Dr. Bridgette Hensley
Dr. Bridgette Hensley
Dr. Bridgette Hensley, Mayo Clinic Health System psychologist at Winneshiek Medical Center Decorah Clinic, is sharing ways to help cope with stress and anxiety during the Coronavirus (COVID – 19) outbreak.
“Human beings tend to like some degree of predictability. It makes us feel safe, capable and effective,” Hensley said.
“We know what to expect and we can prepare ourselves to take action and plan ahead, even under mild to moderate stress. The current pandemic, however, puts all of us in unchartered waters that seem to change day to day and bring along so many uncertainties. The pandemic has changed the predictability and comfort of our lives, likely causing many, if not most of us, to feel anxious, worried, scared and even out of control. Some of us may be experiencing stress related difficulties in our day to day functioning because of these changes.”

Stress contributors
According to Dr. Hensley some of the biggest contributors to stress during this time, include uncertainty and information overload. People react to stress in different ways; some include:
• Emotionally – anxiety, fear, irritability, sadness, anger, numbness, disbelief, hopelessness
• Physically – sleep troubles, nightmares, changes in appetite, muscle tension, fatigue, headaches, stomach upset, and worsening of chronic health problems
• Mentally – worrying, racing thoughts, rumination, confusion, difficulty making decisions, poor concentration, forgetfulness
• Actions – social withdrawal, seeking reassurance, excessive checking of the news and/or media

Hensley said to keep in mind “Our emotions, like a wave, rise, then crest and fall. We don’t need to act on every emotion. Emotions will vary in intensity and sometimes we just need to ride out the wave and focus on the things we can control. For instance, media attention on public health crisis can amplify distress. New research has found a strong association between exposure to the media coverage about a crisis and symptoms of acute stress. The more exposure you have, the greater your stress symptoms.
“Therefore, limiting what you watch, how often and how long you watch it is something you can do to manage your stress. Other examples include: maintain a good sleep routine, get daily exercise, eat well, limit alcohol and drug use, stay well informed through reliable sources, take breaks to relax and unwind, take deep breaths, meditate, stretch, do the opposite (when sad, watch a happy movie or read a funny book), and connect with family, friends, and even support groups through virtual means (phone calls, text messaging or video chats).”
If stress symptoms persist for longer than two to three weeks and interfere with functioning, consider participating in counseling with a behavioral health provider at Winneshiek Medical Center Decorah Clinic. During the COVID – 19 pandemic, WMC Decorah Clinic is offering telehealth appointments, if appropriate Make an appointment by calling 563-382-2911.

Helpful resources include:
The apps:
• Breathe2Relax
• Goodreads
• Moodkit
• Relax Melodies

Other resources
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration’s Disaster Distress Helpline, 1-800-985-5990, is also a resource to support people experiencing emotional distress related to natural or human caused disasters. This hotline is available 24/7, 365 days-a-year and is dedicated to providing immediate crisis counseling. Individuals may also text TalkWithUs to 66746 to connect with a trained crisis counselor.
The Suicide Prevention Resource Center is recommended by the Iowa Department of Public Health to support mental health and coping with COVID – 19; http://www.sprc.org/news/resources-support-mental-health-coping-coronavirus-covid-19?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available for those thinking about suicide, or worried about a friend or loved one, who would like emotional support. The Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States. It is free and confidential. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255.
This material is for education and information only. This content does not replace medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. New medical research may change this information. For questions about a medical condition or if stress is affecting your daily life after several days, contact your health care provider.