March 24, 2020

Break the Coronavirus Anxiety Cycle + An Important Reminder

Dear SMC Students (& Colleagues):

Our lives have been turned upside down by COVID-19, the coronavirus. Instead of seeing each other face to face, we have to settle for “remote” interactions (we miss seeing you at Santa Monica College!). To help contain the coronavirus’s spread and save the lives of those who are at risk because of age and/or underlying health conditions, state and local authorities have ordered us to stay safe at home, except for running critical errands or for outdoor exercise close to home. The freeways are empty. Toilet paper is in short supply. You see people “stress-shopping.” This is a challenging and lonely time—but the good news is that there are effective ways to defeat anxiety and panic, and come through this stronger.

Break the Anxiety & Panic Cycle

Last Friday, I shared four ways to stay calm and healthy during the coronavirus crisis (if you missed the video, you can watch it on YouTube). Here’s a quick recap:

  1. Take breaks from looking at news stories, including social media. Seeing constant news alerts and sensational headlines can be upsetting. Anxiety is also contagious.
  2. Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch, meditate. Try to eat healthy meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, and avoid alcohol and drugs.
  3. Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
  4. Talk with people you trust about how you’re feeling.

The New York Times ran a fabulous article on how to minimize the anxiety about coronavirus (Read: “A Brain Hack to Break the Coronavirus Anxiety Cycle”). I summarized a few important tips from this article for you:

  • When we can’t control our anxiety, the rational part of our brain goes “offline”.

  • To break the panic and anxiety cycle, be aware of two things:

  • That you are getting anxious or panicking; and

  • What the result of your anxiety or panic is

  • This analysis will help you realize if your behavior is actually helping you survive – or leading you in the opposite direction (panic and anxiety are both destructive, and will have a negative effect on your health and wellbeing)

  • Here’s an example of how to create this awareness: if you tend to touch your face, this is a time when you might be on the lookout to not be doing this (review: precautions to keep from getting COVID-19 PDF). If you start to freak out, thinking, “I touched my face, maybe I’ll get sick!” take a moment to breathe in and out, deep, and ask yourself when was the last time I washed my hands? And then, you might say, “That’s right, I just washed my hands thoroughly, with soap and water, for 20 seconds!”

  • By taking the time to pause and question yourself, the part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex pops back online, and does its job for us: to think.

  • This then influences and brings about certainty: If I just washed my hands and have been social distancing – keeping away from others at least six feet—it is very likely I won’t get sick.

  • Practice this mindfulness. As you get used to what it feels like when the prefrontal cortex—the thinking part of your brain—takes over, you will feel the difference between being calm & being anxious. Also: Review the LA County Department of Public Health’s tips on how to manage stress (PDF) during this time.

Your One-Stop Shop for Mental/Emotional Wellness

  • SMC students: If you’re struggling with anxiety, depression, panic, or fear, call our emotional support line 1-800-691-6003. This line is available 24/7!

  • SMC Employees: SMC’s EASE Program offers free face-to-face counseling, phone consultations for anxiety, stress, and so much more. Call 1-800-882-1341.

  • The SMC Center for Wellness and Wellbeing is constantly updating its webpage with resources, info on physical & mental health, food and housing security, mindfulness, and much more. Please check this regularly for any needs you might have: smc.edu/healthandwellbeing. Also, for students experiencing food insecurity, please email foodsecurity@smc.edu. We want to connect you to local resources close to where you live!

An Important Reminder

As SMC’s Superintendent/President Dr. Kathryn E. Jeffery reminded us in a March 6 memo, this college is committed to inclusivity and diversity, and SMC prohibits unlawful discrimination and harassment in any arena of college life. The fear and panic around the coronavirus have led to a spike in xenophobic, racist and discriminatory behavior, especially against individuals of Asian descent. According to the Center for Diseases Control & Prevention (CDC)diseases can make anyone sick regardless of their race or ethnicity. This means those in the SMC community who are of Asian descent are not more likely to get COVID 19.

Remember: there is no excuse for racism.

Stay healthy, stay strong – we will reach out regularly with updates and more tips on how to manage during this challenging time,

Dr. Susan Fila, SMC Director of Health & Wellbeing.