Virus stress takes toll: Delawareans adjust as changes bring negative emotions

A man kayaks on Silver Lake in Dover on Tuesday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DOVER — If the past few weeks have been incredibly stressful, making you feel like you want to scream, cry and throw things at times, know that you are not alone.

All around the country, Americans are adjusting to the new coronavirus reality, implementing social distancing and in many cases finding themselves essentially trapped inside. It’s a profound break from normalcy, especially here in Delaware, where schools and non-essential businesses are closed.

The change can bring all sorts of negative emotions: fear — for your own health, for the health of a loved one, for a job that might not be there in a week — anger, especially for those unhappy with the government’s response, and loneliness, particularly but not exclusively for those living by themselves.

Individuals who are in a high-risk category for the virus or have family members who fall into that classification may be extra prone to worrying, as may those already struggling to get by financially.

It’s easy to get caught up in everything and wonder if the situation will ever abate.

“It’s really stressful. It’s stressful for those who are in their own homes,” Division of Public Health Director Karyl Rattay said in a DPH livestream Wednesday morning. “It’s stressful for those who are watching the media every day and worried about what’s going to happen to them and their loved ones.”

Polling of nearly 1,100 Americans by Axios and Ipsos between March 20 and 23 found 43 percent of respondents said their emotional well-being had worsened in the past week, up from 29 percent the week before. Fifty-nine percent said they were very or extremely worried about the virus, an increase of 22 percentage points in one week.

In these trying times, experts say there are a number of things that can help relieve stress. While combating worries is easier said than done, simple activities such as sewing or coloring can be soothing for people, as can writing thoughts and fears down.

Speaking in the livestream broadcast, Dr. Rattay and Brandywine Counseling President and CEO Lynn Morrison urged Delawareans to try to stay positive as much as possible.

A couple walk between two trees that are in bloom at Silver Lake Park in Dover.

“I know we’re all hearing this a lot and it might sound a little cliché, but we are all in this together and we all have a part to play,” Dr. Morrison said.

Setting goals, even small ones like cleaning out a closet or reading that daunting book, can be helpful and can give people a sense of purpose that might be missing, she said. And the goals don’t have to be small — if you’re always wanted to learn another language, now is the time.

Staying physically active is important, although people should remember social gathering recommendations: stay at least 6 feet from each other and avoid crowds. While Delawareans are instructed to remain home as much as possible, Gov. John Carney has taken pains to encourage people to exercise, and venturing out to do so, such as jogging or throwing the ball for your pup, are approved activities.

Delaware State News readers responding to a question on Facebook about how they’re managing their mental health described a variety of things they’ve been doing, ranging from painting the house to reading to walking the dog.

During the state’s livestream, both Dr. Morrison and Dr. Rattay suggested Delawareans meditate. Simply taking a few minutes to sit quietly and try to relax can be a godsend, and people new to meditation can build up to longer sessions, Dr. Morrison said.

She recommends beginners focus on their breathing, not their thoughts or worries. Concentrate on the moment. Feel, don’t think.

“The overall sense of well-being is really important, and meditation has been researched to show that can happen,” she said.

Whether it’s meditating, watching a movie or going for a walk, experts suggest families take steps to do things together during this outbreak. People should be cognizant of family or close friends who are living alone, especially the elderly, and check in on them electronically in some way.

“It’s important that we understand the difference between social isolation and social distancing. We don’t want anybody to feel isolated, so we want to try and stay as connected as we can,” Dr. Morrison said. “And again, in this environment, that’s really looking more like Skype, texting, emailing, Facebook … using those tools to stay as connected as possible.”

Those who aren’t alone right now are probably more prone to butting heads with people they are living with, be it a spouse, parent, child or other relation. But individuals should try to remember everyone is impacted by this and attempt to be extra patient, Dr. Rattay said.

It’s also important to be kind to yourself during difficult times, something helped by meditation and talking with loved ones, Dr. Morrison said.

Individuals who regularly see therapists may be feeling out of sorts, but they could still have options. Delaware has loosened telemedicine regulations as a result of the crisis, and some practices are holding virtual sessions, connecting a counselor and patient through video chat.

And as odd as it may seem to read this line here, people probably should avoid consuming too much news. Watching for hours as pundits debate whether the virus is a hoax or detail how it could wipe out millions of people in a worst-case scenario is simply not productive. There’s a fine line between informed and obsessive.

Hard as it may be to see sometimes, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

Have a question, tip, or resources about the coronavirus pandemic? Submit it to our newsroom and we’ll do what we can to provide answers.