By- Dr. David Prescott
Throughout the course of history, people have coped with a variety of illnesses and diseases that have been severe and widespread. Along with the physical impact of such illnesses, each widespread disease or epidemic has brought various levels of social anxiety, stress, and in extreme cases near panic. While our society today is nowhere near this level of public anxiety, it is important to keep a balanced psychological approach to this issue.
High levels of public attention and media coverage are necessary to help prevent the spread of influenza. However, these frequent messages can inadvertently raise our anxiety and lead to high levels of stress or feeling somewhat helpless. The following tips will help you deal more effectively with the psychological stress associated with flu season.
Stay Connected: Following tips for minimizing the spread of influenza involves being careful about interpersonal contact. However, we should not let good health practices disrupt our normal social networks, which are important in maintaining a sense of "normal." In the worst case, social isolation of people who have flu-like symptoms can add to stress levels and make coping with being sick more difficult. Try to offer support to people with the flu, and look for ways to stay connected that minimize the chance of spreading an illness (phones, computers).
Deal with Facts: In times of high stress there is a human tendency to take rumors at face value, make false assumptions, or follow trains of logic that are not based in fact. Facts can be a little boring when compared to rumor, but facts are very helpful in reducing unwanted stress. Find a credible source, like www.flu.gov to stay updated. And, don't forget to actually do the things recommended by health experts. Sometimes, rumors or false assumptions lead us to put off making good health choices.
Pursue Many Roads to Better Health: Much attention has been given to the availability of flu vaccine. However, if you are not yet able to get the vaccine, try not to let that translate into, "There is nothing I can do!" Remember that there are lots of ways to work on staying healthy. Proper sleep, diet, and exercise help your body fight off illness and stress. Good hand hygiene, like washing thoroughly with soap and water, is something over which you have total control. And, be sensible about close physical contact with people who are ill.
Have a Plan: One of the biggest ways that the anxiety cycles spins out of control, is to repeatedly go through the "worry" process without ever developing a plan to address the worry. Your plan doesn't need to be complicated. But, it may help to write out or talk through what you will do if influenza is identified in your school or where you work. And, if someone in your family contracts influenza, just have a simple plan of what you will do until they are well.
Communicate with Your Children: Children, particularly younger children, are very vulnerable to the stress around them. Most children will observe adult behavior and emotions for cues on how to manage their own emotions. That is, your children watch you to figure out how they should react. It is usually best to discuss flu prevention efforts honestly and simply, using information that is appropriate for your child's age. Maintaining familiar routines, as much as possible, when a family member is sick is also helpful in reducing anxiety and stress in children.
When has Stress Become a Problem that Needs Professional Help? Defining the line between normal anxiety and anxiety which requires professional help is, of course, largely up to an individual. Some guiding points may be if anxiety or worry begins to significantly interfere with your job, school, or family, then you may need to talk with a psychologist or counselor. Feeling hopeless or highly discouraged for 2 consecutive weeks or more is often a symptom of clinical depression, and should prompt a visit to your primary care doctor or a mental health professional.
For More Information:
Acadia Hospital Web Site: www.acadiahospital.org
American Psychological Association Help Center: www.apahelpcenter.org
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: www.flu.gov
Coping With Stress about H1N1 Influenza- Building Psychological Resilience
By- Dr. David Prescott
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