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I. Department of Community Mental Health Offers Tips to Residents of Westchester County To Help Them Cope with the Impact of COVID-19
Westchester County residents are all coping with the impact of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). It is projected that the health crisis precipitated by COVID-19 could have a lasting impact on the mental health of the citizens of Westchester.
Public health emergencies, such as COVID-19, can shake our sense of safety - causing feelings of uncertainty and anxiety. While anxiety can be useful because it helps motivate self-preservation, it can also be overwhelming.
There are several things you can do during these times to help reduce anxiety and find balance.
Take Time to Take Care of Yourself
This seems basic but it is often the first thing we lose sight of. Exercise routines are disrupted, sleep can be difficult and we often reach for foods that are easily accessible, but provide little nutrition.
v Develop a daily routine
v Take the time to exercise
v Eat well
v Get rest
v Stay connected to the world by spending time outside.
You do not have to participate in formal activities such as prayer, yoga or guided meditation. While that may be helpful for some people, you can incorporate moments of mindfulness into your daily routine through deep breathing and grounding exercises. Enjoy each moment.
Limit Media Exposure
It seems like COVID-19 is the topic of every conversation. We are also bombarded with messages through traditional media and social media. Try to create a safe space to engage in activities that have nothing to do with COVID-19. Use media in helpful ways, such as a video exercise class, watching a light show or talking to friends and family.
Stay Socially Connected
We have all quickly become familiar with the term social distance. Social distance helps limit the spread of the virus, but can also lead to feeling disconnected. Use technology and social media to preserve and promote social connections. Applications and platforms such as Facebook Live, Zoom and FaceTime promote connection through face to face communication. Share stories, pictures and stay connected with friends and loved ones.
Traumatic events can make us feel powerless. One way to feel empowered is to help others. Even doing something small can help. Remember, doing good things for others feels good. Another way to help feel empowered is by creating your own plan on how to respond in times of crisis.
If the anxiety and stress becomes overwhelming, reach out. The Westchester County Department of Community Mental Health is here to help. Through our direct services and partnerships with our community based providers, together, we are here to support you. Reach out to our office at 914-995-1900. Westchester County’s Employee Assistance Program is also available to support County Employees and their families. Your EAP clinicians can be reached by contacting 914-995-6070. Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
If you or someone you know is being hurt by a family member or intimate partner, reach out. All domestic violence agencies are operational and can be accessed through the County Office for Women at 914-995-5972 or the Westchester County Family Justice Center at 914-995-1880. If you believe that a child is in danger, call the statewide toll free number at 1-800-342-3720 or 911.
Michael Orth, Commissioner Department of Community Mental Health reminds residents: “If the anxiety and stress becomes overwhelming, reach out. The Westchester County Department of Community Mental Health is here to help. Through our direct services and partnerships with our community based providers, together, we are here to support you. Reach out to our office at 914-995-1900.”
The Westchester County Department of Community Mental Health will be offering a free workshop on Mindful Work-Life balance & practical steps to integrate mindful moments and Guided Meditation for all residents on Thursday, April 16th from 2:00pm-2:45. To join the live streamed workshop please click on this link https://zoom.us/j/195176745 Meeting ID: 195 176 745. The workshop will be taped and made available on the county website for those who are unable to participate. For additional information contact the Department of Community Mental Health at 914-995-1900.
II. It’s Not You - Typical Reactions to Stress and Trauma
Whether you’re dealing with a single event or with chronic stress, the following are some common responses that people often experience after trauma. Often we do not realize that these bad feelings are understandable reactions to the stressful event, so being aware of why we feel the way we do can reassure us that we will not always feel like this.
Sadness, Fear, Guilt or Shame, Numbness, Anger or Resentment, Overwhelmed, Irritable
Avoiding reminders of the event, Sleeping too much or too little, Inability to relax, Isolating yourself, Increased conflict with others, Working too much.
Forgetfulness, Poor concentration, Disbelief, Preoccupied, Poor problem solving, Blaming others or self.
Jumpiness, Easily startled, Stomach upset, Muscle tension or pain, Headache
Increase in faith, Questioning of faith, Change in religious practices; Struggle with questions about meaning, justice or fairness.
It is important to understand that many of the emotions you may be confronting are normal. Having someone to talk with can assist you to cope more effectively and to feel more supported.
All of these reactions can make you and those around you feel terrible. People who have been through a traumatic experience often are afraid they will feel this way forever, but that is usually not the case.
COVID-19 5 Ways to Build up Your Resilience
It was Dale Carnegie, who in his 1948 book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, coined a phrase “when life gives you lemons make lemonade.”
On March 16, 2020, in the Ottawa citizen Rabbi Bulkan used this same advice in his article. We can turn the COVID-19 lemon into lemonade. He went on to say, “This is not to minimize the herculean issues we face, just to accentuate the opportunities.” Rabbi Bulkan went on to say, “So many people are either self-isolating or working from home. This has created a rare gift: TIME. What will we do with it?”
As we take on the significant challenge of COVID-19, perhaps we will see the newly available time and opportunity to enhance our immediate and personal world. How can we use this newly available time, take the time to reflect on our health?
One area of strength to focus on is on Resiliency.
Remaining calm at a time when we are all in high alert due to COVID-19, can be challenging. Our level of response to the outbreak can vary. We may experience fear and worry about our health and the health of our loved ones, changes in our sleep or eating patterns, difficulty concentrating, worsening of chronic conditions, to name a few.
To help you keep these stressors in check, here are a few tips to help you strengthen your emotional resilience and maintain your physical and mental health.
Why strengthening your emotional resilience will help?
When you have resilience you are able to roll with the punches and handle adversity with inner strength to help you recover from a setback or challenge. This does not mean problems will vanish on their own (you still have to work at them), but resilience can give you the ability to be resourceful, find solutions, enjoy life and better handle stress. In short, resilience allows you to keep functioning physically and mentally.
Five (5) Ways to Build up Your Resilience
(Adapted from Canada Health Publication, 2020)
1. Nurture your relationships
Friends and loved ones are great allies when life gets hard. Even at times when social distancing is advised, you can always ensure you remain connected to the people that matter most by phone, email or social media. Those strong and positive relationships can help you release oxytocin, which helps calm your mind and reduce stress.
2. Find meaning in your day
Find delight in doing something meaningful each day. Focus on setting goals – and accomplishing them. This outlook reinforces your sense of purpose and meaning in life.
3. Practice self-care
To build a more resilient “you,” ensure you re-charge frequently so you can better handle stressors in difficult times. Some of the self-care practices we recommend are exercising at home (30 minutes well spent will do it), taking breaks from watching, reading and listening to news stories, taking deep breaths, meditating, stretching, getting plenty of sleep and eating healthy meals. Tending to your own needs will give you the energy, physical strength, good health and vitality you will need to power through hard times.
4. Remain optimistic
This is about keeping a fine balance between a positive outlook and a realistic view of the situation. Experts indicate that people are better at handling tough times when being able to recognize the difficult circumstances while identifying the positives and making the best out of them. This is called realistic optimism. It helps you identify things you can control so you can take advantage of them. This builds your resilience and lets you take steps forward despite dire circumstances.
5. Be proactive:
This is not about ignoring problems and circumstances around you. Rather, this is about figuring out what needs to be done, making a plan and taking action with a level head. It may take some serious and sustained effort to recover from a major setback; yet the only way to improve a situation is to work at it.
Links & Resources:
The following links can also be helpful for managing stress:
Ø 8 Practical Tips on Staying Calm:
Ø Virtual Recovery Resources:
Ø SAMHSA Guide to Managing Stress for Professionals:
III. Help at Your Fingertips: Westchester County’s Employee Assistance Program
The Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a free, voluntary, confidential service that is made available to you, as members of the county workforce, and members of your immediate family.
We are confronting an unprecedented challenge. The COVID-19 pandemic has raised levels of concern, fear and anxiety for individuals as we face concern about ourselves and our loved ones. And at a time when connection and support can lift us, social distancing has forced us to find other ways to get that support.
The EAP remains available to help you find solutions to difficult situations and connect you to services in the community that work with your health plan.
EAP clinicians can help with:
· Family Problems
· Emotional Issues
· Gambling, alcohol or substance abuse
· Legal, credit, housing and any other concerns of daily living
Remember, as the time passes after a traumatic experience people usually start to feel better, especially if they are using good coping practices. Still, this can take longer that we expect, especially if the stress is ongoing and sometimes it is useful to seek out more information or to talk to a trained helper who can provide more support.
Your EAP clinicians can be reached by contacting 914-995-6070. Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
IV. Supporting Children & Caregivers
Children of every age want to know 3 basic things:
Ø Am I safe?
Ø Are my caregivers safe?
Ø How will this situation affect my daily life?
We can reassure our children by:
1. Talking to them about COVID-19 and doing our best to answer their questions using developmentally appropriate information.
2. Limiting COVID-19 related media exposure.
3. Maintaining a daily routine so that they know what to expect each day. It is important for children to continue to practice good eating, sleeping and exercise habits.
4. Encouraging social connectedness while maintaining physical distance – Use FaceTime or Zoom, and send photos and letters to friends and loved ones.
5. Modeling self-care and emotional regulation – we cannot care for our children if we are not caring for ourselves. Be kind to yourself, do the best you can, and ask for help if you are overwhelmed.
If you would like more information regarding children’s mental health services please contact the DCMH Information, referral, support hotline at 914-995-1900
The following links can also be helpful resources for children and caregivers:
Ø 7 Ways to Support Kids and Teens Through The Corona Pandemic: available in both English & Spanish
Ø Parent Teen Connect: available in both English and Spanis www.parentteenconnect.org
Ø Child Mind Institute: Daily tips for managing wellness, self-care, supporting and talking to kids and teens, understanding disruptive behavior etc.…
Ø Parenting Support and Skill Building
Ø Little Children Big Challenges
Ø Mind Yeti®: Fifteen mindfulness programMind Yeti on Vimeo: English | SpanishMind Yeti on YouTube: English | SpanishMind Yeti Podcast: RSS Feed | Spotify | Stitcher
V. Supporting Older Adults
During this public health crisis, one group that may be particularly vulnerable are older adults. While we know that older adults are susceptible from a health perspective they may also be more vulnerable to mental health concerns than others. Times of crisis may elicit previous traumas.
If you are an older adult, it is likely you have been able to champion adversity over the course of your life. Use those skills and strategies that were successful to get through this time. If you are a family member or professional working with an older adult, remind them that they have these skills.
As we have all been directed to maintain social distance, some older adults may become disconnected from friends, family and senior programming they participate in. It is important that family, professionals and community members make an effort to reach out to older adults to make sure that they are connected. Older adults may not be as adept with technology as some younger people. If you have a family member that is at risk of social isolation during this time, help them set up the technology to stay connected or at a minimum keep in regular phone contact.
Many older adults have complex medical concerns. During this time, they may encounter difficulties accessing the care they need due to over whelming demand in medical settings. One potential solution is telemedicine. Once again, that older adult may need some assistance in setting up the video chat.
Seven Tips to help our older adults cope with COVID 19:
1. Keep yourself well
First and foremost, as a caretaker you should take all the precautions you can to avoid becoming infected yourself. This helps you but also provides comfort and reassurance to the older adults in your care.
2. Practice social distancing, but not social isolation
We know that one important way to lower the risk is to suspend in-person visits. This may be difficult for older adults who cherish time spent with friends and family members and rely on them for basic needs, but it shouldn’t be the end of the conversation. Social isolation and loneliness can have a negative impact on older people’s immunity and mental health, so we want to keep them connected even if it cannot be in person.
If delivering food to older adults, maybe add a small note or flowers to brighten their day. Or toss their favorite treat into the bag without them asking. Call a little more often than you usually do. Have other extended family pitch in as well by calling, texting or emailing older adults that they may not typically contact. If they are caregivers to your children, make sure they maintain some level of contact with them so they can gain comfort and normalcy.
Older adults should be encouraged to think beyond their usual circle of friends and family. Waving to the mail carrier or neighbors can create a feeling of connectedness and a small level of support. Postpone unnecessary doctor visits and ask their doctors’ offices if they offer telemedicine options to allow them to stay in touch.
3. Use Technology to Stay Connected
To help older adults feel involved, purposeful and less lonely during the pandemic, show them how to video chat with others using smartphones, laptops or tablets. Use apps on these devices to provide captions for adults with hearing challenges.
Connection should be about filling the time in their day with activities they would naturally enjoy but just in a different way. If they typically attend faith-based services, local civic groups or volunteer programs, look into how those organizations and municipalities are conducting services remotely. Most are. And they may even have opportunities for older adults to provide support to others if they are able.
If they enjoy watching old movies or reading, ask them what they watched/read and research some other suggestions for them that they can obtain electronically or you can get for them.
4. Keep elders involved
Some remote projects that children, grandchildren and friends can participate in with older adults in their lives are:
· Going through and organizing old photos,
· Demonstrate cooking a favorite family recipe or share favorite songs
· Creating scrapbook/journal pages separately that can later be put together
· Conduct a pretend “talk show” where grandkids interview them
5. Limit exposure to news
Stay informed, know what’s going on but don’t get locked into endlessly watching “breaking news” on the 24-hour news channels as this can create undue anxiety. Suggestion: Watch a news update in the morning, and again in the evening, but NOT before bed.
6. Decide on a plan
If you can, involve your older family member in discussions of how you’ll manage interruptions of routines and what will happen if they (or someone else in your family) becomes sick. Talking things through, including choosing an emergency contact and back-ups, ahead of time can reduce stress and help everyone feel more involved and prepared.
Stock up. Gather one to three months of medications, and at least two weeks’ worth of food, over-the-counter remedies, pet supplies and other essentials. Find out which delivery services are available in your area.
7. Provide encouragement
Remember that our older adults have likely been able to champion adversity over the course of their lives. Remind them that they have these skills and strategies to utilize now. This will help bolster their confidence and resilience in the face of this stressful but time-limited crisis.
The following links can also be helpful resources for older adults:
Ø John Hopkins:
Ø Alzheimer’s Assoc.:
Ø Health in Aging:
VI. A Guide to Working from Home
Here are some tips for eliminating distractions and boosting productivity while working from home:
Dress for Success
• Dressing for the tasks ahead of you will make you feel more motivated.
• It is also a helpful practice in case of unexpected video meetings.
Set and Follow a Schedule
• Try to maintain your regular morning routine to set boundaries between working and living at home.
• Set your working hours apart from your personal home time.
• Start each day off by reviewing the tasks you need to get done to make progress towards your goals.
• Prioritize your tasks by understanding the time investment, complexity and impact of each task.
• Provide key status updates to your manager and other team members.
• Take regularly scheduled breaks to stretch, get outside and rest your brain.
Create a Workspace
• If possible, set aside a separate space in your home for work.
• Communicate with others in your home that even though you are at home, you are off-limits during your scheduled work hours.
Pay Attention to Burn-Out
• The fusion of workspace and home space can lead to a lack of boundaries and breaks.
• Align with your manager and team on expected work outcomes.
• Ways to create boundaries around work and home time:
• Shut down your computer at the end of day.
• Avoid opening your email or online chat after you’ve decided to sign off.
• Identify an activity that starts around the time you need to disconnect (e.g. workout class, errand, etc.)
• Communicating at a distance can lead to miscommunication and misunderstandings.
• If you notice back and forth messages or negative tone creeping in, use it as your cue to use phone or video.
• Remember that we tend to perceive neutral written messages as negative.
• When in doubt, talk it out. Ask questions to understand your colleagues’ intentions.
A Guide to Managing a Remote Team
Here are some tips for maintaining contentment and productivity within your remote team:
Communicate Clear Expectations
• First, take a moment to plan:
• What do you need to achieve? By when? What changes might you need to make to any original plans/goals?
• Type it up so you can start discussing it with your team.
• Schedule team meetings to discuss if there are any new expectations and what, if anything, has changed with working remotely. Topics can include:
• Goal responsibilities and ownership
• How often updates are expected and in what form (written/email, video chat, other)
• Communication norms (which technology you want to use for each type of message, expected response time, dark time, etc.)
• 1-on-1’s are a time to make sure you and each member of your team are working towards the same objective(s).
• Take this time to discuss the work that is being completed and to check on the well-being of your team.
• Regular check-ins stop larger issues from festering, allow for immediate and regular feedback, and promote open communication.
• Try allocating between 30 minutes to one hour each week, for a 1-on-1 with team members.
Get the Most out of 1-On-1’s
• Pre-populate a shared agenda. This provides context prior to the meeting and also allows both parties to take ownership of the meeting.
• Set time limits on the topics you know you need to cover.
• Start your 1-on-1 with an open-ended question.
Provide Feedback Often
• Regular feedback lets employees know where they stand, gets everyone on the same page, and reduces the chance of a surprise and disagreements during a more formal review.
Share Relevant Information
• Keep employees informed by sharing information broadly to all team members in a timely manner.
• Choose the right medium or a combination depending on the message and its implications. Some messages will require an email followed by a team meeting.
VII. Give it a Try – Mindfulness Exercise
Some people find meditation to be extremely calming in times of stress and uncertainty. This is a guided meditation, where we focus on our breath, and coming into the center of ourselves. Most people see meditation as completely blanking out one’s mind, but the idea that this is required for meditation is a misconception. The more you focus on your body and its feelings, instead of your thoughts, the calmer you can become.
You can have someone read this to you, or you can take it step by step and do it on your own. It’s a very simple meditation. You can do this in a sitting or lying down position.
Start by becoming aware of your breathing. Take a deep breath in through your nose; allow your stomach to expand as you breathe in. Hold the breath for a few seconds and then breathe out through your mouth slowly, allowing your body to completely relax on the out breath.
Consciously slow your breathing down with each breath you take. Breathe in through your nose; hold it in for a few seconds, and then exhale through your mouth. With each breath you take your body is becoming relaxed and your mind is becoming clear and focused. Breathing in through your nose, holding it for a few seconds, then exhaling through your mouth.
Bring your awareness to your feet. Take a deep breath in and exhale. Any tension in the soles of your feet is being released on the out breath.
Breathe in and bring your awareness to your lower legs. You see white light traveling into your legs and releasing all tension and stiffness. Any tension in your calves is being released now.
Your breathing is becoming slow and rhythmical.
Breathe in the light and visualize the light travelling into your upper legs, releasing all tension and stress on the out breath. Any tension in your thighs is being released now.
Bring your awareness to your hips, breathing in. As you exhale, allow your hips to relax.
Take a deep breath in, and as you do, see the light coming in and travelling down your spine. Your spine is filling with light, releasing any tension in the discs and joints.
Bring your awareness to your stomach. Breathe in and allow your stomach to expand with light.
Breathe out, releasing any tension in your stomach area.
Breathe in the light; and as you do you see the light travelling around your chest and heart area. Feel your chest expand and relax as you breathe in and out. Allow your chest to relax.
Bring your awareness to your throat and neck area. As you breathe in, allow any tension in your neck to be released on the out breath.
Breathe in the light, bringing the awareness to your face. Allow any tension in your forehead, your eyes, and jaw to relax as your breathe out. Your face is now completely relaxed.
Visualize a stream of light travelling into from the top of your head, throughout your entire body, filling you with calm. Sit for a few moments with this feeling.
Your body is very relaxed now. Your mind is clear and focused. Your emotions are feeling calm and content. Rest here for a few moments…
It is now time to leave this meditation. When you feel ready, gently bring awareness back to your body, and to the room you are in. Give your fingers and toes a wiggle and gently open your eyes – coming back to waking consciousness.