The Hidden Mental Health Toll of Coronavirus

looking out the window
People are looking for ways to cope with the isolation and uncertainty of the coronavirus outbreak. Photo credit: Chris Clogg / Flickr
Reading Time: 24 minutes

Millions of people around the world have found themselves in self-quarantine. Both the coronavirus itself and the subsequent isolation have made some people nervous, stir-crazy, and unsure of where to turn for sound medical and mental health advice.

In the first installment of WhoWhatWhy’s Viral News podcast, we talk with functional medicine practitioner Dr. Kelly Bay about best practices in self-medical care and nutrition; we also speak with psychologist Alisa Kriegel, PhD, about ways that individuals, couples, and parents may best cope with self-quarantining and how to ensure sound mental health going forward.

Dr. Bay discusses what to expect from the novel coronavirus in terms of symptoms and changes in health, how best to ward off the disease, and how to combat it once it has appeared. Dr. Kriegel lists strategies to fight boredom, loneliness, and feelings of helplessness and restlessness, and to instead turn this period of social isolation into an opportunity for personal growth. 

So if you are stuck at home with too little to do, listen to our inaugural Viral News podcast and do something for your physical and mental health.


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Full Text Transcript:

As a service to our readers, we provide transcripts with our podcasts. We try to ensure that these transcripts do not include errors. However, due to time constraints, we are not always able to proofread them as closely as we would like. Should you spot any errors, we’d be grateful if you would notify us

Stephen Calabria: Hello, and welcome to Viral News.
Stephen Calabria: I’m your host, Stephen Calabria. Viral News is a podcast by whowhatwhy.org dedicated to all things coronavirus.
Stephen Calabria: Our show will feature discussions with experts in different fields who can shed light on how the virus is affecting their areas of expertise
Stephen Calabria: In some cases, like on today’s program, we’ll hear from medical professionals who can give listeners practical advice on how to deal with the outbreak.
Stephen Calabria: Now, I know you’re probably thinking. Who the hell is this guy, and what makes him remotely qualified to talk about coronavirus?
Stephen Calabria: To that, I would answer, well first of all, that’s not very nice. And second of all, I’m a reporter by trade, and if there’s one story in the world right now that’s important to be covering, it’s the coronavirus.
Stephen Calabria: Our first guest on the program is Dr. Kelly Bay, a functional medicine practitioner who will discuss how to navigate the coronavirus pandemic from a health perspective.
Stephen Calabria: Then we’ll speak with Alisa Kriegel, a psychologist who will walk us through the mental health ramifications of the coronavirus and the quarantine.
Stephen Calabria: But first, here’s Dr. Kelly Bay.
Stephen Calabria: Hi Kelly.
Kelly Bay: Hi, how are you, Stephen?
Stephen Calabria: I’m good. How are you?
Kelly Bay: I’m doing as best as I can during this whole thing.
Stephen Calabria: Yep. Tell me about it. So, can you tell us first, what is your title?
Kelly Bay: I am a chiropractor, but I specialize in functional medicine. I did some additional training, and I have a master’s degree in the biochemistry of human nutrition. And so that’s my main thing. I have a long history of treating HIV positive individuals with functional protocols to improve their immune systems.
Kelly Bay: And I was actually recently recognized for that work from the LGBT network, who awarded me back in December.
Stephen Calabria: Now what exactly is functional medicine?
Kelly Bay: That’s a good question. It’s kind of a philosophy of looking at illness. So it’s kind of systems based, and instead of focusing on symptoms that an individual may be experiencing and trying to get rid of the symptoms, it takes a look at what could be the root cause of the symptoms, by looking at the person as a whole.
Kelly Bay: So a person’s genetic variants, their nutritional status, just like a complete picture, even including mental status, stress reduction techniques, everything, to try and get to the root cause, and prevent the illness from the beginning.
Stephen Calabria: So I assume you’ve been doing a lot of reading about the coronavirus.
Kelly Bay: Yes.
Stephen Calabria: So, could you tell our listeners, what is the coronavirus?
Kelly Bay: Coronaviruses in general are actually a family of viruses, and it includes coronaviruses that are causes of the common cold to more serious coronaviruses like SARS and MERS.
Kelly Bay: So COVID-19 is in that family of viruses, the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus two, actually.
Stephen Calabria: What is the difference between a virus and a disease?
Kelly Bay: Viruses are infectious agents, and they are different from bacteria and other bugs because they live in a twilight state and they can only become alive through using living cells as a host. They hijack your cells and use them to replicate.
Stephen Calabria: As opposed to a disease, which is what?
Kelly Bay: Well, disease can be a manifestation of pretty much anything, virus genetic variant, bacteria.
Kelly Bay: It’s just a term to describe something that has altered the normal function of the body and producing illness. A disease can be a genetic disease, or a viral illness, or a bacterial infection. They’re all diseases.
Stephen Calabria: Right. And how is the coronavirus different from a cold or the flu?
Kelly Bay: So colds and flus are very common, the flu being caused by the influenza virus. COVID-19 is similar to the flu and the fact that it’s spread to other people through respiratory droplets.
Kelly Bay: But it is significantly more contagious, we’re learning. And actually, the latest research is saying things like the airborne route of infection is just much, much higher than the influenza virus.
Kelly Bay: But they do cause similar symptoms, the coughing, the fever, the chills, and it does take about four to five days after exposure to have these symptoms appear, but they’re just different viruses. And the coronavirus, we’re learning, is a much more serious virus because it has these little spike proteins on the outside of it, that even are different than the other coronaviruses in that family. And why that’s bad is because these spike proteins can get into cells that other viruses wouldn’t normally be able to get into.
Kelly Bay: So it basically makes it a lot more infectious, if that makes sense.
Stephen Calabria: Yeah, sure. Now, are there general tips that you can offer our listeners about ways they can protect themselves from the virus?
Kelly Bay: Yeah. I really am a fan of the whole social distancing option because of these newer studies that demonstrate that COVID basically has this very severe airborne infection route.
Kelly Bay: This means being in the same room as someone who’s infected and just breathing the same air as they is enough to get you sick.
Kelly Bay: So I know there are so many jokes about why can’t we just quarantine older people or, do I really need to take this seriously? But the social distancing is really, really key in flattening the curve and making sure that people don’t act as carriers to people who are more at risk with decreased immune systems.
Kelly Bay: If someone’s going under cancer treatment, HIV, people on immune dampening drugs for immune diseases like psoriasis, even, these people walk around every single day around you, you may not be aware of them, it’s not just older people. So I think it’s just really important to stay inside and stay away from other people because breathing can get them sick.
Stephen Calabria: And related to that, what kinds of things should people be eating in order to take preventative measures?
Kelly Bay: Okay, so I can give some general guidelines. We definitely know things like drinking alcohol can depress the immune system, eating excess amounts of sugar can cause immune dysregulation, so staying away from high sugar, alcohol, processed foods, things with additives is really important, with any illness really.
Kelly Bay: And trying to eat nutrient dense foods, I think is really important. So you want to go for vegetables, especially colorful vegetables, leafy greens. They contain a ton of antioxidants, vitamins, nutrients, minerals that are all really helpful and necessary for the immune system.
Kelly Bay: Cruciferous vegetables in particular contain this substance called sulforaphane, and it’s a really powerful antioxidant that also has anti-cancer properties.
Kelly Bay: But why it’s really great for preventing illness is, it’s really good for oxidative stress in the body, it really decreases inflammation, and it helps your body make a chemical called glutathione, which is, your body makes it, it’s the most powerful antioxidant you can make, and it becomes utilized a lot more when you’re sick. So your need for it is higher, and eating foods like that can really increase your production.
Kelly Bay: So just sticking to whole foods, lean protein, healthy anti-inflammatory fats like walnuts, avocados, olive oil, things like that can be really beneficial in keeping your body in tip top shape.
Stephen Calabria: If someone was to find that they tested positive, how do you think that should alter their approach in terms of lifestyle choices, medicines and diet?
Kelly Bay: I want to preface this by saying we still are learning a lot about this virus.
Kelly Bay: So there are a lot of interventions that I would suggest for other viruses that we know more about, that I just don’t feel comfortable recommending for this particular case. But I would say that if someone is positive, I would be in contact with your primary care doctor or whoever you’re under care with, and make sure that you’re monitored properly and follow whatever recommendations that they give you.
Kelly Bay: And if they do tell you that it’s okay for you to stay home under self-quarantine, I would be very diligent about diet. I think everything that I just stated about sticking to antioxidant, nutrient dense foods is key. Avoiding sugar, alcohol, that stuff, processed food would be very beneficial.
Kelly Bay: But some very conservative natural interventions that I could say might have some use is there is some research on a botanical called astragalus, and it’s a Chinese herb. And it’s been shown to have some antiviral activity against other types of coronaviruses. So, that’s something to think about.
Kelly Bay: But in addition to just botanical interventions, I would go back to antioxidants, like vitamin C, glutathione. You know, vitamin C’s this incredible, incredible thing that not only has an effect on lowering inflammation, but your white blood cells, which are your immune system cells, require vitamin C to fight pathogens and free radicals, so you can actually support your immune system by taking higher doses of vitamin C, and it also is a natural antihistamine, so you got that going for you, and there are some glutathione supplements that can be really useful to help your body with tissue repair and any oxidative damage that’s caused by a virus.
Kelly Bay: Other than that, there’s also lemon balm tea, which is a natural antiviral. That could be a natural intervention to explore. These things don’t have side effects. They’re very safe to try. So I think those would be the natural interventions that I would probably suggest for someone who is self-quarantined and in stable condition, but sick with the virus.
Stephen Calabria: Right, okay. And what would you say, based on what you’ve observed, I know things are constantly in flux and it’s hard to get a grip on much of anything, but what would you say are the biggest challenges facing the medical community, as it attempts to grapple with the crisis?
Kelly Bay: I think the biggest challenges really are medical supplies. So many people have been buying the N95 medical masks that I’ve heard from colleagues that just basic medical supplies, those masks and disinfectant, things that hospitals need to stay on top of pandemics like this, they’re really difficult to get right now. And they need them to help contain this outbreak.
Kelly Bay: And doing your part with social distancing is really important, because I think the other challenge in the medical community right now is the overburdening of hospitals.
Kelly Bay: We already are in a place where kids aren’t in school, and their parents, who have all kinds of different professions, but think about the medical professions. They already don’t have child-care, they’re scrambling to figure things out, and they have to go to work every day and treat people coming in with COVID-19. And just being aware of these societal needs and doing your part with social distancing, I think is just so important, because these challenges are real, and it’s going to determine the outcome of this crisis.
Stephen Calabria: All right, well thank you, Kelly, and I really appreciate you coming on the show.
Kelly Bay: Of course. Thank you so much for having me.
Stephen Calabria: Next we’ll hear from Alisa Kriegel, PhD, a clinical psychologist with over 20 years of experience providing therapy for young adults, adults and couples.
Stephen Calabria: She’s currently in private practice in Manhattan and her website is alisakriegel.com.
Stephen Calabria: Hi, Alisa.
Alisa Kriegel: Hi, Stephen.
Stephen Calabria: So thanks for being on the show. What is your background?
Alisa Kriegel: I am a clinical psychologist. I have a PhD in clinical psychology and I’ve been working, I have a private practice here in Manhattan, in New York City, working with young adults and adults and couples. Been doing that for about 20 years.
Stephen Calabria: That background then seems like it would really come in handy right now.
Stephen Calabria: So this is just speculating here, but even though the coronavirus doesn’t have a modern precedent, to what would you compare its effects on human behavior and psychology?
Alisa Kriegel: I’ve been reading and hearing about comparisons to war. And while I haven’t been in a war, I think that just the extreme upheaval, and fear of the not knowing what’s going to happen, is the most, which is extreme.
Alisa Kriegel: There’s obviously differences. We are not at war. It’s not like World War Two and London’s being bombed. But I think just that having to stay in our houses, staying put, fear of not having supplies we need, just this general unknown and extreme change that everyone’s going through is the most I can think of.
Stephen Calabria: Is there a psychological price to be paid for extended periods of time where people feel that, or where they’re just by themselves?
Alisa Kriegel: Yeah, I think this can be really challenging and difficult for a lot of people, and I think having that type of feeling really isolated, a lot of people, in New York, especially, already, it can be even though it’s a big city, people can feel very alone.
Alisa Kriegel: That said, it’s really interesting because there’s also, people have a history, like say Walt Whitman, or people will actually pay to go on a 10-day meditation retreat.
Alisa Kriegel: So there is also something to be said that’s really positive for spending time alone, spending time with yourself. Having some of that isolation.
Alisa Kriegel: We’re in a time right now where it’s interesting where I think we’re not used to, we’re really social, we are very much about being with other people.
Alisa Kriegel: We’re at a time where we need to be more isolated, but we also want, unlike Walt Whitman, or unlike being on a meditation retreat, we have access to online and connections and phones and talking with people, and seeing people online and video conferences.
Alisa Kriegel: I know clients who are doing like video happy hour with all their old friends from college, or groups like AA have now turned to a Zoom format.
Alisa Kriegel: So not only are you just chatting with one another or texting, but you’re seeing people’s faces.
Alisa Kriegel: So I think there’s this balance where, yes, this is challenging and times alone can be detrimental. But we still have this opportunity for social connection.
Alisa Kriegel: The one thing we’re not getting, I think, is that social, is touch, right?
Stephen Calabria: Right.
Alisa Kriegel: You’re not being able to reach out and hug someone, and I do think that that can be difficult, especially if you’re someone living alone, not to have that touch. But I think you need to make sure that you are utilizing all of the tools that are out there to maintain social connection.
Stephen Calabria: Right, and that whole thing about isolation too. It is helpful, obviously, oftentimes, to be by oneself, but I imagine it completely changes the experience, especially psychologically, when it’s forced upon you.
Alisa Kriegel: Yeah, I think of it almost like when prisons you used to put inmates in isolation. It was actually done away with, that they were not allowed to do it post 24 hours, because it could cause you know psychological breakdowns and trauma.
Alisa Kriegel: So, that type of extreme isolation is not healthy. And obviously this is an isolation that’s not by choice, like a Walt Whitman, so we have somewhere in between those two extremes. While not as extreme as a prison isolation, it’s also very few people would have chosen this as an option like, hey, let me hang out in my house for the next month alone.
Alisa Kriegel: So, but I do think we need to be aware of that. Reaching out, even beyond friends for professional help, this is a great time to do that as well.
Stephen Calabria: Right, right. And, I mean, to that point, are there any strategies that people can use to cope with the aloneness and just the general feelings of helplessness and despair that many of us seem to be feeling right now?
Alisa Kriegel: Yeah, definitely.
Alisa Kriegel: And I think one of the things first is just validating that this is very real. And also that you’re not alone in that. This is the one time I think we could say it’s not just your neighbors, but everyone throughout the world is having a lot of those same experiences. I think everyone’s probably seen that video that went viral of people singing from their balconies in Italy, but that, it really speaks to people just want to be, have that connection and have that emotional connection.
Alisa Kriegel: So coping strategies become really important at a time like this. I would say definitely utilizing all of the resources, there’s even more now than ever online meetings, as I said, AA is now, so if you’re in any 12 step group, all of them have now gone online. A lot of them are on Zoom meetings, so you can actually see people’s faces and talk with them. There’s support groups online, there’s online therapy, either through chat, there’s chat lines, BetterHelp, Talkspace. There’s crisis lines.
Alisa Kriegel: So I would really encourage people to Google that, take a look at that. I think the other thing that is a really good coping skill at a time like now is really staying in the present moment. We all have a tendency to future trip and catastrophize, and we’re already in something that feels like such a catastrophe that our anxiety is just going to make that worse.
Alisa Kriegel: So, if you’re someone who gets really triggered by the news, say, give yourself a window of time to catch up on the news of the day and then stop looking. Some people are news junkies. That’s great if you don’t get stressed out by the news, but a lot of people that I know I work with just go down a rabbit hole and get really stressed out reading more and more information.
Stephen Calabria: Right, it’s hard not to.
Alisa Kriegel: Yeah, and if you’re one of those people and you’re noticing, as you’re reading it, you’re feeling more anxious, that’s a time to … it’s okay to not know every breaking news the moment it’s happening. It will still be there, so give yourself a break from it. Take some time away from that.
Alisa Kriegel: I would say, if you haven’t been someone who’s explored meditation at all. I do a lot of meditation and mindfulness with my clients, and almost all of them have connected. There’s so many apps online now. This is a great time, and I know so many people who said like, “Oh yeah, I should be doing that,” or” I want to do that but I don’t have time.”
Alisa Kriegel: Well, now there’s time. And there’s great meditation apps that you can do. Some are free. Some you pay for. Headspace is a big one. Calm, is another really great one that will do like a 10-day introduction beginner meditation.
Alisa Kriegel: And so you can do your one 10-minute session a day, and really, it gives you that space to pause and not get caught up. The idea of meditation is that our brains are going to think. Our brains are going to worry. Our brains are going to plan for the future, and while that’s great sometimes we need a break from it.
Alisa Kriegel: The meditation really teaches you to take a pause. So, getting on to one of those apps now is awesome. The one I’ve been using lately is called Insight Timer. And it is a free basically library that has lectures, courses. There’s a 10-day course on anxiety. A lot of people are posting now courses specifically related to the coronavirus, how to deal with anxiety around it, how to deal with fear. Letting go of fear.
Alisa Kriegel: There’s sleep meditations. For a lot of us, our sleep is really disturbed, because of all the anxiety and worries and changes.
Alisa Kriegel: So, there are really nice sleep meditations. There’s really great, on the same app, sleep music, some which actually even balances the brainwaves, so if you listen to it with headphones, it can actually create more calm in the brain.
Alisa Kriegel: So now’s a great time to add to your toolbox of coping skills. Talking to a friend, getting online, FaceTiming with a friend, so you’re really seeing the face.
Alisa Kriegel: The other thing I really liked is it’s this type of therapy called EFT, Emotional Freedom Technique. It’s more commonly known as tapping, and tapping has become really popular.
Alisa Kriegel: The great thing about it is it’s something you can do by yourself. You don’t need a therapist doing it with you, talking you through it. And there’s a wonderful app called the Tapping Solution. I think there’s also an online, like a website.
Alisa Kriegel: So the tapping solution was done by this man, Nick Ortner, and he just released, I think, a series of 11 different tapping meditations. And tapping, if you go onto the website, it gives you a little bit of an introduction. You’re basically tapping your fingers on different meridian points in the body, and research has shown that it can alleviate a lot of different symptoms. People who have had amazing success with it. I saw a video of someone who actually improved his breathing, was going through COVID, and improved his breathing through tapping, through doing one of these tapping exercises.
Alisa Kriegel: And so they’ve created, for free. Some of these apps, we do have to pay for but a lot of free content, and they’ve created for free and will keep for free all of the tapping exercises that are related to coronavirus. So that’s, I think, a great resource that people can be taking a look at.
Stephen Calabria: Then there’s the issue of couples. So couples who are locked in the house together, especially in cramped quarters that are common here in New York City, are especially vulnerable to feelings of helplessness and frustration, right?
Alisa Kriegel: Definitely, definitely. I mean, I think especially for us New Yorkers, right? We know. And anyone who’s in a couple and has traveled and gotten into some really, really intense fights traveling, when you’re in a car or just with that one person for 10 days at a time and you have different ideas of what you should be doing and you get on each other’s nerves.
Alisa Kriegel: Yeah. I mean, I think, I had just read something about that there’s like a really high number of divorce filings happening in China, following people getting out of quarantine. So the divorce rate is basically going up following this.
Alisa Kriegel: So yeah. I think the bottom line is, we all need time and space, away from each other. While I think it can be really wonderful, obviously, for the people who are alone, or like, “Hey, I would like to be, you know, have someone else there.” I think the people who are there sort of worrying, “How am I going to be with this person so long?” So, I think that this is a very real thing. Yes.
Stephen Calabria: So what can couples do then to mitigate the risk of just unloading on each other while they’re cooped up inside?
Alisa Kriegel: Yeah, right. We have so much increased frustration, there’s fear, there’s helplessness, and when you’re part of a couple, that often gets put on one another, right? We dump stuff on each other.
Alisa Kriegel: I think a really important thing is you need to set boundaries. If you are in a couple and you are in this together, you need to set some boundaries. While couple time is great, it’s really important to remember that we all need time apart.
Alisa Kriegel: We all need time to be doing our own thing, and you’re not hurting your partner’s feelings to say like, “Hey, I need to go call a friend.” Your partner should not be the end all be all, only person you need in your life. You need other people as well. So, if you are still working, even if you’re not working, I think it’s really important to set a schedule with built in time for be it work, or if there’s a book you wanted to read, or a project you’re working on, to set a schedule for your own exercise or meditation, and each of you to do that separately. For communicating with each of your own families, each of you own friends.
Alisa Kriegel: Even entertainment, right? Everyone’s like, oh yeah we’re just going to watch Netflix together, but couples don’t always agree on what they want to watch, and sometimes it’s really nice to binge watch that really dumb show that your partner doesn’t want to see but that’s a really guilty pleasure.
Alisa Kriegel: Your time doesn’t all have to be couple time.
Alisa Kriegel: I think, on the opposite, this is also a great time to make the most of your time together, right? This is a great time, if you’re alone and there’s no kids that you’re worrying about, and you have the utmost privacy, like this is a great time to have a lot of sex, right? To reconnect on that physical level, and it doesn’t just have to be your usual go to, and I’m not just talking about intercourse.
Alisa Kriegel: Just even getting in touch with more sensual experiences, right? Giving each other massages every day. Plan a date night. Have each person plan, on their own, a date night. Even if you’re not going out, have that person set up a picnic or put on candles and give the person a massage.
Alisa Kriegel: This is a time to get a little bit creative, to step out of the comfort zone of what you usually do as a couple and take little steps to how can you kind of keep things positive, keep the passion going.
Alisa Kriegel: It’s almost like seeing it as when you are spending time together, like a couple retreat. What would you do if you were on vacation, or had a night away? Or even if you do have kids, what would you do if you had a night away from the kids? So set the kids up with their movie or let them fall asleep, and after they’re asleep, do your date night.
Alisa Kriegel: There’s a great, it started out as an article, I refer a lot of my couple clients to this. The New York Times, several years ago, did an article called ‘36 Questions that Lead to Love.’ It was based on research that was done where they actually brought strangers together to answer these 36 questions, which go from more superficial questions to more increasingly intimate and personal.
Alisa Kriegel: And at the end of the 36 questions, they had an exercise of just looking in each other’s eyes without speaking for, I think it was a minute.
Alisa Kriegel: And at the end of that, all of these pairs who were strangers to each other, described feeling more of a bonding connection with the other person.
Alisa Kriegel: What has since happened is that people are like, hey, if it works for strangers, it’s going to work really well for couples, so it’s a great exercise if you are quarantined. There’s actually apps, even, if you look up ‘36 questions that lead to love, there’s a bunch of different apps that have been developed around it. So you can actually go through each question one by one. There’s guidelines for how to do it. But what a wonderful opportunity. People don’t usually have the time or make the time to do something like this, so this can actually be a time to actually get to know your partner in a different way, in a deeper level.
Alisa Kriegel: So I think anything like that, this is an also an opportunity to do something different with that partner, so that it’s not just the complaining and the stress and the frustration.
Stephen Calabria: Right. And you touched a little bit on children. What would you say are the psychological risks presented uniquely to children in a crisis like this?
Alisa Kriegel: Yeah. You know, the one thing I want to say before anything to people is to remember that children are highly resilient, in a lot of ways even more than we are as adults, right? They can really handle a lot more than we think.
Alisa Kriegel: What I’m hearing is, from online and clients and friends as well, that a lot of parents are actually more panicked, partly because they’re worrying their kids won’t have enough activities, the boredom, fear.
Alisa Kriegel: But I think that the hardest thing for kids is that they had a set routine. They usually were in parks, they were playing, they were with other kids. So that’s really the biggest risk, is how do we keep kids stimulated, and how do we also keep them with a sense of safety?
Alisa Kriegel: There’s so much unknown. How much do we share? How much don’t we share? Those are the things I think we need to look at. I think in some ways, what’s interesting is, for any of you who have kids, there was a lot of question, how much TV time, but then it became online time. How many how much gaming time is too much? How much is okay.
Alisa Kriegel: And I think we’re now in a place where I’m hearing parents thank God for the online gaming. It’s a way for kids to, in some ways, they’re used to this. A lot of kids were already connecting with friends online, were already chatting, were already Instagramming. They can be sharing their day with each other.
Alisa Kriegel: I’m posting about it and posting their stories. If it’s older kids. For younger kids, I think a lot of even younger kids were doing Minecraft, and you can play it with other kids, Fortnite. So there’s a lot of, I do think that there is a lot of positive that kids have, in terms of there’s a tech world that they’ve grown up with, that they’re really used to that adults, some adults, are more in the tech world, but a lot aren’t. So I think that kids have that familiarity, so in some ways, that part will be nothing new for them.
Stephen Calabria: So for the stressed out, terrified parents who are experiencing this, what would you say are the best and most practical strategies for parenting?
Alisa Kriegel: Exactly. Great question. The first thing I would say, which is, yes, sort of a strategy, but not a concrete one, is kids are going to have a lot of questions.
Alisa Kriegel: There’s a rule in parenting that you answer the questions they ask with simple and direct answers. And don’t tell them more than they’re asking.
Alisa Kriegel: An older child could be a conversation, but for a younger child, be really careful. What is this? They may not want to know the details of how the virus is spreading and how long and how long until the vaccine. They just want to know, with some of their questions, am I going to be okay? Are you going to be okay? Are we safe?
Alisa Kriegel: And so it’s really important to keep the answers to questions simple. It’s okay to say you don’t know. Don’t say more than they’re able to, for what you know your child’s comprehension level to be.
Alisa Kriegel: Reassure them that you’re there, that they’re going to be okay. I think that’s the first most important thing. After that, I think it’s really important for kids that you help structure their day.
Alisa Kriegel: Most kids, school aged kids, are used to, even preschoolers, are used to having a set schedule. And I think setting a schedule for them, even in this time, is equally important, and it’s going to help them maintain a sense of normalcy.
Alisa Kriegel: So having a set schedule that builds in, if they’re online school, that builds that in, builds in some exercise, right, if they can do something online, if you can have a dance party, but build in some sort of exercise for them so they’re getting that energy out, that builds in a social time for them, that builds in, so basically you’re creating a schedule just like they would have if they were going to school and having play dates, virtual play dates. I think anything virtual is going to be a great way to connect to friends.
Stephen Calabria: All right, well that’s terrific. Was there anything else you wanted to say?
Alisa Kriegel: So yeah, I think this is a tough time. I’m going to reiterate that this is tough for a lot of people. I do need to say, if you are really struggling with any sort of more serious mental health condition, make sure you are getting the help you need.
Alisa Kriegel: If you are getting to a place where you really are feeling so helpless, so depressed, suicidal, reach out to hotlines, to your doctor, even your general doctor, to get referrals. Look for therapists. A lot of therapists are continuing to do work online or doing video sessions, phone sessions.
Alisa Kriegel: So, do not be afraid to do that. You are not alone in this. And we will get through this, so I think that’s really important.
Alisa Kriegel: That said, I think this was also a really interesting opportunity. I’m going to speak totally as a therapist.
Alisa Kriegel: I’m in the business of change and I think that for most of us, the human nature is that we like safety and we like things to be the same. And we are now in a time where we don’t have a choice but to change.
Alisa Kriegel: And in some ways, as difficult as that is, it’s also an opportunity, and it’s an opportunity to work on yourself, to work on your relationships. I see it as a reset of sorts, a reset for the things that we haven’t been doing.
Alisa Kriegel: Have you been working too hard and not making time for self-care? Well, now’s the time where you have plenty of time to really work on yourself.
Alisa Kriegel: And what I mean by self-care is just taking time for yourself, taking a bath, talking with friends, doing the things you may not have spent enough time doing.
Alisa Kriegel: Were you spending quality time with your children or just sort of going through the motions? Were you not really being present with family and loved ones, not keeping up contact with friends? I think all of us have a list of things that scared us, or that we knew that we wanted to be when they should be doing, but weren’t.
Alisa Kriegel: And so I think this is actually a really interesting opportunity where we may be in the situation for a while, and we are going to come out of this situation. Do we want to come out of it better than we went in?
Alisa Kriegel: Are there things we want to learn? Academically, is there a course you want to do, do you want to learn a language or are there things you want to learn emotionally? How to handle better, do things different. Right? Talk with people you don’t get to talk with every day.
Alisa Kriegel: So I think if we can reframe this. Sometimes there’s this idea that… I’ll give you this equation. Pain plus non acceptance equals misery. And it comes somewhat from Buddhist ideas, but the idea is that we all have pain, and obviously going through this, that we’re all going through on a global level, is painful. In a lot of ways, it’s scary. People don’t know what’s going to happen.
Alisa Kriegel: That pain is there and it’s real. If we don’t accept it, or if we can’t deal with it, then we’re going to be really miserable, but what we have an opportunity to do is reframe it, and instead of focusing on the pain, and by non-acceptance I mean like this is so terrible, just repeating, “Oh my God, this is so bad. This is so bad, and what’s going to happen?” And da-da-da.
Alisa Kriegel: And being in that cycle of just freaking out, we’re going to just keep being miserable.
Alisa Kriegel: If we can reframe this, as, you know what? Yeah, this sucks and it’s going to be hard, but this is something we can do different. This is an opportunity.
Alisa Kriegel: There’s a saying in Buddhism, or actually in Buddhist circles or Buddhism light, I should say, I would refer to something like this as a gift from the Buddha. And a gift from the Buddha is the idea of it is that we are being given something that we don’t like, and it doesn’t feel good, but that in the end, is good for us, and we will grow from.
Alisa Kriegel: And I think the people who are going to be able to go into this with that sort of reframe of “this isn’t great and there’s nothing I can do about it, but what can I do to look at myself, to come out better, to work on some of the things, to change some of the patterns in my life, because we have the time to do it now.”
Alisa Kriegel: And if we can see that as a blessing in disguise, reframing it in that way can actually change our mental health, and how we deal with it.
Alisa Kriegel: So I would really encourage all people to find their way of being able to find your way to do that, to reframe this in a way that you can make it a more positive, more livable situation for yourself.
Stephen Calabria: Alisa, thank you so much for being on the show.
Alisa Kriegel: Thank you, Stephen, and be well and stay safe.
Stephen Calabria: Thanks.
Alisa Kriegel: Okay. Take care.
Stephen Calabria: Bye.
Stephen Calabria: If you liked this podcast, please share and help us by rating it and reviewing it on iTunes, Spotify and wherever you get your podcasts.
Stephen Calabria: You can also support the podcast and all the work we do by going to whowhatwhy.org/donate.
Stephen Calabria: Once again, I’m your host, Stephen Calabria.
Stephen Calabria: Stay safe, and stay home.

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One response to “The Hidden Mental Health Toll of Coronavirus”

  1. DENISE C CALABRIA says:

    Thanks, Stephen, for addressing how we’re all in this situation TOGETHER and that there will be an end to the “different-ness” we all are experiencing. I was encouraged to hear Dr. Kriegel emphasize that there is an end in sight and that the change we all are experiencing is an opportunity for us to grow, gain more insight, and perhaps take the time to do something we’ve either put aside or not had time to do in the past. In other words, it’s not all Doom and Gloom and the end of the world. I had already realized that, of course, but it’s comforting to hear that positive statement uttered by someone else – particularly a mental health professional.

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