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Psychologists offer advice on coping with coronavirus

LOS ANGELES — As the Coronavirus pandemic continues to sweep the country, millions of citizens are facing a rising sense of fear and anxiety.

Numerous businesses and schools are being closed, sports and social events are being canceled, the stock market continues to plummet to unprecedented lows and consumers are stockpiling food and supplies.

The virus outbreak could last until summer and health officials report that it could be a full year before a vaccine is developed and available to the public to combat the highly contagious virus.

Three local psychologists delivered advice on how the public can cope with the virus.

Evelyn LeSure-Lester, a licensed clinical psychologist for more than 35 years, advised people  “Do not panic.”

“If you feel you have symptoms of the virus, don’t overreact,” she advised. “You need to call your doctor and follow what the doctor says or call urgent care and follow their directions.

“Know that the virus is spreading rapidly and it may take up to 14 days before symptoms manifest,” she said. “Although there’s no preventive treatment, it can be managed. It’s not necessarily fatal and many people who have contracted the virus have recovered. 

“Also, know that a lot of people who have been tested show mild symptoms and have not been hospitalized.”

LeSure-Lester says the advice being given by health professionals is sound.

“Social distancing is a must because the virus spreads from human to human,” she said. “People 60 years and older should stay at home, especially people who are elderly and at high risk who have underlying illnesses or have a compromised immune system.  

“Young people should also try to stay home because the coronavirus could be in their system,” she added. “They could potentially spread to an elderly individual and take that exposure home to senior citizens, parents and grandparents.

“Realize that you are not helpless and take control of your fear to reduce your anxiety,” she said.

LeSure-Lester had several tips that she wanted to share with the public.

“Know the facts and listen to scientists and experts,” she said. “Don’t be a couch potato. Watching the news and social media all day is not healthy and could cause anxiety.

“Stay home unless you have to go out. When you get home, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water. If you can’t stay at home, try to practice social distancing. Cover your mouth if you cough or sneeze.”

Other tips from LeSure-Lester included “reach out to other people and the elderly. A lot of people are alone. Call and text those people. Get on the phone and call someone because people need emotional and social support. If you are home, do some form of exercise.

“Fear is a normal reaction and people are panicking because of a lack of knowledge,” LeSure addeded. “It’s a fight or flight response and that’s why people are making irrational decisions such as going to the store and hoarding food and supplies or thinking that they are going to die. Realize that you are not helpless and take control of your fears. This reduces your anxiety. Know that you can do things to take care of yourself and be safe.”

Thomas Parham, president of Cal State Dominguez Hills, is also a licensed psychologist for 38 years.

He said, “Everyone is going to be [feeling] anxious, but the public should stay vigilant and not panic.”

“We are entering uncharted territory in places we have not seen before,” Parham added. “We need to minimize exposure to the coronavirus and maximize social distancing.” 

Parham urged the public to pay attention to the news and local, state and federal government warnings as well as public health officials and medical experts.

“Make sure that you are engaging in good public health habits, including frequent hand washing and liberal use of hand sanitizer,” he added. “Avoid crowds and avoid touching your face, nose, mouth or eyes.”

He added that the entire California State University system is taking necessary precautions to protect the health and safety of the campus community.  

Baldwin Hills psychologist Roger Quinney said “The reality of dealing with a virus is like being in a movie — but it’s not a movie, especially as we continue to listen to the news. There is no clear evidence of a positive outcome.”   

He said the best tool is to communicate your feelings to family and friends.  

“I suggest watching less news and phone activities,” he said. “Instead, watch movies that are funny or watch a mystery movie that involves solving a crime. I also suggest that people take long walks with family and friends and exercise at home or in your apartment.

Quinney said anything that stimulates the mind will reduce anxiety. He suggested board games like Monopoly, Sorry, Dominos and Spades.   

“Please limit use of caffeine, carbonated drinks and smoothies,” he said. “Too much sugar in the system creates additional anxieties. And please, drink lots of water.

“Social distancing is a new concept for people, especially black people,” he said. “We are a village and enjoy the pleasure of family and friends, especially in church.

“As a village, we are now aware that this is a crisis and we must adhere to the guidelines to survive this virus,” he added. “Open communication and a friendly elbow pump greet or a thumbs up is the new normal.

“As African-American people, we will be able to adjust to this pandemic because we are a strong and faithful people,” he added. “We have survived the civil rights movement, Vietnam, Dr. King’s assassination, and the Trump presidency. We must continue to support one another by communicating on the social network. We must help each other in this time of need. 

“Consequently, if you have toilet paper and water, please share what you have. Remember, it takes a village to survive,” he concluded.

By Shirley Hawkins

Contributing Writer