Take a deep breath, honor those scared feelings, and get yourself that bowl of ice cream. If you’re feeling anxious right now, you’re not alone, says David Todisco, director of Behavioral Health at Fenway Health, Boston’s LGBTQ health clinic.
“Your body is a good barometer of how you're feeling, and when you feel anxious, do some deep breathing, ratchet down the fear and the anxiety, and check fear-based thinking," Todisco tells NewNowNext. “We can very easily slip into catastrophic thinking, and catastrophic thinking can translate into certain behaviors.”
But Todisco says those anxious feelings are very real, and he encourages people to acknowledge their fears and give themselves space to process what they feel.
Across the globe, experts have sounded alarms about the potential impact of the coronavirus, or COVID-19, on mental health. Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a lengthy set of tips to help people cope with the pandemic. They include taking substantial breaks from stressful news coverage, helping other people, continuing to eat healthy and exercise, and staying in contact with your social networks.
For LGBTQ people in particular, a pandemic will present unique challenges, according to experts. In an open letter, more than 100 organizations outlined the ways that LGBTQ people are at increased susceptibility to COVID-19.
Todisco gives us a self-care checklist:
Limit Media Exposure: Use trusted media outlets to gather the information you need, then turn them off. Research has shown that excessive exposure to media coverage of stressful events can result in negative mental health outcomes.
Tune Into How You're Feeling: Emotional upset and distress is common in the context of uncertain and potentially life-threatening situations. A good first step for mitigating your stress is to acknowledge that it exists and normalize it for yourself (and with, and for others) by reminding yourself, “Many people are feeling this way right now, too.”
Todisco also recommends recognizing and paying attention to signs of distress, which include worry, fear, insomnia, difficulty concentrating, irritability, interpersonal problems, avoiding certain situations at work or in daily living, unexplained physical symptoms, and increased use of alcohol or tobacco. Being aware of these signs can help you limit or head off the progression of distress before it becomes harder to manage.
Take Care of Yourself Physically: Our bodies hold onto stress. In addition to using the preventative measures that are outlined by groups like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on how to protect yourself from exposure to the virus, take care of your body in these other ways, too:
— Maintain a healthy diet
— Get the sleep you need
— Try exercise or yoga
— Practice mindfulness breathing “breaks”
— Engage in hobbies and activities you enjoy to improve your mood
— And, as a reminder: Limit your exposure to excessive coverage of the pandemic on the news and on social media
Connect (and Stay Connected) to Others: At times of heightened stress, connecting to others and building community can be an effective means for containing distress. Therefore, talk to loved ones about your worries and concerns.
Remember That Goodness and Joy Still Exist: As you stay informed about the virus, also pay attention to and take note of all of the daily reminders that goodness and joy also exist—even when life can feel so fragile, and the world can seem so broken at a time like this.
Stay Informed: Knowledge is power, and empowering, so staying informed will mitigate feelings of helpless.
Practice Worry and Fear Containment as Well as Good Hand Hygiene
As far as certain subsets of the queer community go, LGBTQ seniors face particularly stark challenges. Nearly 60% report feeling a lack of companionship, and half say they feel isolated, according to LGBTQ elder organization SAGE.
Todisco says it’s especially important to be checking in on LGBTQ elders during this pandemic.
“Younger people are accustomed to connecting [on] social media, which has probably less risk,” he notes. “I think people who are older and generationally still much more oriented to in-person connections [miss] the community gathering.”
Even younger people can benefit from some self-care, however, Todisco notes.
“Maybe comfort food is not such a bad thing at a time like this,” he says. That doesn’t mean turning to massive amounts of sugar or abusing substances, though.
“You know, maybe a little bit of extra ice cream at a time like this isn't so harmful, except if you have diabetes,” he says.