Professor Richard Westphal sits reading a book on a bench outside of the the UVA School of Nursing
Times of crisis call for resilience. Here are some tips from psychiatric NP and professor Richard Westphal based on his stress first aid methodology.

During times of crisis, we all may have moments of feeling overwhelmed or wondering what we should do next. Fear of the unknown and feelings of helplessness can make it hard to take care of routine daily tasks. There’s even a medical term for this sort of thing. It’s temporary, and it’s called a stress injury (not to be confused with repetitive stress injuries, like carpal tunnel syndrome or sports-related injuries).

Fortunately, there are things that we can do to help ourselves (and each other) manage our stress and anxiety during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Try these five tips.

1. Make Safe Choices

  • Use common sense strategies like good hand washing and covering coughs and sneezes with an elbow or a tissue.
  • Avoid crowds.
  • Protect vulnerable people: the elderly, the very young, and those with underlying conditions.

2. Instill Calm

  • Get information from reliable sources such as the Virginia Department of Health or the CDC. Use these official sources sparingly, maybe checking once or twice a day for updates. Limit binging on COVID-19 news updates.
  • Try to limit participation in passing rumors and speculation via social media.
  • Practice calming skills of deep breathing, mindfully clearing thoughts, and breaking the cycle of worry.

3. Look for Connection

  • Maintain positive healthy connections with people you can count on for support. There are many ways to connect without being face to face.
  • Be respectful and understanding of people who avoid physical contact, wear face masks or other protective equipment in public spaces, or appear uncomfortable with greeting people.
  • Make plans with family and friends about how you will stay connected while being physically apart.

4. Practice Your Skills

  • Practice effective hand-washing skills (at least 20 seconds).
  • Practice slowing breathing and calming thoughts when worry takes hold.
  • Learn new photo-sharing or video conferencing technology to help keep in touch.

5. Have Confidence

Remember that while many people who contract the coronavirus will have mild to moderate flu-like symptoms, and most will be okay. Be prepared to care for yourself and immediate family members with isolation, fluids, medication for fevers, and medications or supplements that help reduce mild symptoms.

Know the warning signs of serious illness and when to seek medical attention. If these occur, call ahead before going to a clinic or emergency room:

  • High fever
  • Persistent cough
  • Shortness of breath

We have many strengths as a community and we can help each other through this challenge.

This post was adapted from content written by Richard J. Westphal, PhD, RN, PMHCNS/NP-BC of the University of Virginia School of Nursing and the UVA Health Be Wise team. Thank you for sharing your expertise in dealing with stressful situations.