Don’t Take It Personally
The pandemic goes on—and now here come those stressful holidays. Here’s a psychiatrist’s advice on not letting these pressures derail your mental health.
Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations. How you respond can depend on your background, the things that make you different from others and the community you live in. However, the stress and anxiety caused by the events of this year, especially the COVID-19 pandemic, have some of the steadiest people feeling overwhelmed and depressed. Steve Wruble, M.D., a board-certified child and adult psychiatrist and medical director of the Venn Center in Ridgewood, says there are things you can do to keep on an even keel during this challenging period. He answered a few questions:
What are the biggest concerns you’re hearing from your patients?
“There are a range of them, based on a person’s age and their responsibilities, whether they live alone or have children. The main concern is the uncertainty of the times: Will people’s jobs be affected, will children’s education, social lives and development be affected, will they be safe from COVID? They’re anxious for themselves and their loved ones. Almost everyone I speak with is having trouble sleeping.”
What’s the most helpful thing a person can do to reduce anxiety and sleep problems during times of unrest and uncertainty?
“It’s so important to pay attention to your health during times of crisis. Take breaks from watching, reading or listening to news stories, including social media. Watch something light before going to bed—a cooking show or a comedy. You don’t need to know the latest bad news right before you go to bed. Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch or meditate.
Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep and avoid alcohol and drugs. Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy. Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you’re feeling.”
Have you found anything else that others find helpful?
“It’s an interesting phenomenon, what my patients are going through. I’ve been opening up to them—just a little more than other doctors might—and finding that sharing COVID experiences has been comforting to many.”
How should parents talk to their children who are concerned about COVID?
“Parents should make it a habit to ask their kids what they’re thinking. Speak calmly and while they’re relaxed, maybe while you’re throwing the ball with them or doing something else. Kids are always watching their parents, so parents should try to control their own anxiety and be as calm as they can during these times. Adults should always give children facts so they can act smart and not on emotion. Going back to school is a calculated risk, so parents should teach children what a calculated risk means: Everyone is considering what we know scientifically and doing their best to make the changes in case someone does get sick and how to limit the impact.”
But children don’t always articulate their fears, do they?
“That’s right. Also try to understand kids’ nonverbal communication: if they’re sleeping OK, doing their homework, playing regularly. If a child has significant sleep problems, starts biting fingernails or pulling hair or shows changes in academics or aggression, that can be a sign of trouble.”
End-of-year celebrations often bring stress. How should people deal with it this year?
“Holidays are a wonderful time to spend time with families. But if they have to be on Zoom this year, or if someone chooses not to attend a gathering because that’s how they’re handling the pandemic, do your best to go with the flow. Don’t let the feeling of being gypped play out; allow yourself to be in the moment and accept that this will be the best that it will be. Whoever, and whatever, arrives is worth the appreciation.”