The coronavirus outbreak has upended our lives – closing schools, gyms, bars, restaurants and sending gatherings like worship services online. Living through an unprecedented time can cause anxiety, stress and other hardships for people who live and work in our community.

Dr. Heather Laughridge
Dr. Heather Laughridge

So, how can we best manage our feelings around COVID-19? Dr. Heather Laughridge, a psychiatrist at Novant Health Psychiatric Associates in Charlotte, offers some advice for those who are struggling with our new normal.

Q: What ways can people manage anxiety or stress around COVID-19?

A: The pandemic is new for everybody, but handling stress is not new for us. Whatever you’ve done to manage stress, those coping skills are still there for you to use. If you are somebody who exercises to handle stress, then continue to exercise. If you can't go to the gym, then go for a walk outside – that is allowed. If you play an instrument or paint or have a hobby, keep doing those things. If you're more of a social butterfly and talking with your friends or being with others is what really helps you decompress and handle stress, call people or set up a video chat.

Q: How can we maintain some sense of normalcy right now?

A: Don't stay in bed all day. Don't stay in your pajamas all day. Get up every single morning at the same time, get dressed like you would if you had to go to work. Take care of yourself. Don't neglect personal hygiene. I know that it's easy to do when you don't have a reason to get up and look presentable, but those kind of behaviors are important for our mood as well. Stay active. Try your best to get out once a day, at least, to get some physical activity and fresh air. These little things that seem like common sense are very important right now to be proactive and stave off depression and feeling isolated.

Q: What advice do you have for people who are temporarily working from home?

A: Set an alarm. An actual alarm at 5 or 6 p.m., or whenever you would typically leave work, and once that alarm goes off, you're done. Turn off your computer, turn off your work, just like you would when you come home from work. And don't go back to it until the next morning. Set those boundaries for yourself. If you can, have your work in one particular room of the house so that you kind of treat that area like your office. You close the door and you don't go back in it to it until the next day.

Q: People who work in health care right now are facing unique challenges. How can they best get through this?

A: We need to take care of each other and take care of ourselves. Even though you might be working longer shifts or extended hours, try to keep a regular sleep schedule as much as possible. Get your rest. That is for our mental and physical health. Use your friends and families and support system so that you can talk with people about your frustrations or your worries. Don't get isolated. I know we can't meet with each other right now or visit each other in person as much as we would like, but call, video chat with your support network and lean on them. Lean on each other. And if you need to take a timeout when you're at work, if you feel yourself getting overwhelmed, take a five-minute break. Stand out in a hallway or find a stairwell – that's OK to do. I know I've done that plenty of times during very heavy, stressful work hours. Just take that break, breathe and realize that you're doing the best that you can, and you take one patient at a time and that it will be OK.

Listen to the podcast above to hear more of Laughridge’s advice.

Novant Health Foundation has established a new fund dedicated to supporting our teams, as well as the overall response to the pandemic. Contributions will support team members and help fund testing and medication to support patient care, as well as medical supplies. To donate, click here.

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