Aimee Yogi, Eugene Springfield CERT Trainer
Our community is in the midst of worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.
The nature of this crisis mandates very little contact in public. Social distancing, masks and gloves have become part of our social interactions. Activities outside the home are limited to essential errands and appointments. What distinguishes this disaster from other massive natural disasters is this mandated isolation. The change in routine, lack of social supports, financial problems, confinement, lack of activities outside the home, online classes – all contribute to the anxiety and stress of an already fearful pandemic.
How do we manage the isolation and stress? How can we take care of ourselves, for our own safety, in order to help our neighbors and community? Here are some tools and strategies that can be used to alleviate anxiety and help us to provide aid to our neighbors. The goal is to build personal and community resilience.
FEMA’s CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) Student Manual provides the Psychological First Aid tools described here. These simple steps can be used and shared to maintain mental health in a disaster.
Here are possible physical symptoms you may experience or observe in others:
• Loss of appetite
• Headaches or chest pain
• Diarrhea, stomach pain, or nausea
• Increase in alcohol or drug consumption
• Nightmares, inability to sleep
• Fatigue or low energy
Here are psychological symptoms:
Emotional: nervousness; helplessness; shock; numbness; inability to feel love or joy; feelings of abandonment; agitation; depression; grief; feelings of detachment; exhilaration as a result of surviving; unreal feelings; feelings of being out of control; denial; feelings of being overwhelmed; and feelings of fragility.
Cognitive: difficulty making decisions; reoccurrence of disturbing dreams; memories and flashbacks; hypervigilance or being on constant alert; feelings of dissociation; distortion of time and space; rumination or racing thoughts; or repeatedly replaying the traumatic event.
Spiritual: loss of hope; limited expectations about life, intense use of prayer; loss of self-efficacy; feelings of despair and disillusionment; questioning (“Why me?”); loss of meaning and importance of life.
Use this Self-Care Toolkit for your Psychological First Aid (PFA):
Stress Reduction tools: if you are anxious, etc., use these tools to alleviate it so you may move forward.
Grounding: concentrate on your body in your current surroundings. You are present. You are safe.
1. Find a comfortable position.
2. Name 5 things you can see.
3. Name 5 things you hear.
4. Name 5 things you can touch.
5. Name 5 things you can taste.
6. Name 5 things you can smell.
Controlled Breathing: concentrate on the count; breathe through your nose. This will stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system which will slow your heart rate. You are present. You are safe. You are not alone.
1. Inhale, 4 count.
2. Hold, 4 count.
3. Exhale, 4 count,
4. Hold, 4 count.
5. Repeat for 5-10 minutes.
Pandemic Self-Care Kit: Include whatever brings you comfort
Books, music, comfort objects
Watch TV/You Tube videos of art museums, exercise, etc.; *limit news on TV/social media to 1 hour/day*
Exercise outdoors: walking, hiking, forest bathing;
Meditate, walking, sitting, tai chi, yoga
Draw, photograph, paint, write
Use phone/social media to keep in touch with family and friends
When you are ready, go out and help your neighbors. Here’s how you can help:
Psychological First Aid for your neighbors: Listen, Protect, Connect
Listen. Ask if they need help. Pay attention to what they say, how they act and to what they need right now. Let them know you are willing to listen. They may not be ready; let them know you will check in later.
Protect. It helps everyone feel better when you take actions to provide support, encouragement and reassurance. You can make informed decisions to:
Offer to seek information and resources.
Answer questions simply and honestly, clearing up any confusion they may have.
Empathize and let them know they are not alone in their reactions to the event.
Provide opportunities for them to communicate, but do not force them.
Talk to them about what is being done to keep everyone safe from harm.
Connect. Connecting neighbors to their friends, loved ones and other resources has a positive impact on their wellbeing.
Ensure that you are connecting with them regularly.
Help them find access to resources that can offer support.
What NOT to say:
“I understand.” In most situations, we have not had the same experience.
“Don’t feel bad.” They have the right to feel bad and needs time to feel differently.
“You’re strong,” or “You’ll get through this.” No one knows for sure.
“Don’t cry.” It’s okay to cry.
“It’s God’s Will.” Giving religious meaning to an event may offend them.
“It could be worse,” or “Everything will be okay.” They decide this, not you.
These responses may elicit a negative response from the neighbor. It is okay to apologize if you said something wrong.
SAY this instead:
“I’m sorry for your pain.”
“Is it all right if I help you with…?”
“I can’t imagine what this is like for you.”
“What do you need?”
Our reactions to stressful situations differ in degrees. Psychological First Aid is not therapy or treatment. If someone has suffered trauma or losses previously, their reactions tend to be more severe and may require therapy. If you are experiencing symptoms for more than a month, seek treatment. Eugene has several counseling agencies, which are low-cost and low barrier, including these:
Center for Community Counseling
1465 Coburg Rd., Eugene
Trauma Healing Project
1100 Charnelton St., Eugene