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How To Keep Calm And Carry On — And Laugh — According To A Tulane Expert

Mar 20, 2020
Originally published on March 20, 2020 3:37 pm

Life has changed dramatically in Louisiana over the past week as officials ask the public to limit contact with others and socially distance or isolate. Thousands are jobless or considering shutting down businesses, many of us are working from home (along with kids and spouses), anyone with flu symptoms is facing two weeks of isolating quarantine, and many others are worried about hospitalized family members in isolation.

It is, in short, a lot.

We spoke with Tulane professor and social worker Tonya Cross Hansel about tips and resources for coping.

Here's what you can do to support yourself

  • Take breaks from watching, reading or listening to news stories, including on social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting. Stop looking at your phone an hour before bed.
  • Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch or meditate. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep. These activities will also strengthen your immune system.
  • Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
  • Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about how you are feeling. Do some yoga. Join an online dance party (see below).
  • Know the facts, it’ll help make the outbreak less stressful. 

Here’s a quick list of resources

  • The Louisiana Department of Health has launched the Keeping Calm Through COVID hotline for anyone with concerns or questions: 866-310-7977
  • Ochsner Health has a free COVID-19 information hotline where you can talk to a health care professional: 844-888-2772.
  • And you can always get help at SAMHSA’s National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
  • You can find a list of mindfulness apps to help manage stress here
  • If you’re just looking for some fun, you can take a virtual tour of museums across the world.
  • Get sweaty with an online dance party
  • Try a free online yoga class, like the ones being offered for free by this local studio
  • Watch some now-free entertainment, like a Broadway show
  • For information on how to talk to your kids about the virus, cope with trauma, or deal with quarantine, the CDC has a tips page

Tegan Wendland: Why is social isolation so hard?

Tonya Cross Hansel: Humans by nature are kind of like pack animals. We need others to be around. Even people that prefer smaller groups need to have some kind of human contact. And so in times of disaster, that's usually our number one go-to for coping, is to get with people, your loved ones, your friends, and to support each other and we actually can do that, but we have to change the ways that we normally do that.

What are some ways that we can cope and kind of socialize with one another despite these circumstances?

Especially with New Orleanians — our community thrives on being able to be together and celebrate together, so that can be particularly hard. But ways that we can do that are through Facetime and through chatting in different kind of social media outlets, and even just calling someone on the phone to check in with them, or waving at others from a safe distance. Just to acknowledge that we're all in this together and that we will get through it and kind of connecting in ways that aren't physically close.

Of course, mental health professionals know that spending time outside is really helpful. So how can we still do that safely?

As long as your immunity isn't compromised in any way or you haven't been exposed and need to really stay inside, it's extremely important that you take a walk, walk your dog, go out with your children, and just make sure that you're using the CDC guidance of keeping about six feet away from everyone. And so that's pretty easy to do. I've seen, in Audubon Park, joggers moving over to kind of keep that distancing within a safe distance.

And for people who are working from home now, what are some tools that they can use to do so successfully? It must be especially hard for parents.

Yeah, it is, but I think we have to allow everyone to accept that these are different times and we’re trying to make do as best as we can. So if there is a toddler screaming in the background, either place [the phone] on mute or maybe take a time-out to to deal with your family life and then come back to the work later — or try to find a place for you that you can do work that is kind of removed. It might even be a closet — somewhere that you can kind of consistently go to and try to maintain those routines for both adults and children.

You specialize in trauma. I think a lot of people are experiencing a lot of trauma right now. What recommendations might you have for people who still have to go to work?

Some people don't even have the choice in whether or not they can go to work, so that adds another level of stress and trauma and, specifically for our community, that this can retrigger a lot of those feelings that many had following Hurricane Katrina, or some of the other disasters we've had. I think the most important thing to remember is that these feelings people are having are completely normal. Whether it's fear or stress or sadness, anytime we have these types of large-scale crises and disasters, people are going to have a negative reaction. And we don't want to minimize those because they are a normal human response to these types of situations.

What recommendations might you have for people who are on the frontlines or their spouses are, like doctors, mental health professionals? How can they care for themselves? And what can we do to support them?

In social work, we talk a lot about “self-care.” It's easier to talk about it than it is to actually do it. Under these circumstances, some people's self-care might not even be something that they can do anymore. So I think finding something that you can look forward to every day — and it might not be the normal things that you would go to, but something that you do for yourself and that you enjoy, even if it's just 10 minutes of yoga or meditation or something that you can look forward to every day — and be able to kind of help get through this time, because we know it's only temporary. We don't know how long it will be, but we do know it's temporary. And we just need to develop positive things and coping mechanisms that we can do during this time.

I have to say the Internet has been really delightful lately. There are a lot of online concerts and classes and gatherings and hilarious memes, but it feels kind of weird to experience any joy when so many people are dying right now. But it's like this release. What's the importance of humor in all of this?

It's very important, and that's not to minimize the real struggles and life-threatening situations that some people are in, but we also have to remember that we have to get through this. And we are strong people, especially New Orleanians, and we know how to overcome these kinds of challenges. And one way we do that is through humor. That's okay to experience joy when others may be suffering or to experience joy in the moment, even when in maybe the next moment you're going to feel that sadness. Those kinds of ups and downs are completely normal when we're dealing with a situation and with so many unknowns.

What are some other resources that might be available to people?

I think we all kind of have our list of things that we'll get to someday when we have time. And maybe that time is now. So if there's something that you have wanted to do — for example, a virtual tour of a city of a city you’ve always wanted to go to —or if there's a hobby that you wanted to pick up. Is there a Facebook group that you want to join to help you have that community experience, but still at a safe distance from from physical proximity? I think we just need to make sure that people give themselves permission to experience the many emotions and then maybe consider some mindfulness apps that can be very helpful.

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