Dealing With Fear, Anxiety, Isolation During This Outbreak: Advice From A Psychiatrist

head in hands
By WWJ Newsradio 950

(WWJ) With events canceled, schools closed, sports shut down and so many people stuck at home, it's no surprise we're a bit out-of-sorts.

Mental health experts say while it's normal to feel anxious and even fearful during this time, it's important to keep things in perspective. 

Dr. Howard Belkin — a psychiatrist in Birmingham, Michigan — says one reason anxiety is running high is because this is something we've never gone through before.

"The problem with the virus is that you can't see if it's there," Belkin said, in an interview with WWJ Health Reporter Dr. Deanna Lites. "The problem people are having is they're letting their anxiety and their worries overwhelm their logic."

Dr. Belkin says it's important to stay up-to-date and follow recommendations from health experts, including frequent hand washing and staying home if you're sick, but otherwise turn your attention to other things.

"What you gotta do is you gotta focus on what's most important; which number one is yourself and your family. The things that you enjoy doing, the things that you can do with your family, with your friends, and by yourself when you're alone, the hobbies that you like," he said. "If every time you open the newspaper or go on the internet or watch television you're bombarded with material that you don't really need...check in with the news once a day, twice a day, listen to the radio...get that basic information." 

But, after that, he said, maybe watch a movie, read a book, or just spend some time talking with your family. 

"The more you can not focus on coronavirus, or whatever the tragedy is, and live your normal life, not only the happier you will be, the less panicky you will be, the better society with be in general," Belkin said.

"It's not good for the individual, it's not good for society to focus on one thing over which we don't have a major amount of control. We don't have control over the creation or the elimination of the virus, but we do have control over how we spread it and how we deal with it. To deal with how we spread it, we wash your hands, we watch our basic hygiene. To deal with how we deal with it, we have to emotionally focus on the things that really matter, and do things that take us away from the worry and away from the panic."

If you suddenly find yourself feeling lonely while working from home, you're not alone. 

During this health crisis, Belkin said, losing those day-to-day interactions with co-workers can leave some people feeling cut-off.

"The sense of isolation that people have when they work at home can be really intensified in a time like this; especially if you're used to working in an office where there are a lot of people and you have these social interactions with these other people," Belkin said. "In that case, you gotta do the things you can do and can do safely."

This can include video conferencing with your co-workers, Facetiming or Skyping with friends and loved ones. A simple phone call also works to keep in touch.

You can also take a walk, hang out in your backyard, Belkin said; and if you're not sick you can spend time with close friends. "As long as we're careful, we don't have to completely isolate ourselves," he said.

"Another thing to remember, too, is eventually this coronavirus will be gone; lives will be back to normal." Belkin said. "We will be back to our normal jobs, we will be going to sporting events, the markets will return to normal. It's just a question of how many weeks, or what period of time it takes for the normality to set back in."