Our opinion: Make mental health part of your anti-virus routine

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Humans are naturally social creatures, to varying individual degrees.

But public health experts agree: To slow the growth of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus, people need to stay at home and limit social interaction unless it's essential.

As this crisis grows, social distancing will grow in scope and severity. California, with 40 million people and the world's fifth-largest economy, woke up Friday to a near-total lockdown. And experts are warning that for maximum effectiveness, to protect human life and prevent the healthcare infrastructure from collapse, those lockdowns might need to last months, not weeks.

For people dealing with anxiety, reassurances that everything is going to be OK can ring hollow, especially when the bad news comes in waves. For those in recovery from addiction, human interaction with counselors and fellow survivors is an important ingredient in maintaining sobriety. For those who find comfort and reassurance in faith, many congregations have ceased holding regular services.

What to do?

Fortunately, mental health professionals in southern Vermont are offering timely advice to help us all weather this storm.

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It's very important for citizens to remain informed. But too much of that isn't good for people dealing with anxiety. In a Washington Post article, psychologist Kathy HoganBruen advised anxious readers to "really try to limit the news consumption or just staring at your phone and your computer, because for most of us that makes mental health worse rather than better."

Indeed, mental health experts recommend that we use technology to connect with others, to safely break down the social distancing that will help us slow down this epidemic. They're advising that we take care of our physical health, getting exercise and enough sleep, and maintain normal routines, especially for children. And they're recommending we take advantage of the fresh air and natural beauty around us, for our physical and mental well-being.

In dealing with children, experts advise being age-appropriate with information you share and consume around them. Offer reassurances about the steps you're taking as a family to keep safe, listen to their concerns, and provide empathy.

Last, and most importantly, people should contact a mental health provider if they're feeling overwhelmed, if anxiety feels more like panic, if they're feeling depressed, or experiencing other symptoms of increased mental health issues.

We are all in this together. We might be forced to remain apart in our own homes for weeks at a time - perhaps longer than any of us knows. But our collective effort will make all the difference. And together, when this challenge overwhelms us, we can help each other through.

Remember this: We are in new and uncharted territory, and it's not a sign of weakness to reach out for help. It's the same as calling an electrician when you don't know how to fix the wiring, or summoning a plumber when there's a problem with the pipes.


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