If the coronavirus outbreak is causing you some anxiety, you’re not alone.

The constant stream of rapidly changing information can be confusing. At the same time, business and school closings, emergency declarations at all levels of government and restrictions on public gatherings can be unsettling — especially perhaps to Americans who are generally accustomed to being safe when out in public.

We’ve known for some time that disasters and tragedies that endanger physical health — terrorist attacks like 9/11, hurricanes, shootings, wildfires and other mass casualty events — can also impact mental health.

Survivors of tragedies can experience trauma and PTSD. But even those not directly impacted by a disaster or, in this case, the coronavirus pandemic, can experience emotional distress, anxiety, depression or other mental health impacts.

With that in mind, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the nation’s authority for up-to-date and accurate information about coronavirus in the U.S., has developed a page devoted to mental health and the coronavirus on its website, cdc.gov/coronavirus, under How to Protect Yourself. It includes several recommendations for managing mental distress during the pandemic.

To begin, CDC says, everyone reacts differently to stressful situations. How different people respond to the coronavirus outbreak can depend on their background, their personality and their community.

People who are at higher risk for the new coronavirus, such as older adults and people with underlying health conditions, may have a stronger emotional or stress response. Others who may have a strong response include children and teens, healthcare workers and first responders, and individuals with mental health conditions or substance use.

Further, it’s important to note that mental stress can take several forms, not all of them obvious. For example, the CDC says people worried about the coronavirus might experience changes in sleeping or eating patterns, difficulty sleeping or concentrating, worsening chronic health problems or increased use of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs.

Children and teens might also experience stress. In young people this might mean excessive worry, acting out or irritability, as well as difficulty concentrating on schoolwork, avoiding social activities they used to enjoy, and the use of tobacco, alcohol or other drugs.

The CDC also provides several suggested strategies you can use for yourself and your children to help reduce anxiety and stress related to the outbreak. In general, it is important to have accurate and up-to-date information about the outbreak and steps being taken to control its spread.

In addition, CDC recommends the following:

Limit your and your family’s exposure to news coverage of the event, including social media. Children may misinterpret what they hear and can be frightened about something they do not understand, and hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.

Take care of your body. Try to eat healthy, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, and avoid alcohol and drugs.

Make time to unwind; try to do activities you enjoy each day.

Talk with your child or teen about the outbreak. Reassure your children they are safe. Let them know it is OK to feel upset. Share how you deal with stress so they can learn how to cope from you.

Be a role model. Take breaks, get plenty of sleep, exercise, and eat well. Connect with your friends and family members.

At Highland Rivers, we are doing everything we can to support our employees and especially the individuals who rely on our agency for help. We have instituted infection control protocols at all our locations and continue monitor the situation closely.

So far we have not closed any of our locations, but we ask anyone who might have symptoms of respiratory illness to reschedule their appointments. We want to be sure we protect the physical health of our staff and community so we can continue to be here to serve individuals’ mental health needs.

Melanie Dallas is a licensed professional counselor and CEO of Highland Rivers Health, which provides treatment and recovery services for individuals with mental illness, substance use disorders, and intellectual and developmental disabilities in the 12-county region of Northwest Georgia.

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