The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic is stressful, creating fear and anxiety in people of all ages.

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Dr. Michael Clark

Dealing with that stress correctly is important to your health during a time when there are few definitive answers.

Dr. Michael Clark, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Novant Health, answered questions about coping during these unprecedented times.

Q: How can you keep an even keel mentally during these uncertain days? What steps should you take?

A: Embrace the uncertainty, because no one has been through this situation before. Going through all the internet news feeds and social media feeds tends to fan the flames rather than give accurate information. Limit your information about COVID-19 to a few times a day to a few reliable sites (like the CDC). The news isn’t going to change that quickly. Use that much to stay current and put it aside.

With social distancing going on, I think some people confuse that with being socially isolated. At this time, when you’re worried about what’s going on with yourself or other people, keeping those lines of communication is even more important. People talk about social media being anti-social, but in these times, it’s really the best substitute we have. I’ve heard of people gathering together virtually for dinner or a walk. Being able to reach out and help others is also helpful to yourself in managing anxiety.

Take care of yourself. Get good rest, get out and exercise, eat correctly.  Keep a connection with your neighbors, family and friends.  Do whatever you can to help keep them safe from infection.

Q: How might anxiety present itself in people?

A: Your sleep and concentration could become disturbed.  People can become more irritable.  If you find yourself dwelling and dwelling on it, and not being able to disengage from it, that’s a sign. Some people find themselves turning to different substances more, such as alcohol. Any kind of abrupt change of behavior can be a red flag.

Q: How should we talk to – and help – children?

A: As parents, we need to set the tone. If we come across as worried, scared or panicked, it doesn’t matter what you tell the child, they’re going to read your body language and emotions and take their cue from that. Talk to kids of any age matter-of-factly about things.

For younger kids, keep it simple and at a level they can understand. For the older ones, they’ll be getting a lot of information and it’s important for parents to let them know what’s true and what isn’t true. Talk about what’s in their best interest to take care of themselves and their family.

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