Interview: U.S. psychologist gives advice for keeping mentally healthy when stay at home

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Xinhua, April 20, 2020
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by Xinhua writer Gao Lu

HOUSTON, April 19 (Xinhua) -- As the spring of 2020 comes, millions of people around the world stay at home rather than enjoy outdoor life. With more than 2.3 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide, anxiety and fear sometimes prevail.

"Everyone has talked about it. This comes for every session because the COVID-19 has affected everyone, at least all my patients," licensed psychotherapist Moni Tang told Xinhua in a recent telephone interview in U.S. city of Houston.

Following the Stay Home-Work Safe order by the city of Houston, Tang conducts most of her sessions through video or phone. "Some patients insisted in doing the session face to face and we did it by keeping a large physical distance," she said.

In an unprecedented crisis like this, Tang believed it's natural to feel anxious and even scared. But stress, anxiety and fear are not helpful to cope with the crisis. Tang said the first thing people should do is to change the mindset from negative to positive.

"My parents ordered a karaoke machine when they quarantine at home for several weeks. They entertained themselves," she talked about how her family spend their quarantine time in China. "I share that story with every single one of my clients and just want to tell them we will get through this and it's possible."

It might be easier said than done to lead a positive life at this moment. Tang provided some suggestions to follow.

"The first level is focusing and identifying things you have control when you are at home," she explained. "You can do meditation, you can do yoga, you can do bubble bath. You can invest time to do some of your hobbies that you have always been passionate about."

Instead of worrying about if you have enough toilet paper all day, focusing on spending quality time at home with the loved ones can help people ease the anxiety and the sense of being insecure.

In order to help people have an easy time at home, some experts suggested that making a schedule can be a good way. According to local media, Christopher Fagundes, an associate professor at Rice University's department of psychological sciences, advised setting a schedule for yourself while at home - even if it's an hour-by-hour one.

While agreeing that setting a schedule can be a good idea, Tang argued the schedule should be flexible rather than rigid.

"Rigidity triggers anxiety and frustration. So you want to have a general outline of what you're going to do, but not a rigid one," she said.

According to the professional, it is the time to have "a boundary between work life and personal life" when working from home. In another word, "allow yourself to take a break and relax."

There is no doubt that everyone's life is heavily impacted by the pandemic but Asian Americans have endure even more pressure from the increasing number of hate crimes.

Reports across the United States show that suspicious hate crimes against Asian Americans are increasing in the past weeks. On March 14, three Asian Americans, including a 2-year-old and a 6-year-old were stabbed at a Sam's Club in Midland, Texas. The suspect indicated that he attacked the family because he thought the family was Chinese, and infecting people with the coronavirus.

Local media quoted a FBI intelligence report as saying that "the FBI assesses hate crime incidents against Asian Americans likely will surge across the United States, due to the spread of coronavirus disease ... endangering Asian American communities."

To deal with the double layer of stress, Tang said Asian Americans should not exaggerate the fear and engage in catastrophic thinking.

"Not everyone on the street is going to discriminate you or attack you," she said. "Stress and anxiety are not good for our mental health and prevent us from thinking logically."

She advised people to come up with a safety plan to prepare for the worst. "If I encounter a dangerous situation, what should I do? Whom should I call?" This kind of preparedness can help people feel less anxious mentally.

According to Tang, expressing your anger and fear is also important. By encouraging her Asian American clients to talk their emotions, Tang said it really helped them defuse the anger. "I also help them cultivate a sense of understanding, almost a sense of compassion and empathy, to fight the fear," she continued.

With the epicenter of the pandemic shifted to the United States, about 400,000 Chinese students studying in the country face a dilemma: go back home or stay here. Reduced air flights and travel restrictions make the choice even harder.

An overseas student herself years ago, Tang fully understands the pressure, loneliness and uncertainty the young students are feeling now. To cope with situation, she suggested the Chinese student change their language from negative to positive first of all.

"Instead of thinking I'm stuck here, you should change the language to: I chose to be here to protect myself, my loved ones at home and the people who are going to take plane with me because I value my health as well as other people's," said Tang.

Besides, maintaining connection with people can help fight against loneness. "Maintain connection with your family back in China, your local friends, your international program office at school. Just make sure you are connected in some ways and you're not alone can be helpful in keeping you mentally healthy."

While spending time alone, Tang suggested Chinese students to take good care of themselves "just like your parents would do." To spend quality time at home, students should invest more time in "active" activities, such as journaling, playing music or physical exercise, rather than "passive" ones, like watching TV or playing video games. Enditem

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