ST. CLOUD -- Each person reacts differently when faced with a stressful situation. The spread of the novel coronavirus, and the rapidly changing information surrounding it, are well-equipped to create fear and anxiety in both children and adults.

With this in mind, reporter Abby Faulkner chatted with Seal Dwyer, a licensed Family and Marriage Therapist based in St. Cloud, to learn more about stress management and how to access mental health help if you need it.


ABBY: So, an important topic right about is how to cope with stress and anxiety in the middle of a very difficult, ever-changing situation. I think we're all feeling it to some degree. Are you meeting with your patients remotely right now?

SEAL: I am. At my private practice, I'm giving everybody the choice; they can come in if they want, or I will see them via Zoom.

Gotcha. Do your patients want to discuss this current situation with COVID-19?

Yes. Every single one of them.

Okay. So, what are some of the things that you are hearing from your patients right now?

There's a lot of fear. There's a lot of uncertainty. There's a lot of frustration. There are lot of folks who are wondering, “do I have the money to pay my bills?” Others work in health care but know that they can’t get tested (for COVID-19) right now. So, there’s the moral quandary of either going to work every day, or not going to work and then not being able to pay the bills. And then, there’s the constant barrage of media – which is not to slam media. We appreciate media, but we must curate a little bit. Because if we're watching it 24/7, it just makes everything horrible.

I was actually just talking with someone about how, for example, if you go on CNN's home page, it's a tsunami of information. And, a lot of questions, but not as many answers, at least yet. So, in your opinion, at what point does it become unhelpful to watch the news, and what tips are you giving people for coping?

So, one of the things that I'm telling pretty much everybody, myself included, is choose where you get your information. I'm going to recommend local news sources like WJON way more than national ones like CNN. I would also get information from the World Health Organization, the CDC and the Minnesota Department of Health. There's so much we don't know about this virus yet, so it's very important to be very mindful of where we're getting information, and what their interests are. Some of them are trying to sell us fear. Others are trying to sell us stuff. It’s important to be aware of that as we take it in.

So, beyond curation of media, what would you say to somebody who feels like they're getting overwhelmed? Do you have coping strategies, or practical steps people can take in a moment of panic?

Absolutely. So, the first and foremost thing I'm telling everybody is to maintain your routines as much as you possibly can. If you're used to working from 9 to 5 in the office, work from 9 to 5 at home. Human beings do better when we have structure. We have less anxiety if we maintain structure as much as possible. If you go to the gym a few days a week, work out at home during those times.

Yeah, I've been trying to do that myself – stay on a schedule, wake up early, shower, put on work clothes and some makeup and just try to create that sense of normalcy. It's been huge for me.

Yes! We need to set ourselves up for success for as long as this strangeness is going on. If we do that, we won’t need as many “rescue strategies,” because we will have that solid foundation.That being said, I'm always going to teach basic self-care; eat healthy food that supports your body; get enough water; get enough sleep; move your body in ways that are comfortable and joyful. Do things that you care about – whether that's putting together a puzzle, painting, writing, drawing or calling your grandma. Every single day, that's the kind of basic self-care we need. If we don't do that kind of stuff, we are going to make ourselves sick and it won’t have anything to do with COVID-19. Also, help someone out, or find something larger than yourself to get involved with. For example, the St. Cloud Area Prepper Pals – they’re changing everything now, just by caring about their neighbors. St. Cloud gets that bad rap, but if you look at that group, it’s clear – there are thousands of folks here who care and are doing great work. Getting involved in something like that – it’s a great way to anchor yourself.

What about mental health resources? Where would you point people who are in need of quick support right now?

So, I'm always going to send folks to the Mental Health Urgent Care. If they do not already have a mental health provider, they can go to the Mental Health Urgent Care and someone will help them within 24 or 48 hours. It’s an amazing local service the Beautiful Mind Project created. Right now, therapists are doing lots of teletherapy – and that’s always available if you're not comfortable leaving your home.

All right, is there anything I missed that you'd want people to know? Any last words about looking after yourself right now?

You know, I think the biggest thing is – be kind to yourself. You're going to have reactions to what is going on right now. Don’t deny those feelings, and don't drink or drug them away. That's only going to make it worse. Acknowledge your humanness, because we're all going through this together. And, reach out for help when you need it.

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