Mental health providers discuss tips for managing anxiety amid COVID-19 pandemic

By Jessie Wagoner

The health implications of COVID-19 have been widely documented but the impact of COVID-19 on mental health is something which cannot be ignored. The rapid changes to daily routines, social isolation and fear of the unknown can increase feelings of depression and anxiety. During this challenging time, Prairie View remains committed to helping community members maintain their mental health.

The majority of people, especially children, thrive on daily routines. The predictability of a schedule is comforting and gives people a sense of security. With the rapid changes of school buildings closing and people having to work from home those routines are disrupted. Clinicians at Prairie View encourage people to try to establish new routines to help manage feelings of anxiety and stress.

Anxiety and stress are common feelings during times of uncertainty and change,” Brent Ide, LSCSW, Clinical Social Worker in the Crisis Access Department of Prairie View said. “I believe it will be helpful for everyone to try and focus on what they do have control over instead of focusing on situations that are outside of their personal control. If your daily routine has been affected, try to create a new routine that can be followed and make attempts to stick with this routine.”

Children, who thrive on routine and social interaction, are in a particularly challenging situation. Jennifer Schreiner, Board Certified Behavior Analyst, Licensed Masters Level Psychologist and Autism Specialist with Prairie View encourages parents to remain calm and talk calmly with their children.

Sit them down and explain the current situation with the school buildings closing and that while things will look differently moving forward, their education is still important to them.”

Schreiner is encouraging parents to talk with their children about how they will work on developing a plan and schedule to set aside time during the day for educational activities as well as physical activities. She says it is also important to address how their children will interact with their friends while practicing social distancing. She recommends setting up times for children to call or FaceTime with their friends. Most of all, being there for your children is the most important thing.

It is important for the children to know that their parents are there for them during this time of change and that they understand this can create a lot of worries and fears for them about what will happen next,” she said. “Children need to know that they can ask their parents questions about this and express how they feel. The parents may not have all the answers and it would be important to say this, but let them know they will work on a plan to keep them safe and help them anyway they can.”

McPherson parents are already coming up with creative ways to keep their children connected to others while still practicing social distance. Mallory Kane says her son and daughter have been sending emails to their friends and using Facebook Messenger to be able to physically see their friends. Curt Stephens says his sons and the other children in the neighborhood have created a system of relaying messages to one another.

It’s pretty great,” Stephens said. “We built a little mailbox and they leave notes and toys in the box for one another. When we go out for a walk, we check the box and almost every time there is a little something in the box for the boys. It’s been great to see the kids stay connected and be so thoughtful.”

Ide provides some additional tips for managing stress and anxiety for people of all ages. Self-care, while always important, should be a top priority at this time.

Go for a walk, exercise in the home and make attempts to stay active,” Ide said. “Most importantly, remember to breathe.  Taking time to take some deep breaths can be very effective at helping one relax. It may be helpful to give yourself permission to limit your exposure to the coverage of this pandemic, whether that be on television or through social media.”

Ide emphasizes if people notice they are worrying more, aren’t able to stop or slow down the worry, or if they are having difficulty sleeping or experiencing changes in their appetite, they should reach out to someone and let them know how they are feeling. If the symptoms persist, contact Prairie View or your primary care physician and communicate with them how you have been feeling so that additional recommendations can be discussed.

Prairie View, like many organizations throughout the country has quickly mobilized to launch extensive tele-health services for community members. At this time, all outpatient visits in all Prairie View offices are being transitioned to tele-health services. Matt Fuqua, Prairie View Chief Financial Officer, says they can provide many of the services patients may normally receive face-to-face via tele-health.

We are investing in more technology right now in order to increase our capacity to do so,” Fuqua said. “The demand for services via tele-health has increased exponentially over the past week due to the current environment we are in.  The payers in our health system historically have placed different levels of restrictions on the services that could be provided to patients via tele-health.  Many of these restrictions are being lifted, at least temporarily, so that patients can still receive the services they need during this unique time.  Which services can be provided via tele-health to any particular patient could vary depending on their insurance, but generally, all payers are covering and allowing telehealth at this time.”

Prairie View is hopeful many of the restrictions that they have seen lifted over the past week will continue after the pandemic. Lifting the restrictions greatly increases access to care for patients in the community.

Patrick Flaming, RN, BSN and Director of Access Services at Prairie View reminds people to follow the CDC and Health Department guidelines and stay home if you are not feeling well.

If you need to talk with someone, call us at 800-992-6292,” Flaming said. “All outpatient visits in all Prairie View offices are temporarily being transitioned to tele-health services. You don’t have to come in for an appointment. If you would like to receive services via tele-health, call Prairie View so we can assist in coordinating this.”