If the coronavirus pandemic has you feeling anxious, a Gilbert therapist says you can embrace it as an appropriate response to an anxiety-provoking situation.

Lauren Jones Goldbach, a licensed clinical social worker and certified clinical trauma professional with East Valley Trauma Counseling, said a group of therapists she meets with weekly is seeing a “huge increase” in anxiety—a response that makes sense given the present situation.

Emotions, she said, are information we can use.

“If we do wake up with panic or dread, when we open our eyes and realize we're still in this sort of a hellish nightmare, we want to acknowledge that ‘This anxiety keeps me safe. I don't want to lose the anxiety. I don't want to try to fight it and stop it,’” she said. “And, paradoxically, when you sort of pull it in closer and go, ‘Yep, this anxiety is good,’ it calms down.”

That primal fear serves a function in keeping us safe, Jones Goldbach said. It can keep us being conscientious about what we touch and keeping our hands away from our faces.

Depression on rise

Jones Goldbach said depression also has increased as quarantines keeps people apart and away from their regular activities.

“We're very, very social creatures,” she said. “Even people who are introverts are social creatures. Families that are completely isolating in their homes, what we're seeing actually is an increase in a lot of domestic violence issues, a lot of families not being able to handle the stress very well, more acting out from some teens who would normally not act out quite as much. And these are all functions of not having a good outlet right now.”

She said all of us are in some stage of grieving.

"One minute I think, 'I'm going to beat this. We're great. We're fine, I'm not going to get sick.' And then the next minute—and I'm a therapist—I'm going, 'Oh God, we're all gonna die.' And if I don't know what it is that's happening in my 'feeling brain,' I'm going to feel crazy. So I take a step back, and I acknowledge I'm going through a grief process."

Tips for managing

Jones Goldbach offered some tips for managing this period:

  • Create a social network and use it regularly, perhaps once a week. Jones Goldbach said she does a virtual happy hour on the Zoom application with friends.

  • Do more Facetiming. “It's not enough to just talk on the phone,” she said. “We need to see other people because we're social creatures.”

  • Spend at least a half hour each day outside on the front or back porch to get Vitamin D from sunlight, fresh air and the sense of not being cooped up in the house.

  • Limit your intake of information. Jones Goldbach said people should neither stop watching TV or reading social network posts about the virus nor should they be obsessive about it, which sends constant danger alarms to the brain. “I’m suggesting pick one trusted news source and look at it in the morning and then maybe two hours before bed, not right before bed,” she said.

  • Eat healthy. There is a connection between the gut and brain, she said. “That's why your stomach always tells us what's going on,” she said. “And if we eat healthier foods, we're going to make better neurotransmitters, the things that make us feel good.”

  • Play with your pet if you have one. “That releases oxytocin, which makes us feel good,” she said. Jones Goldbach said she is believer in having a pet in the home.

  • Tune into good things that are happening in the world. It brings balance at a time of stress and danger, she said.

  • Volunteer. This can be anywhere with safe, social distancing practices or online with a neighbors helping neighbors group, she said.

Good outcomes

Jones Goldbach said the current situation does bring some good. It brings renewed attention to properly taking care of ourselves, something she said we too often take for granted.

She also said it makes people realize a community can come together.

“It’s teaching people to be kinder in a lot of ways, to be more generous,” Jones Goldbach said. “Not everybody. It can bring out the worst in a lot of people, but it can definitely bring out the best in most. And if we focus on where it's bringing out the best in people, it lifts us up more.”