BOSTON (SHNS) – Amid the panic, uncertainty and social isolation that come with the global coronavirus pandemic, state health officials are offering a message that sounds at once both simple and challenging.
Take care of yourself. Breathe. Find ways to connect with each other, digitally or from a distance.
“It’s important to find time to unwind during stressful times,” Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said. “Try to do some other activities that you enjoy. Connect with others. Yes, we can connect with others. Talk to people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.”
Sudders, a former state mental health commissioner with a background in social work, used one of the now-daily briefings on the state’s response to COVID-19 to share a series of tips on how to manage stress at a time when most Massachusetts residents’ daily lives have been upended by social distancing efforts, widespread closures and other precautions.
“It’s important during this time to take care of yourself,” Sudders said Wednesday. “Your friends and your family can help you cope with stress. Please support yourself and one another, and particularly the people you care about.”
Repeatedly hearing about the pandemic can be upsetting, Sudders said, recommending that people take breaks from following news stories or scrolling through social media.
She said to take deep breaths, stretch, meditate, eat balanced meals, get enough sleep, avoid alcohol and drugs, and take walks outside.
Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel echoed the advice to go outside, saying it’s important to get fresh air and exercise, by going for a walk, a hike or a bike ride.
“But when you return home, please remember to wash your hands, especially whenever you come in from the outside,” Bharel said.
Anyone feeling overwhelmed with sadness, anxiety or stress, or who wants to harm themselves or others, can access the mental health, emotional support and suicide prevention program Call2Talk by dialing 2-1-1. Call2Talk is also available by calling 508-532-2255 or by texting C2T to 741741.
Isolation for Kids
Children are also grappling with dramatic changes in routine, with K-12 schools across the state closed and early education and child care programs set to close next week. In an email newsletter Thursday, Somerville Rep. Denise Provost said she’s “heard from parents about how hard it is to keep their children entertained, even as they are working remotely.”
Provost also suggested taking a walk, along with bike and scooter rides and play — at safe distances — in open spaces.
“Isolation from other kids can be hard,” she wrote. “If my kids were still young, I’d sign up for Skype, and let them talk at least – assuming they are old enough to want to socialize in this way, and be somewhat liberal with telephone calls. I’d sit down with kids and have us write letters together – making it a social activity.”
Advising that sharing accurate information can help people connect with each other and reduce stress, Sudders said that children and teens “react in part to what they see from the adults around them.”
“When parents and caregivers deal with COVID-19 as calmly and confidently as possible, they can provide support for their children,” she said. “Parents can be more reassuring to others around them, especially children, if they feel better prepared.”
The Massachusetts chapter of the National Association on Mental Illness has published online and phone support options that remain available. The Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth is maintaining a list of resources for members of the LGBTQ community, especially young people.
“While canceling large events is prudent with respect to containing the virus, we also recognize that this can increase social isolation – a problem that is particularly challenging for LGBTQ youth and others who face social marginalization,” the commission said in a statement. “We encourage those who serve youth to be particularly cognizant of the impact of social isolation on LGBTQ youth, who may rely on services such as school GSAs, LGBTQ conferences and events, drop-in centers, and group therapy services, all of which may be unavailable as the situation progresses. We also encourage youth to exercise self-care and consider ways to stay connected to your community even when physical separation may occur.”