Adapting to Life in a COVID-19 World

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After months of hunkering down in our homes, wearing masks in public and washing our hands like never before, life has changed again.

As Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has eased restrictions on businesses, there are ways you can mitigate risk and manage anxiety as we move forward as a community.

First: Understand risk continues to exist. "Our governor can lift restrictions but COVID hasn't changed. It's still there," said Caroline Hall, Licensed Professional Counselor, a support group facilitator with Anxiety Resource Center in Grand Rapids and a therapist in private practice.

While you can't eliminate risk, you can assess each situation and make a decision about what's best for you and your family, notes Ranelle Brew, Ed.D., CHES, Department Chair, Associate Professor, Public Health, Grand Valley State University.

"Everyone is in their own individual scenario with regard to risk."

Factors that might influence your decision to participate in certain activities include how many people will be there and how long the activity will last, in addition to whether:

  • You're higher or lower risk.
  • The activity is indoors or outdoors.
  • People will be social distancing.
  • Others are following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggestions.

"Your level of cautiousness matters," said Brew, who emphasizes the importance of people taking proper precautions as we support local businesses. "Research says we will probably see a jump in cases. When it comes to, 'How do we get back to life?' I think 'everything in moderation' should be the stance."

Hall suggests you let your comfort level with any particular situation guide you, to ease potential anxiety. She further recommends remaining educated about COVID-19, so CDC recommendations and statistics can help you make decisions.

Based on feedback from members at the ARC, who live with anxiety every day and have shared what works for them, Hall has several other suggestions. For starters: Identify your fears and whether or not they're within your control.

While you cannot control whether a restaurant disinfects properly, you can ask questions. "Businesses should tell us what they're doing to help keep us safe," said Brew. "The airlines, for example, have done a great job of communicating with us."

For anxieties within your control, Hall suggests you write down and prioritize them. While you can't control whether others wear masks in outdoor spaces, you can control wearing a mask yourself and staying socially distanced.

There are several types of behavioral coping skills that can help with anxiety in general—breathing techniques, meditation and yoga, exercise, and mindfulness among them.

You could also employ cognitive coping strategies, like challenging any thoughts that say, "I should."

"You can replace 'I should' with 'I choose,' giving yourself freedom," Hall said. In the context of living in a world with COVID-19, that means simply because restaurants are open doesn't mean you have to go. "You can choose to go. You also have the right to leave if you change your mind."

Knowing we have a choice, Hall adds, really helps with anxiety. "The human experience cannot expect 100% certainty. As soon as you can accept that, there's a release of tension because you realize you can't control everything."

As each of us adapts to life in a reopening economy while the threat of COVID-19 still lurks, it's important to keep in mind that taking precautions, such as wearing a mask and washing your hands frequently, isn't only about your own health. It's about considering the health of others as well.

"COVID-19 has shown the world what public health really means," said Brew. "I hope it's an opportunity for us to learn and grow in our protective practices from a public health standpoint and that these are things that will be integrated into our daily practices forever."

To Learn More

Check out Tips, Tools, and Techniques, within Helpful Links under the Resources tab on the ARC website: https://anxietyresourcecenter.org/

Kirsetin Morello is a Michigan-based author, speaker, writer, travel-lover, wife and grateful mom of three boys. Read more about her at www.KirsetinMorello.com.

This article originally appeared in the Aug/Sept 2020 issue of West Michigan Woman.


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