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How physicians can manage coronavirus anxiety in patients

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Most of the coronavirus pandemic news coverage focuses on the physical health toll and mounting deaths. However, the virus’ spread is negatively affecting the mental health of millions of Americans as well. 

A study published by the Kaiser Family Foundation on April 2 found that 45 percent of American adults (53 percent of women and 37 percent of men) say the pandemic is taking a mental toll. Additionally, 19 percent of adults surveyed said the pandemic has had a “major impact” on their mental wellbeing.  

These numbers are not surprising. The coronavirus crisis has changed nearly every aspect of society, putting people out of work, encouraging social isolation, and asking entire cities and states to “shelter in place.” Humans, by nature, are interactive and the forced distancing measures and massive changes are making an unprecedented impact. 

As a physician, internist, or physician assistant, chances are good you’ve already taken measures to protect your staff and clientele by transitioning to telehealth services. This is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, but during this time, it’s also important you take steps to ease patients’ fears and anxieties. In severe cases, this might mean referring individuals to mental health experts or crisis hotlines. However, there are other ways to assuage fears and uncertainty and physicians can manage coronavirus anxiety in patients. 

You’re a medical professional with an opportunity to lead. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to assist your patients during these challenging times .

Maintain open lines of communication 

Even if your office is currently closed, it’s important you work to keep your patients informed. If you haven’t already, add a page to your website discussing things like:

  • COVID-19 symptoms
  • “Best” safety practices
  • How to properly wash your hands
  • How to make a face covering

You might also want to link out to additional resources, like the World Health Organization or the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you have time or the ability, it’s also a good idea to add an FAQ page or recorded voice message that answers common questions. 

We’ve all heard the saying “knowledge is power” and in times like these, it’s especially true. The more your patients know about the things they can do to protect themselves and their loved ones, the less likely they are to break social distancing rules or rely on dubious sources of information.

Provide access to mental health resources

The coronavirus pandemic affects everyone. Millions of working-age Americans are already experiencing financial setbacks like furloughs or job loss. Teenagers and young adults are being forced to miss out on rights of passage like the prom, graduation, and other celebratory events. And elderly individuals face the prospect of getting sick or experiencing serious complications.  

In times like these, many people turn to bad habits like substance abuse, binge eating, or neglecting personal hygiene. Combined with physical isolation, these factors may lead to depression, anxiety, or feelings of hopelessness. Even if you can’t meet with your patients one-on-one, it’s important they know their mental health matters.

To assist in these efforts, The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) have both released helpful guides. Social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram have also established free public support groups staffed with counselors and other mental health specialists.

For individuals who don’t feel comfortable sharing their experiences or feelings with others in a public setting, you can also recommend mindfulness apps like Calm, Rootd, or Headspace.

 

Encourage healthy lifestyle practices

Nobody knows how long the pandemic will last, but we are all in it together. As nice as it would be to snap your fingers and have everything go back to normal, that’s probably not going to happen for a while. As a physician, you can use your knowledge and expertise to encourage resilience and fortitude. That starts with healthy living.

Use your social media platforms and blog to educate and inform. Consider sharing healthy, nutritious recipes or at-home exercise routines and regimens. You can even share tips and tricks for getting a good night’s sleep or managing stress while cooped up around family. 

You don’t want to overlook the fact that people are facing challenges and suffering, but you can use the opportunity to share tools that improve health and quality of life. 

The more you interact and connect with your patients during these challenging times, the more you can help those in your care manage their stress, anxiety, and feelings of uncertainty. You play an important role in patient health now and into the future. Thanks for everything you’re doing and keep up the great work. 

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How physicians can manage coronavirus anxiety in patients
Chad Birt

Chad Birt is a freelance B2B and B2C medical writer who resides in Astoria, Oregon. When he isn't behind a keyboard, you can find him hiking, camping, or birdwatching with his wife Ella and their two dogs, Diane and Thoreau.

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