UB psychiatrist offers 10 tips for coping with pandemic-related stress

Release Date: April 28, 2020

Portrait of UB psychiatry professor Sourav Sengupta.
“Make active plans for physical, social and fun activities for the week ahead and do your best to follow through. ”
Sourav Sengupta, MD, training director for child psychiatry
University at Buffalo

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Although we have been dealing with stress related to the novel coronavirus outbreak for many weeks, coping doesn’t seem to be getting any easier. Uncertainty, fear and seclusion have become facts of life for all of us, and for those on the front lines, conditions are exponentially more intense.

Sourav Sengupta, MD, training director for child psychiatry in the Department of Psychiatry in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo, and a clinician at UBMD Psychiatry, is the coordinator of the Emotional Support Task Force, which is providing free counseling for health care workers in Buffalo.

Here is his advice:

1. Acknowledge that these are exceptional times. “While we are sharing these experiences, risks and distress as a community as we have in previous difficult times, the prolonged uncertainty of this ‘invisible enemy’ makes it challenging for all of us,” Sengupta says. “What’s important is what we choose to do next. Now what?”

2. It’s normal to be stressed. You may be worried about your health, how this is impacting family and loved ones, or financial strains. “But we want to be aware of how our stress is impacting our thinking, feelings, our bodies, our behaviors,” he says. “A little stress can encourage peak performance, but too much can keep us from what we want and need to be doing.”

3. Arm yourself with (reliable) information. But not too much or too often – consider what Sengupta calls a media “diet.” “Focus on growing your knowledge and skills that help you adapt to these new challenges,” he says. “If you’re not sure, ask someone you trust. And if you find yourself getting stuck, shift gears – it’s okay to distract yourself.”

4. Monitor your thoughts and feelings (not just your temperature). If you find yourself losing emotional control, take a time out, Sengupta advises. “What’s really on your mind? Are those thoughts accurate? Are they helpful right now? Ask yourself, ‘How would I advise a good friend if they came to me with this problem?’” he says.

5. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. We’re communicating challenging information, often through a phone or screen, so it’s important to remember your “pleases” and “thank yous,” he says. “Praise publicly and criticize privately. Look for and make attempts to heal interpersonal ruptures.”

6. Find ways to help your team/neighbors/family. “Working together helps us feel better,” Sengupta says. “Communicate as regularly as possible. Ask for help and be specific about what you need. Compromise when possible,” he suggests.

7. Acknowledge the tension between communal and personal. “We are being asked to sacrifice to safeguard the community. But the community is made up of you and people you care about. Try to find ways to protect yourselves and your loved ones while helping out as best you can,” he recommends.

8. Care for yourself. “Take breaks. Eat (mostly) healthy. Try to sleep. Be physical, even if just to stretch,” he says. “Make active plans for physical, social and fun activities for the week ahead and do your best to follow through.”

9. What’s less helpful? “Excessive substance use and other impulsive or high-risk behaviors,” Sengupta says. Also not a good idea is continually worrying about coronavirus. “Frequently worrying out loud with others can actually make us feel worse at times. If you find yourself here, it’s OK, but consider getting some support from a professional.”

10. Remember: It won’t always be like this. If it’s not feeling like that right now, reach out for help or at least to connect, Sengupta says. “We’re going to get through this.”

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