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Expert Series: Managing Stress & Anxiety: Q&A with Dr. Barry Jacobs and Dr. Julie Mayer, Live!

Living through these unprecedented times is strange, stressful, anxiety-inducing, scary and sad. 

 

Clinical psychologists Barry Jacobs and Julie Mayer will answer your questions on how to cope with the major life change, anxiety and sadness we are all facing these days. 

 

What questions would you like them to answer? What advice do you need to better manage your stress and anxiety? 

 

We will answer your questions on the AARP Rewards Connect page later this month and during live Q&A sessions on May 20, 3 to 5 p.m., and May 27, 3 to 5 p.m

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Thank you both @DrJulie  and @DrBarryJJacobs 

 

We’re in a weird time and a weird situation. We are experiencing worldwide stress. So, it makes sense that we are all anxious. Here, stress is the normal reaction to such an abnormal situation. So even though our reaction to a situation is the appropriate one, it doesn’t feel, right? It actually feels really wrong!  

 

Thank you both for all of your great replies to help us through this time!

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@DrJulie  and @DrBarryJJacobs 

 

How about those living with teenagers, how can we balance their need for independence with stay at home orders?

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@AARPTeri 

Many of us live with extended family, whether children, grandchildren, step-children, etc. While we may feel strongly that stay at home orders are for the greater good, some teens may feel that these concerns don't apply to them. Aside from teens often feeling invincible, they also tend to feel especially concerned about their social lives.They're often eager to get out of the home to spend time with their friends. Many are in the developmental stage in which separating from family feels extremely important.  Should families allow teens to decide for themselves how to behave in this pandemic?

 

Just like you wouldn't hand the car keys to a teen without some discussion of driving safety, before giving a teen the privilege of leaving the home on their own during this time, have a conversation about risks and safety with regard to social distancing, masks and hand-washing. Discuss how their behavior can impact others and help them to understand their responsibility when it comes to protecting their family and friends. When they let you know that they'll behave responsibly, you can give them the opportunity to prove it. And then later, let them know you're proud of their good choices.

Best,

Julie

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@DrBarryJJacobs  and @DrJulie 

 

Many spouses are spending a lot more time together than they’re used to. How can they use this time to strengthen their relationship?

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@AARPTeri 

This pandemic has caused a lot of grief and fear, but one potential silver lining is that many couples are spending much more time together. Many are feeling closer and more connected than they have in years. What are the secrets to this outcome? Couples feel closer when they share interests, a project, a hobby, exercise, cooking, whatever they both enjoy doing. When couples share their feelings with each other, positive or negative, they feel closer. Talking and taking the time to truly listen to one another helps couples to feel supported and cared for and that leads to a closer bond.

 

And when one partner feels moody, grumpy or irritable, the other responds with patience, understanding, space if needed, a hug if preferred, but doesn't take it personally. I recommend compassion and forgiveness whenever possible.

Best,

Julie

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@DrJulie   That is great advice and not only for married couples.  We have been spending a lot of time with the people we live with, and bickering is basically a fact of life.

 

How do we manage bickering when we are all in such close quarters?  Sometimes bickering just needs to happen or does it?

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@AARPTeri 

It can be pretty hard to avoid all bickering! Especially when we are living with others and sheltering in place for weeks. But we can avoid letting bickering turn into arguing or fighting.

 

Try to remember that whatever you are bickering about is probably not extremely important. Try to keep some perspective. Compared to a virus that has wreaked havoc, most of our concerns are relatively minor.

 

Try to keep your sense of humor. Most issues would be amusing if the people bickering weren't taking them so seriously. Sometimes they are amusing right after the bickering ends!

 

Try to remember that we are all stressed out more than usual, so that small issues that we might normally overlook can irk us. Be the generous partner or family member, set an example, and let it go. If you both do this, you'll have taken care of one another and kept the bickering to a minimum.

Best,

Julie

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@DrJulie  With some locations opening back up, how do we navigate conversations with friends and family who have different perspectives on how to stay safe and what is responsible behavior?

 

Some people feel like guidelines are too strict while others feel they aren’t strict enough. How can we establish ways of socializing that feel save from both perspectives?

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@AARPTeri 

Now that things are beginning to open up, we are all struggling with how to feel safe while trying to live our lives during a pandemic. There is no one answer. Each of us has to make our own informed decisions about what feels good enough when it comes to mask wearing, hand-washing and social distancing. At the same time, we must respect the choices and decisions of others. 

 

Socializing can be a bit challenging when people don't see eye to eye. It makes sense to accommodate the person who prefers the higher level of caution. I think it's easiest to assume that they have reasons for their caution that deserve to be respected, such as a vulnerable family member, an elderly care-receiver, or even a sick family member. When we respect each other's needs and differences, navigating these new limits becomes much easier.

Best,

Julie

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trying my best  because this  thing we are going though.cant be with my kids grandkids and family the why I'm strees.And the person I'm living makes me more stress Even my hair is falling

 

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Hi @GloriaR16327 --Sounds like this has been a very tough time. Are there ways you could de-stress? Talk with your kids on the phone? Stay away from the person you live with? Talk walk outside (while wearing a mask) and enjoying nature? Doing deep breathing? There are websites you can look at and books that you can read that will teach you stress management techniques. Speaking as a bald guy, I don't want your hair to fall out! Good luck!--Barry

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@GloriaR16327 

I'm glad to hear that you are trying your best, but sorry to hear that you are feeling so stressed. I don't blame you. It's a hardship to be apart from your family, and for such a long time. And even more challenging, you are living with someone who isn't so easy to live with. Hair loss can sometimes be a stress symptom and it's possible that you are experiencing that. It might be worthwhile to see a doctor about that though, in case there is some other medical cause.

 

To manage your stress, I hope you are finding it possible to take some time for yourself, whether it's to take a walk, listen to music, read a book, watch a movie, whatever might take you out of the moment and bring you a little relaxation. I hope you are able to talk with your grandchildren and other family even if you can't see them. These are difficult times. We all need to find ways to cope the best we can.

Julie

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I work full time and have been working from home since March 13, 2020.  During the period of March through the present, I have lost 2 family members as well as several friends and acquaintances to Covid-19.    

 

This year I will be 73 years old and under CDC guidelines, I am classified as being among the most vulnerable.  I know my employer is preparing to call us back to work soon but without a vaccine I am terrified of having to ride in any vehicle whose prior occupants and cleanliness are unknown.

 

I do not want to be an alarmist and I certainly do not want to become paranoid but I am literally terrified.  I do not sleep most nights because I really believe that if I contract this virus, with all of my health issues, I have little chance of surviving. 

 

Am I blowing things out of proportion?  Do I need therapy of some kind?  Am I going crazy?  What is your advice to me?

 

Marie

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@m578924d ,

I don't think you are blowing things out of proportion. Your safety is extremely important. I wonder if you'd feel better if you spoke to your employer about their plans for bringing people back. If you learn more about their plan, you may feel like you can handle it. Since you have been able to work from home for over two months, I wonder whether, given your health concerns, you'd be permitted to continue to work from home for a while longer. If it's the transportation you're concerned about, try to think about whether there is a work-around. Do you know someone who can drive you? Can you carpool? Many of us are trying to come up with the safest way to proceed. Sometimes a creative solution can be found. I hope you can find some peace about this. Sleep is so important for the immune system. You need to get a good night's rest.

Wishing you all the best,

Julie

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I was doing good social distancing until I had to go to the emergency room last week due to a complication with a routine procedure. I nearly bled out and died; had to have a blood transfusion, and have been recuperating slower than I'd like now that I am home. How will this blood transfusion affect my immune system response? Do I need to be even more careful now than I was before?

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@BeverlyH245887 

 

Hi Beverly,

 

     That sounds like a terrible experience! You must feel traumatized by it! I am not a physician and can't answer your specific question about the blood transfusion's effect on your immune system. I suggest you contact your primary care provider with your concerns. He or she should be able to give you a better sense of whether or not you are facing greater risks. I wish you luck in recovering physically and emotionally from this medical issue. Take care and stay well, Barry

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Hi Doctors!

 

I've been really feeling anxious about my state opening up too soon. I'm no where near ready to venture out but know I will have to sooner than later. How can I begin to navigate the reopening of my community in a way that feels safe to me and my family? How can we begin to ease back into going out in public without feeling so terrified?

 

 

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@mw66451043 

 

A lot of people have the same concerns that you do. There's no easy way to navigate the reopening of our communities. Stay up-to-date on the latest information from reliable sources about what to do. Wear a mask, carry hand sanitizer and try to keep your distance from others. When you return home, wash up. Try to remember that you can only do your best in these unprecedented, difficult circumstances. When you do return home, take a few minutes to do some calming deep breathing and acknowledge that you are okay in that moment. We're all in the same boat. I hope that we can all find compassion for ourselves and others as we face more changes ahead.

Wishing you the best,

Julie

Periodic Contributor

Hi Dr. Jacobs and Dr. Mayer,

 

We are all experiencing major life changes right now. Personally, I probably have it better than others but I still have a significantly disrupted routine, I'm worried about my parents or other loved ones getting sick, and concerned about job security. I feel like I've been thrust into a new normal that I don't really want... even though I'm trying to make the best of it. 

 

I find change very hard. Even positive changes can be really emotional for me. Do you have any suggestions for how I can feel less overwhelmed by all these changes? 

 

Looking forward to your advice!

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@MeganB876364 

 

Hi Megan,

 

     Yes, change is hard for most, if not all, of us. Unfortunately, we are dealing with overwhelming amounts of change nowadays. Here are some suggestions:

 

     --Lower your expectations for yourself. You will struggle with change. Just feel good about dealing with it the best you can, even if things still feel chaotic. 

 

    --As therapists always say, if you can't change the situation, then change your reaction to the situation. Part of that may be (as stated above) accepting the changes rather than fighting them. Just trust your abilities to adapt.

 

     --Keep as much routine as you can to keep at least the semblance of some control. Wake up and go to sleep at the same times every day. If you are working, then get dressed in work-like clothes rather than hanging around in your bathrobe. Bring as much order and predictability to your life as possible.

 

     You have adapted to other changes in your life, even if you didn't really like it. You will adapt again now. Give yourself credit for all you've dealt with thus far. Take care, Barry

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@MeganB876364 ,

If there is one thing we are all dealing with right now - it's change! Our lives are so different from a few months ago that many of us are struggling to adjust. Food shopping feels treacherous. Taking a walk can be frightening. Even in the best of circumstances, change can be difficult to integrate. But we're living in scary times, so adjusting to the changes we have to make is especially difficult. Try to be patient with yourself, and forgiving about how hard this is. Allow yourself to feel whatever grief or fear comes up. If you always try to contain it, you'll feel even more anxiety. Try to take your time, making room for new routines and remembering new protocols a little at a time. Talk to your friends and loved ones about your feelings. We are pretty adaptive creatures. Try to feel confident that you will adjust to the vast array of changes in your life, and you may even help others to do so too. 

Best,

Julie

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Thanks @DrJulie  - you're so right about how trying to contain feelings leads to even more anxiety! Thanks for your tips!

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Hi Everyone,

 

     I'm Barry Jacobs, a clinical psychologist, healthcare consultant and a long-time contributor of family caregiving articles to AARP.org. Many people are stressed out nowadays because of the ways that this pandemic has affected all of our lives. What has been most difficult for me and many others is the uncertainty of this situation. No one has a crystal ball and can predict exactly what is going to happen. So we all live in a kind of limbo that can be very uncomfortable.

 

     How stressful has this national health crisis been for you? What do you do to deal with the stress that you are experiencing? I'd love to hear your thoughts and questions. Take care, Barry

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How can one manage stress and anxiety during these Covid times when it causes insomnia? What are effective ways to deal with insomnia?
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Hi G. Stefano, @gdestefano 

 

    Insomnia can be pretty bad.. I know; I suffer from it at times. As you probably know, it can be caused by many different things--worry, pain, other physical discomfort or even indigestion. Some people have insomnia from a serious medical condition known as obstructive sleep apnea for which they should seek medical care. 

 

     For those who can't sleep because their minds of full of worries and they can't turn off their thoughts, I always recommend a simple exercise: Go to sleep and wake up the same times every day. Prevent yourself from napping during the day. About a half hour before you go to sleep, write all your thoughts and worries in a notebook or in a computer file for about 15 minutes. Then close the notebook or file for the night. Don't allow yourself to look at it again until the next morning. (You may never want to look at it again!) This is a way of depositing your thoughts for the night in a safe place that you can retrieve later. This seems to help many people empty their minds and then get a better night's sleep.

 

     I hope this helps! You may also want to look up "sleep hygiene" on the Internet to learn about other simple ways of maximizing your sleep. Good luck!--Barry 

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Im working with behaviors and everyday it seems to have negativity don't know if it is from not going outside or keeping these forty people trapped in side and with no visitors and no money ? or is it a spirit possesesing our building we get their in building and seems everyone gets sick from wearing mask or is in a bad mood oe is this both? everyone can

t wait to get out of there clients and workers

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@CindyH280561,

It sounds like you are working in a challenging work environment. People don't get sick from wearing masks. Those masks protect others from transmission of the virus that is so dangerous and frightening. Following all of the safety procedures is very important. Sometimes people get irritable when they are scared, so you might be working around people who's moods aren't very pleasant. Don't take it personally. Everyone is doing the best they can. Try to be patient and forgiving in these difficult times.

Best,

Julie

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Hi @CindyH280561,

 

     It sounds like you and everyone in your building is having a tough time. I can understand that. Having to shelter in place is very stressful! I share your hope that the need to stay home will end soon.

 

     In the meantime, I don't know about your building being possessed by spirits. I just think this is an extremely difficult situation that is testing all of us. How will we do with this test? Can we rally our best patience and energies to hang in there the best we can? While it is understandable to be grumpy at times, it doesn't usually help matters. Instead, being grumpy around others usually makes them grumpy, too. (You know, misery loves company.) The opposite is true, though. If you can maintain your ability to be as pleasant and hopeful as possible, then that will rub off on others, too. If you are cheerful enough, then you might make your whole building feel better!

 

     This crisis will end. We will go back out into the world. We will look back on this time as one of the most difficult we have faced. I hope you can look back on your time during the pandemic and feel proud of the way you managed and the kindness you showed others. I think that's what we all want for ourselves. Take care and stay well, Barry

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