside for so long without an announcement–and what a post to leave it on! I’ve been grappling with a severe depressive episode which has

Photo by Manarianz5. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.
Photo by Manarianz5. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

escalated over the past year, leaving me not wanting to die, but just bereft of desire to participate in life.

Depression is often described as being miserable, down in the dumps, or–my favorite–trapped in a black, sucking hole of apathy. According to the Kübler-Ross model, also known as the five stages of grief, depression is one of the normal responses to a traumatic life event. Clinical or bipolar depression, however, rears its ugly head due to chemical imbalances in the brain, medication, or genes–meaning that it can strike at any time not connected to stress or winter blues. So what are depression’s signs and symptoms, and how are they treated?

Depression’s signs differ from person to person, but largely include a combination of these factors:

  • Persistent feelings of hopelessness
  • Poor concentration
  • Memory loss
  • Lack of energy
  • Isolation
  • Inability to sleep
  • Missed showers, meals
  • Suicidal tendencies

Over the past year I’ve isolated myself and my five-year-old, confining us both to the house due to both anxiety and depression. I’ve only just begun to emerge from the fugue, armed with new medications and new coping strategies, as well as an attempt to shuck off old habits.

Due to the advice of a dear friend, I found that doing things makes me want to do more things. It’s counter-intuitive, but making sure that I do the dishes and pick up the living room every day has worked as the best anti-depressant I’ve ever had. Staying in bed until I have to pick up my kid from kindergarten is a sure-fire way of destroying the rest of the day. Getting up and getting dressed is that first, difficult step, but I am better off when it’s done.

That said, I have to keep moving. How do you stay out of the sucking hole?

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