Health Matters: Caring for yourself and others during an unpredictable time

worried young woman

March 25, 2020

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) was declared a public health emergency on Jan. 30, 2020, and declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11, 2020.

In such a short amount of time, our lives have been greatly affected. We are asked to hunker down in our homes, our children are out of school, and restaurants have closed. During this time of uncertainty, it is normal to experience periods of stress and anxiety related to COVID-19. The anxiety and stress we may feel during this pandemic is different than the generalized anxiety many of us experience under typical circumstances.

At times you may experience waves of peacefulness, panic, dread, or hope. We would like to share tips to deal with the stress during this moment. We will discuss signs and symptoms of anxiety that you will want to pay attention to in yourself, in others, and in your family. Together – as a community – we can support one another.

What to be aware of

We mentioned earlier that experiencing moments of panic and fear during this time is completely normal. It becomes problematic when we let that panic and fear control our lives and every decision we make. Typical fear responses include the urge to fight, or to run away, or to freeze like a deer in headlights.

It’s important that we pay attention to our thoughts and emotions as well as make attempts to recognize it in others. Recognition of stress symptoms will allow us to make the necessary behavior changes that will support and improve our mood.

What affects our mental health

  • Information: Our anxiety and fears can grow the more we hear information, especially information that is changing so quickly we’re not sure what to believe.
  • Unpredictability: The threat is unseen and it is unpredictable. We do not know our future regarding work, school, and other activities. This pandemic is nothing like what most of us have ever seen before.
  • On our front steps: At this stage, COVID-19 seems like it is everywhere and nowhere at the same time. There are some cases of COVID-19 in Montana, and information from the CDC informs us that it is likely to continue to grow. We cannot exclude ourselves or pretend that it does not exist.

Common reactions

In yourself and other adults

  • Worry, anxiety, panic
  • Feeling helpless
  • Social withdrawal
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Feelings of frustration, anger, or irritability
  • An increased state of alertness or sensitivity to your surroundings

In children

Your child may respond differently to stress depending on their age and personality. A few of the most common ones throughout age groups are:

  • Increased temper tantrums or irritability
  • Nightmares
  • Clinging behavior or increased requests for attention
  • Excessive energy
  • Sleep/appetite changes

Helpful tools

  • Be patient, tolerant, and kind to yourself and others
  • Keep to regular routines and structure in your daily life as much as possible. If you are self-isolated schedule in meals, hygiene breaks, phone calls to family or friends, and games with your children
  • Engage in positive activities: podcasts, music, books, free guided meditation, or movies that bring you joy
  • If you are feeling more anxious, down, or having uncontrollable worries, reach out to your mental health professional or someone you trust who may offer to talk over the phone or video chat
  • Know you are not alone. Call trusted family members or friends
  • Exercise and eat well, stretch, take short walks, or download a free exercise mobile app
  • If you are home with your children try new activities or games
  • Get your information from reliable resources. The Centers for Disease and Control (CDC) COVID-19 government website offers a variety of support including how to identify symptoms, how to protect yourself, and more information on how to emotionally cope
  • Limit your information. This is going to be hard, but at the end of the day turn off the news and avoid social media. Instead, do things that bring you joy and will help calm your body for a night of rest.
  • Crisis Text Lines provide 24/7 access to crisis counselors. Text “MT” to 741-741 or call the Montana Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
  • Lend your time or talents. Connect with local nonprofits and organizations that need support during this time.


Emili Miller, MSW, SWLC, is a Behavioral Health Professional at St. Peter’s Health Broadway Clinic. She holds a master’s degree in Clinical Social Work from Walla Walla University. Brittany Kizer, MSW, SWLC is a Behavioral Health Professional at St. Peter’s Health North Clinic. She holds a degree in Master of Social Work from the University of Montana.