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San Diego Therapist On Staying Calm During Coronavirus Pandemic

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David Peters, a marriage and family therapist who has a practice in San Diego, joined Midday Edition on Tuesday with advice on how to stay calm during these uncertain times.

Speaker 1: 00:00 In a matter of days, life as we know it changed to drastically. Some of us may be working from home, others may be out of work. Schools have been shut down and children are at home. Social events have been canceled. Libraries, arts institutions and many restaurants have shut their doors. The stress of all these changes and worries over the Corona virus can take a toll on our mental health. David Peters, a marriage and family therapist who has a practice in San Diego, has advice on how to stay calm during these uncertain times. David, welcome. Glad to be with you. Jade. You know, there's a bit of cognitive dissonance between officials telling us to remain calm and seeing our lives change before our eyes. How do we reconcile those two ideas?

Speaker 2: 00:44 Well, I think it's important for us all to take personal responsibility and I like to remember that our parents and our grandparents have been through times much tougher than these. These are tough times, but people survive. People get through, and in fact, people grow. And for our generation, if we're younger than a 60 our generation, we've not experienced the really tough times. But if you're in your late sixties, seventies, or 80s, you remember very tough times. And so I like to remember our parents and grandparents had tough times before they survived. We're going to survive this and maybe even grow from it.

Speaker 1: 01:23 In your appointments with your existing clients, have they brought up concerns over Corona virus?

Speaker 2: 01:28 They do. Uh, some their own lives have such urgent turmoil that we try and stay focused there. But others they find, they'll laugh and say, you know, if I come for this issue, but what's going on out there in the world is so much worse right now I feel like I'm being silly even having a complaint and we have to manage that. But a lot of people they do need counsel, you know, if they're already depressed, are already suffering anxiety or anger management issues. Everything enters a new context and we try and make it relevant to today's issues on uh, you know, self care and self.

Speaker 1: 02:06 What are some tips you give your clients who are experiencing distress over concerns about coronavirus?

Speaker 2: 02:12 I like to tell them, first turn off the television for the most part, unless you're watching something joyful and pleasant and interesting. Uh, because frequently people want to know what's going on and they're watching cable news or the network news, which frequently has very inflammatory video and audio things that increase our stress. And if you're already stressed, that's the last thing you need. And so I like to turn the volume down while I get the data that I need. And then I say to people, you know, if you get your news twice a day, you've got it. Don't keep watching. Don't keep looking for the next threat. It's time to get outside. We have beautiful weather, uh, get out and get some exercise. You know, exercise is essential. If everybody stays inside watching TV, their level increases and their body doesn't get to discharge that energy.

Speaker 2: 03:03 So we need to get out, go for a walk, go for a bicycle ride. If you have a swimming pool, get in that pool, go swimming, it's got chlorine in it. You're safe, you know, um, there's places you can drive to in San Diego that are gorgeous. You can walk along the beach, you can hike up Kyle's mountain, you can take a walk up in the Lagunas. All these are places where you're most safe because you're away from indoor features. I like to say, put on beautiful music. Put on music that makes you feel good. Are you doing art? You know, can you do art that's a very good outlet for people or just read a book that you enjoy. For some clients, I teach them meditation techniques. If they're having trouble with anxiety, uh, and ruminating. Um, I teach them how to meditate and get them to practice that.

Speaker 2: 03:51 And uh, there are meditation AIDS available online. You can go to YouTube and find a meditation narrations and then sit with it. They'll instruct you on what to do, how to sit, how to breathe. And you could meditate for 10 minutes or 20 minutes or 30 minutes. And that's going to be really good. If you're already in an anxious state, remember to surround yourself with beauty. Surround yourself with people who love you by email or by Skype call or by phone and you know, we can get through this if we take care of our heart and our souls as well as our bodies.

Speaker 1: 04:28 Uh, you know, we see signs that some people are panicking, emptying store shelves. How can we counter that?

Speaker 2: 04:33 Yes. I spent a about a half hour at target this morning just to kind of see what that looks like. And I saw the shelves fully stacked with all the supplies overnight and the shelves were full and I saw lots of people quickly taking things off the shelves. There was some people there with mask on and gloves on and this shopping cart stacked with supplies. And really it's not necessary because the food supply line, uh, there's plenty of food coming. There's plenty of toilet paper coming. These are not in short supply in the chain of command all the way back through the, uh, through the supermarkets and things. They're just, if everybody grabs them first, it'll look like there's a shortage, but there isn't a shortage and people have bad information. A friend of mine spoke with a woman who had stocked up her toilet paper and they said, what are you going to do with all that toilet paper?

Speaker 2: 05:23 And she said, well, you need it for the diarrhea. And she thought the virus was going to cause diarrhea. She had bad information that she had gotten online. Um, and no, you're not going to need extra toilet paper for the virus. If you've got the virus, you're going to need Kleenex, maybe, you know. Um, but, uh, people have bad information. So I would say if you're out shopping, smile, breathe, say hi to people. Be warm and gentle in voice. Uh, the more we can connect with one another and, uh, have a sense of humor in this difficult time, the more we can feel at home. When people go inside their head and they look at others and see the threat, it's easy to pick up the anxiety from other people.

Speaker 1: 06:10 You know. Uh, we have a woman, Kim from Carlsbad who had a question about talking to children, uh, about Corona virus. She asks, what should we tell our kids and how much should we tell them?

Speaker 2: 06:20 Excellent question. Because children are vulnerable and we are responsible for the children. I'd say if you have small children at home, children, anybody who is 10 years and younger, 11 years older and younger, they should not be watching any television news because it will scare them. And then of course some of the school children, they're home from school. Why are we home from school? We want to tell them the truth. And the rule of thumb is tell children as much as they are old enough to comprehend. Don't try and tell a small child things that are too complicated and don't over-simplify it with kids who are capable of really good reasoning skills. Uh, so estimate how much can my child comprehend? It's a teaching moment. Our job is to teach them, teach them that they're being taken care of, teaching them how we can take care of ourselves, teaching them about viruses, teaching them about how to wash your hands.

Speaker 2: 07:15 And if our attitude is calm and warm and loving, kids will feel safe. If our attitude is anxiety ridden, angry, urgent, they're going to feel like, Oh wow, mom and dad are not in control. I'm not safe. So that's really, really important. And it's also a good time to teach our older children and our teenagers about teamwork. This is a time they can really pitch in with us to take care of business. You know, teenagers who are old enough to drive, maybe they're going to drive to the store and go get supplies that we need so we can stay home with the kids. Or maybe they're going to watch the kids while we take off to the store. Uh, this is about teenagers pitching in for the home to clean things up. Maybe we need to practice better hygiene at home. Maybe it's a time to scour the sinks and things like that.

Speaker 2: 08:04 A lot of kids need to be still educating themselves. They need to be doing what they can for their school work. And then our leadership involves, okay, we need this many hours a day where you're going to do your school work. That's what's expected. Let's get to it. The young people need leadership. The older your kids can help us out and the teenagers certainly can help us out. But they also need leadership to know, Oh yeah, it's still my responsibility to take care of my schoolwork so that a I can prepare cause this isn't lasting forever. This is an urgent situation which will pass.

Speaker 1: 08:39 Uh, you know, if someone has a family member who is at higher risk, say 65 or older, has a preexisting condition, how should we go about talking to them if they're resistant to abide by the advice to self isolate.

Speaker 2: 08:51 The important thing is for, of course we have to stay, but then we have to try and make a real connection. Tell him you love him and say, look, I need you to do this for me. I need you to do this so that I can feel good. You know, I can't feel good unless you are taking care of you dad, mom, grandpa, whoever, grandma, you know, we have the experts. They're sharing the advice. You know, let's follow it. Let's you and I follow it. For some, we might be taking care of parents who don't know how to keep good reasoning skills and we may have to intervene for others. We can call on their better reasoning skills and ask them to follow the advice of the experts that are from the epidemiology and places like that. But some will be resistant and uh, to be able to say, okay, I understand you feel that there's no need, but can you do this for me? Do this because you love me and because I love you.

Speaker 1: 09:51 And in the few seconds we have left, how can people help others who may be extremely worried?

Speaker 2: 09:58 When you see a friend, a loved one, a next door neighbor who's really worried, I like to take a breath, flex my muscles and get myself relaxed and I say warmly, Hey, how you doing? And they'll vent for a while about everything they see or hear or how bad it is. And I'll say, it does look bad. Doesn't it say, is there anything I can do to help you? Anything I can do to help you feel better right now? Maybe they have a request, maybe they don't, and then I like to say, well, are you prepared? Ask them what they've done so far. Maybe they've over-prepared, you know? Then I can say, it looks like you've done everything you need. I note, I just use that reassuring voice and I say, it looks like you're doing everything you need. I think you're going to be just fine.

Speaker 2: 10:40 Let's you and I be good neighbors. Let's you and I be good family members and we'll look out for one another. But I think you're looking like you're taking care of yourself quite well. Now maybe there's a neighbor who's not well prepared and they are just discovering that they're not well prepared. Well maybe there's something I can share with them. Maybe there's a way I can help them be prepared, but when I help them, I have to be the calmest person in the room. I have to be the most loving voice that I can find. Let's practice compassion, take lung so deep, slow, deep breaths and pull up a feeling of compassion in your heart, and that's how you reach out to the out to the person who's near you, who's panicking or who is getting angry or very upset at this situation. The more I can show my care and concern and calm, the more they will feel it from me and they will self calm.

Speaker 1: 11:35 I've been speaking to marriage and family therapist, David Peters. David, thank you so much for joining us. It's good to be with you. Jade.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.