As a responder with a federal disaster medical assistance team, Dr. Timothy Campbell has been deployed twice to respond to the outbreak of COVID-19.
Naturally, the Bethel Park physician wondered about the possibility of contracting the disease and, by extension, making members of his family more susceptible.
“And then I got home. I was rear-ended by a fellow who was texting, and it totaled my car,” he said. “And I’m thinking, how can I get a new car in this environment? My freezer died. How can you get a freezer when they’re all sold out?”
Add up all the reasons to worry, and Campbell hardly is unique among Americans during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Extrapolate that over everybody, across 330 million people with their own little stories to tell,” he said.
He spoke during a May 7 “telephone town hall” session hosted and moderated by state Rep. Natalie Mihalek, R-Upper St. Clair, whose district includes Peters Township.
“I think it is important that we take time to focus on our mental health and that we’re equipped with the best practices available to handle the stress and anxiety during this unprecedented time,” she said.
Joining Campbell was Dr. Krista Boyer, a licensed psychologist who provides individual, group and family therapy. She described some of the concerns that clients are bringing to her.
“Typical, normal responses that I’ve been seeing are a lot of stress, a lot of anxiety and a lot of uncertainty related to the job situation and plans that have been put on hold,” she said. “And then another thing that a lot of my clients have been struggling with is the social isolation and feeling very lonely, and not knowing what to do with the extra time they’re having on their hands right now.”
Also, factors such as stay-at-home orders are having adverse effects.
“We’re not sort of built to spend all of this time together, so I see a lot of irritability toward one another,” Boyer said. “It’s common to have more anger outbursts toward a partner, toward kids. People are just having a really hard time being around one another.”
To help alleviate some of the tension, she recommends focusing on positives rather than negatives.
“If you’re living with other people, I think it’s really important to be mindful, to cultivate a sense of gratitude,” she said. “Say thank you for things. Try to point out things that your family members are doing well, because people really respond to that positivity and that can help with high levels of irritability and high levels of stress.”
Campbell agreed, quoting an admittedly “trite little saying” that’s a favorite of his.
“The magnitude of your gratitude affects the altitude of your attitude,” he said.
“And I really believe that, because if you’re more thankful, you’re more apt to be a little bit more buoyant, a little bit more happy.”
He offered a further suggestion regarding attitudes toward others.
“I think it’s very important to acknowledge a person’s feelings, to validate yourself and let you know that, yeah, I’m allowed to feel this way and I understand why I feel this way,” he said. “Don’t try to bottle them up or suppress them or tamp them down.”
He cited another important consideration as self-care, saying that he and his colleagues go through mental-health training prior to arriving at crisis areas.
“As a responder, you’re not going to be very effective or very efficient to help other people if you don’t take care of yourself, and not only mental health,” he said. “Everything else kind of overlaps: the physical aspects of it, the body, the mind, emotions, our behaviors. It’s all so, so important.”
In that context, Boyer addressed the need for people who are sequestered at home to make schedules with regard to meeting various obligations.
“Whenever that time ends, try to have some time for self-care and time to do things that you like,” she said. “It’s really, really easy if you’re working from home to say, ‘I’m going to write one more email’ or continue working late into the night, and to not set those good boundaries.”
Overall, a considerable amount of stress reduction can come from recognizing the fact that everyone is facing the same unprecedented situation.
“I think it’s important to be realistic,” Campbell said. “You have to understand that we don’t have to be perfect in all things with this.”