Fear, stress and how to cope

by Mandi Bateman
Editor | April 2, 2020 1:00 AM

Therapist, pastor address worries brought on by COVID-19 pandemic

BONNERS FERRY — While the outward effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are obvious, like barren shelves at the grocery store and closed businesses, some of the worst symptoms go unseen.

The abrupt change to an accustomed lifestyle has left many people in Boundary County reeling. With the governor’s 21-day Stay-Home order in place, many small businesses have been forced to close down, leaving many people without work or a way to pay bills. Others work for essential businesses and they continue to work, but are pressed with the difficulties of finding childcare while the schools are closed.

Adding to this, is the fear of the COVID-19 virus itself. Those people who are considered high risk, or have friends or family who are, have been watching the news as the virus inches ever closer to our county, day by day.

According to Rawlings Community Counseling Therapist Treva Rawlings, people are creatures of habit who function better when there is predictability — something that has been lost during this crisis.

“Our brain’s job is to survive, therefore when there is predictability, we have increased trust that we can handle what comes our way because it is familiar,” said Rawlings. “When we go through change, the change is often unfamiliar, and this unfamiliar information can create stress because we have heightened unknown which can bring a vulnerable, unsafe feeling causing anxiety.”

For many people, a way to cope is finding strength through their church, but even that has been altered.

“As a pastor, this is an area that I personally feel very keenly. We kept our doors open as long as possible, taking precautions of course,” said Pastor Len Pine of Providence Bible Presbyterian Church. “Virtual church is a poor substitute for the personal, participatory interaction in worship and service that our Lord calls us to. While still being able to listen to the preaching of God’s Word is a good thing, it’s only part of what it means to be a church.”

For those not involved in church, there are other struggles as they look for ways to cope, and the recent Stay-Home order has changed things for many in the community.

“Since the stay at home order, more people are coming out of denial and it is becoming more real that what we have been watching happen to other parts of our world is real and can happen to our community,” said Rawlings.

Rawlings observed that community members are taking the warnings of getting the coronavirus more seriously.

“Some have begun to experience increased anxiety, but many have not experienced drastic changes in emotions yet,” said Rawlings. “Our clinicians are prepared for people to experience increased anxiety as the length of quarantine time continues.”

But Rawlings is concerned that some community members have not taken the warnings of this illness as seriously as they should, with some continuing to view it as “a bad flu.”

Pine pointed out that this community tends to be resilient.

“Still, opinions are very strong on all viewpoints related to this situation, and I see some lines being drawn that threaten to divide us if we’re not careful,” said Pine. “It’s fair to say that at some point division is inevitable because while not everyone is right in their assessment of what’s going on, everyone is also quite convinced in their own minds that they are right … or at least, that someone else is wrong.”

Pine said this comes from a society where opinions can be freely expressed.

“Humility is certainly called for on all sides,” said Pine. “But I’m also seeing a lot of kindness and patience, humor in the face of frustration, and determination to address the situation in various ways with courage. And, of course, we seem to be out of toilet paper …”

Toilet paper, along with other hard-to-find food items such as flour, is another source of stress for many in the community.

“Many are concerned about the commodity hoarding and dwindling of necessities from grocery stores, especially around the threat that they may actually run out of toilet paper,” said Rawlings. “A lot of people are experiencing increased anxiety due to concern of not working, reduction of household income and are experiencing stress wondering if they will be able to pay rent or buy food.”

Pine feels that loss of control over one’s own life is a basis for many of the fears.

“Some are not afraid of the virus at all, but rather are dismayed at the overreach of government and loss of civil and religious liberties in the name of an elusive safety that, in spite of its claims, government cannot guarantee,” said Pine. “Some are afraid of being at the mercy of those far removed from us with whom we do not agree or distrust.”

However, Rawlings feels that the community has done a good job by making incremental changes towards protecting the community members, prior to the Stay-Home order, like grocery stores implementing social distancing, schools closing, and more.

“This seems to have helped introduce us to the changes and realize that ‘this is actually happening’,” said Rawlings.

Despite this, the fear does still exist. Pine points out that ‘courage’ is doing the right thing in spite of fear.

“And I should say that I don’t think that fear should always be assumed to be a negative; it’s one of the mechanisms our Creator built into us for purposes of preservation,” said Pine. “The trick is being afraid for the right reasons, and not succumbing to unreasonable or unfounded fears.”

Even the emotions being felt right now, like stress, can be detrimental and lead to further problems.

“Stress takes a toll on the body’s immune system leaving us vulnerable to fighting off illness,” said Rawlings.

Stress can lead to shortened patience and irritability and attitudes are contagious, so it increases the likelihood of arguments in the home.

“We are each responsible for our own feelings and the way we treat each other,” said Rawlings. “Take a moment to ask yourself if you would want to be around yourself, if not you get to choose to make appropriate attitude adjustments. We get to choose to make the best of the situation we are all in together.”

On the other end of the spectrum is the isolation for some during the Stay-Home order.

“We were not created to be little islands; we were created to be social, spiritual beings,” said Pine. “ I find it interesting that not too long ago the general outcry was that being alone with your electronics and personal devices was destroying our society… now everyone is trying to convince themselves that it’s a good thing.”

In moving forward, both Rawlings and Pine offer suggestions to deal with the powerful emotions and uncertainty that the community is facing.

“It is important that we all work to practice self-care during this time,” said Rawlings.

Chris and Treva Rawlings offer the following suggestions:

• Stay calm.

• View this time as an opportunity for healthy changes.

• Speak out your gratitude and thanks to others.

• Create a new daily schedule and write it down.

• Include time for exercise, meditation or prayer, playing with your kids, doing projects as a family, complete household projects that can get procrastinated, get outside every day, engage in hobbies new or old, plant a garden and identify ways that you can “pay it forward” to others.

Len Pine suggests:

• Limit how much news you watch or listen to during the day.

• Eat healthy foods and limit processed foods.

• Physical exercise! Take a walk, if possible, or take advantage of the many online exercise classes.

• Moderate your intake of caffeine.

• Avoid alcohol and other depressants.

• REST! Sleep is important.

• Don’t make any big decisions at this time either. If you need to make a big decision, make sure you have a family member or friend to help guide you. During times of crisis, we have a tendency to avoid the blind spots.

• Stay connected! Talk to a friend or family member. Connect with your co-workers.

• Don’t be afraid of appropriate emotional reactions. It’s a normal part of dealing with stress.

As a final thought, it is important that people continue to watch out for, and care for the people around them, but it is essential that they also care for themselves. As a people, we need physical items, such as food, to survive, but our emotional well-being can be the rock we stand on to get through these difficult times.