Coronavirus Pandemic and Emotional Wellness

Below you will find both typical and unique questions or concerns that we've fielded from state employees including agency managers and leaders regarding the emotional, financial, and social toll of the current pandemic. The responses to the listed concerns are based upon consulting various published and researched sources throughout cumulative years of providing mental health services. Please scroll to the bottom of this page to find recorded sessions of our 'Managing Stress and Anxiety During Uncertain Times' and 'Managing the Emotional and Social Impact of Stay at Home Orders' webinars. In addition, CSEAP provides confidential phone or video appointments to state employees. Please contact us at 303-866-4314, Monday through Friday, 8am to 5pm, to schedule an appointment.

Concerns and Responses

Tips & Strategies for Managing Stress During a Pandemic

What are the best strategies for managing stress and anxiety during this time frame of pandemic?

The CDC experts advise the following strategies for coping during the pandemic coronavirus:

  • Limit your exposure to news stories and news feeds.
  • Know the facts about the virus.
  • Take good care of your body with exercise, healthy foods, deep breathing, getting sleep, and avoiding alcohol or drugs.
  • Stay in touch with others, find safe ways to remain connected.
  • Continue engaging in activities that you enjoy though modify your activities in order to adhere to stay-at-home orders and social distancing recommendations.
Are there on-line or virtual resources to assist me in managing my stress, anxiety, depression?

Of course, you continue to have 6 free sessions of counseling per rolling year available to you via video or phone throughout this uncertain time. In addition, here are some other resources to check out:

  • One of my absolute favorite recommended books/strategies for clients struggling with depression and/or anxiety is 'The Happiness Trap' by Dr. Russ Harris. You can access free resources at www.thehappinesstrap.com. Visit the 'free resources' section when you visit the site.
  • Another resources that I've recently discovered - the FREE Coronavirus Anxiety Workbook The Wellness Society. You can also try the S-T-O-P technique for emotional regulation as found on The Wellness Society website.
  • Strategies from Cognitive Processing Therapy can be helpful in managing assumptions about and responses to difficult or traumatic situations. You can access free worksheets at https://cpt.musc.edu/resources. Consider scheduling free CSEAP teletherapy (phone or video) sessions to discuss information you're tracking on a worksheet or in your own journal entries.
  • Looking for more information on Health Anxiety (see a following 'concern and response' below)? You'll find a free on-line workbook here. This website also provides information on safety behaviors. Keep in mind that during the current pandemic, reasonable and recommended safety behaviors are critical to reducing contagion.
  • Harvard provides information on use of exercise, a simple breathing exercise, and grounding to assist you in reducing stress.
  • Check iTunes and Google Play for free and low cost apps that provide guided meditation. You may also like Health Journeys (downloads available for purchase in the audio library), the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion, or Daniel Goleman's Good Life Project. Please note that many meditations (free or for purchase) include a light or heavy spiritual element - try a few so you can find what's right for you.
  • As I'll cover in a following response (and as CDC experts recommend), exercise can help you get through this stressful time. Apps like Sworkit can provide you with free workouts that require no equipment. In addition, websites like Sparkpeople offer video clips of brief workouts. Note that many of these types of apps will request that you upgrade to a paid subscription after a number of uses, many of these apps are also advertisement-abundant.

News & Social Media During a Pandemic

I've heard a lot of information about coronavirus from news stories, social media posts, and people that I know. Who and what should I believe? Should I re-post?

One of the best ways to ease anxiety in a time of mass crisis (including pandemic) is to refer to reputable news sources and tune out other sources of information. For the benefit of yourself and others in your social world, do not post gossip or information you've learned from informal (neighbors, friends, family, alternative news feeds, etc.) sources on social media. When we post items that we've merely heard, we contribute to our own angst and a larger level of hysteria. If you are starting a post or even a conversation with "I heard ..." or "My sister's neighbor's cousin's girlfriend is a nurse ...", you can be assured that it may not be reputable or proven information, you can also assume that the information has been significantly altered before reaching you. For up-to-date and scientific information about coronavirus and COVID-19, visit the following medical resources:

Even when I do refer to information provided by the CDC, I get anxious and distracted by what I'm reading or hearing.

Put limits on how frequently you consume media and how much time you spend reading or listening to the news. This is a significant self-care strategy that can go a long way in easing your anxiety. Some may say that it's irresponsible to not pay attention to, hour-by-hour, what's currently happening in our world. While being up-to-date is important, frequent check-ins on information will only create anxiety, stress, and distraction for you. Leave the hourly attention to information to the researchers, scientists, and medical providers who are working on timely response to and treatment for coronavirus and COVID-19. Limit yourself to 1 - 3 times per day of reading/listing to news or visiting reputable sources of information about the pandemic. Only spend 15 to 30 minutes per visit consuming this information. ALWAYS, however, pay attention to and heed public health announcements and community orders enforced by law - make sure you are aware of and responding to information that may have a more immediate impact on your and your family.

Anxiety about Your Physical Health

In general, I assume that I have a health condition - even when medical providers have assured me that I'm healthy. This pandemic has me on extreme alert about my health.

People who struggle with constant assumption that there is something wrong with them physically (or even behaviorally) may suffer with health anxiety. Those managing health anxiety will assume that idiopathic symptoms automatically indicate poor health or a serious condition. It is safe to assume that, during a pandemic, there is elevated risk for most - if not all - of us. However, the CDC has informed the public that seasonal allergies and several other viruses, including the flu, are also present during this timeframe of coronavirus and COVID-19. Despite our pandemic state of elevated risk, constant rumination about whether or not you have been exposed to coronavirus or that you have COVID-19 will only contribute to disruptive worry thus worsening features of health anxiety. If you know you struggle with health anxiety, make sure you are scheduling regular appointments with a mental health counselor during this time of pandemic. Your counselor can assist you with strategies for self-soothing during this time frame. If you are a state employee and need assistance with managing worry, fear, or rumination, call CSEAP to schedule a teletherapy appointment. If you do not wish to talk with a counselor, and your worry is disrupting your functioning at work or in your personal life, seek assistance from your medical provider. And, of course, if you have symptoms of coronavirus or COVID-19, contact your medical provider immediately.

I actually have been exposed to coronavirus or COVID-19 and am worried about what to do next.

If you think you have been exposed to coronavirus or COVID-19, the best way to ease your own anxiety or worry is to check-in with your medical doctor - especially if you are part of a population at higher risk of severe illness. In addition, we all manage difficult situations better when we have a plan in place for how we will solve, resolve, or at least address the situation. Again, if you think you've been exposed or are symptomatic, contact your medical provider. If you are developing a plan to ease your worries in case you become exposed or begin experiencing symptoms, follow CDC guidelines. If you are sick with COVID-19 or have been exposed to coronavirus, you will likely be in isolation or quarantine which can bring on stress. Follow SAMHSA tips for managing stress associated with social distancing, isolation, or quarantine.

Stressors Experienced by Managers

I am a manager or supervisor and most of my team is working remotely from home. How do I ease my worry about everyone getting their work done?

First, understand that there will be a timeframe of worry, angst, and/or frustration - for all of you - as your employees settle into their new work situation. While they are settling, ensure that your employees have the tools that they need in order to accomplish their work from home. Check in with individual employees to see how they are doing with remote work and any barriers that may be getting in the way of completing work. Make sure you provide them with instructions and links to support (Colorado Governor's Office for OIT Tech Kit, for example) that will assist them with barriers.

Despite the pandemic and our state of alert, it is OK for you to expect that work will get done. However, it's important that you're clearly communicating your productivity expectations. Establish your expectations (e.g. deadlines, daily or weekly status updates, priorities, etc.) and use direct yet respectful communication to relay this information regularly to your employees. Communicate your expectations in various ways (i.e. verbally via video, in writing via email, through shared Docs, etc.) and be prepared to repeat the expectations regularly as your employees (just like you) are struggling with other stressors related to this pandemic. Make sure that you are checking in regularly with your employees, one-on-one (or ensure that your managers/supervisors are checking in regularly with individual employees) to gather and provide feedback, review expectations, and generally see how they are doing/coping during this extraordinary time of change and concern. Use video conferencing, whenever possible, to interact with your employees - this can improve connection and understanding by more closely replicating an in-person meeting experience. For more information or ideas, review the articles listed below:

Harvard Business Review, 2020

National Public Radio (NPR), 2020

Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 2020

US Chamber of Commerce, 2020

Forbes.com, 2017

Many of my employees cannot work remotely, what do I do or say to ease their anxiety about continuing to work on-site?

Understand which of your agency's employees are critical and essential and clearly explain to them why their positions require them to be on-site. Be sure to explain to employees what precautions are in place and what the agency is doing to protect the safety of employees. Be sure to also explain what protocol employees should be using to protect each other. Provide regular reminders of what employees should do if they become ill or symptomatic of coronavirus/COVID-19. Make sure your employees know when they must use their sick time, personal leave, or when/how they would qualify for administrative leave. We know that employees, even when working in difficult situations, feel a greater sense of control if they receive information regularly (and repetitively) - especially information that directly impacts them. During times of stress, it can be particularly important to ensure that communication is available in native or first languages of your employees - including sign language or relay services.

Acknowledge the difficulty of your employees' situations and express appreciation for their continued presence at work - this recognition can go a long way in maintaining or boosting morale. It can be particularly helpful to acknowledge and thank your employees each week for specific accomplishments and completed tasks or projects. This expression of gratitude demonstrates that you are paying attention to their work - even if you yourself are working remotely from home. Research indicates that employees appreciate acknowledgement - especially during particularly difficult organizational times.

Visit the State of Colorado DPA COVID-19 Personnel and Procurement page regularly for FAQs and updated information. Check your agency-specific intranet as well for updates to personnel policies and procedures.

Financial Stress and COVID-19

The pandemic is causing financial hardship for me, my loved ones, and/or my employees. What are some tips and resources regarding financial concerns?

Unfortunately, times of mass crisis are also times that questionable people and businesses will prey on our financial vulnerabilities. Never provide your personal or financial information to someone requesting it unsolicited by phone, voice mail, text, or email. Even if the call sounds serious or professional, always research the person or company before you respond or provide your personal information.

If you are unable to pay your bills during this pandemic, be sure to contact the creditors and companies from which you purchase goods and services. Many companies will work with their customers - especially during the current pandemic situation - to negotiate a new billing cycle, delayed billing, or an achievable payment plan. Be sure you are the one initiating these changes - do not provide your personal or financial information to a third party who purports that they can negotiate these changes for you. Make contact with creditors, medical providers, and/or utility companies by contacting the customer service number provided on the regular bill that you receive via mail or email.

If you are trying to consolidate debts, visit the Federal Trade Commission for various options. You can also contact your bank or credit union for advice and options, myFico offers a credit card debt calculator that can assist in your decision-making process. Please note that financial institutions (banks, FICO) also sell products and services - provide your personal information with caution and make it clear if you are only seeking information.

Consider reducing expenses as much as possible. Change any auto-pay accounts to reduce the ease of making purchases - this will help you think rationally about whether this purchase is necessary during uncertain financial times. If you must have auto-pay set up in order to use an account for groceries, medications, etc., make sure you're only adding necessities to your shopping cart. It is helpful to many to set up billing and auto-pay for critical bills (rent, mortgage, utilities) so that these necessities are paid first, save other non-critical expenses for future months that may hold more discretionary spending dollars for you.

Bored during quarantine or social distancing? Check out these financial education courses and podcasts that could help you get your finances on track:

National Endowment for Financial Education

Smart About Money

edX (open source university courses, free though costs associated with certificates)

Society for Financial Awareness

Federal Reserve Bank

NPR - Planet Money & Money Coach

HerMoney

The links listed above are to suggested resources, CSEAP is unable to recommend any particular financial education course or podcast.

Please visit the CSEAP Financial Assistance page for information about the CSEAP Financial Assistance Program. This service is available to current and active employees of the State of Colorado (this means that the state is your employer). CSEAP, through generous contributions from Credit Union of Colorado Foundation, provides small cash grants (typically less than $500) to assist state employees with critical expenses including food, housing, and utilities. CSEAP does not provide grants for legal expenses, child support payments, cell phone bills, computer equipment or expenses, cable bills, etc.

Consider calling your local 2-1-1 for information on local resources - this United Way service can connect you with food banks and other services that could be helpful during times of financial distress.

Family Stress & Stay-at-Home Orders 

There's a lot of tension in our household. I'm concerned about violence between family members.
Some studies indicate that domestic violence - including intimate partner abuse and child abuse - risk can increase during large-scale crises. Work and school can provide a daily reprieve to victims of partner abuse and child abuse respectively. With families ordered to stay-at-home and many workplaces sending employees home to work, those at risk are forced to increase exposure to a different but potentially more dangerous situation. Victims of intimate partner abuse can develop a safety plan in order to potentially reduce risks during a violent situation, Teens experiencing dating violence can access an interactive safety planning tool to help reduce risks. If you are concerned that a child may be in imminent danger, contact your local law enforcement agency and, in Colorado, the Child Abuse & Neglect Hotline.

 

Additional resources include:

Colorado Crisis Services

The Blue Bench - Sexual Assault Prevention & Care

Crisis Text Line

End Violence Against Children

Prevent Child Abuse America

Violence Free Colorado

 

Webinar: Managing Stress and Anxiety During Uncertain Times

 

 

PDF version of slide presentation.

The handouts mentioned in this webinar are:

Nothing about the information contained on this page or in the recorded webinars featured above should be interpreted as medical, personnel, financial, or legal information or advice. If you have urgent or imminent concerns about your physical or mental health (or that of someone else), contact your medical provider or 911 immediately. Always contact your agency Human Resources office for personnel or workplace guidance.