‘Focus on what you can control rather than what is out of your control’

Social worker, pastors outline mental health, coping issues with COVID-19

By SERENITY BISHOP
The Sun 

The COVID-19 pandemic has produced fear and anxiety that may increase as the novel coronavirus continues to spread. 

The virus is worldwide and has already affected Burlington County, with 49 positive COVID-19 cases in the county as of March 24.

Vanessa Zoog – a therapist, owner of Serenity Counseling in Burlington County and licensed clinical social worker who specializes in mental health therapy – believes that while the situation can be overwhelming, people shouldn’t worry obsessively. 

“The situation we are currently in is very overwhelming and having some level of fear is completely normal,” she said. “However, obsessive worry about COVID-19 will not make you any less likely to contract it. 

“Worrying will not change the situation, but being diligent about washing your hands and following [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines will,” Zoog added. 

“Focus on what you can control rather than what is out of your control.” 

Not only does Zoog believe that following CDC guidelines will lessen fear and anxiety about the novel coronavirus, nut she believes it is equally important to find methods of distraction. She suggests turning off the news and watching a movie, reading a book, doing a puzzle or taking a walk. 

“Many of the usual things people do to distract themselves from worrying, like exercising at a gym, going out with a friend or going to church are not available to us right now, so it is exceptionally important to find other methods of distraction,” said Zoog.  

“Stay as close to your normal routine as possible – just adapt it to staying home,” she added. “Use virtual methods to hang out with friends or challenge your kids to a game of tag for exercise rather than running on a treadmill. 

“We don’t have to give everything up, we just need to figure out a new way to do them.”

Zoog’s suggestions also address anxiety and fear in children. Sticking to a routine and providing reassurance and factual information can alleviate some of that anxiety for both parents and children.

Children thrive on routine, and with our current situation, that could be especially difficult on them,” the social worker explained. ”Helping children feel they have some control over the situation through keeping their hands clean and not spending time with anyone outside of their home will empower them and make them feel less worried.

“Encourage them to focus on the positive and the fact that the vast majority of people recover from the virus,” Zoog added. “Listen to their concerns and validate their feelings. There will be a lot of disappointments over the next few weeks with events being canceled.”

Zoog alluded to her own children’s anxiety about the pandemic.

“With my own kids, we’ve tried to stay to a looser version of our daily routine, giving us more time to relax over breakfast before they log into school, and taking breaks for activities like walks throughout the day,” she said. 

“We’re taking advantage of having more time with our kids at home and treasuring the lack of running around by watching family movies and playing games together.”

Anxious people may also turn to the familiar confines of religion, but the closure of many churches has made that difficult.

“This is my greatest concern with closing down the church,” said Saint Matthew Lutheran Church Pastor Margaret Marks. “People come to church for lots of reasons, including their spiritual health, their mental health, to see their friends. People who live alone are now isolated.

“That is a very serious problem. We are all trying to find ways to figure out how we can be available.”

The Moorestown church has remained steadfast in its commitment to parishioners. Church members have been given contact information for Marks and Deacon Bill Lawrence. The pastor plans to send out correspondence once or twice a week with scripture and prayer. 

At Indian Mills United Methodist Church in Shamong, Pastor Jack Orr wants his congregation — and the surrounding community at large — to reach out if in need.

“I will be checking in on our more vulnerable members through phone calls,” Orr said via email. 

“I would like to add that if there is anyone who knows of anyone who is struggling through this crisis, I want them to encourage their friend or family member to call me or another clergy, social worker, hotline, etc.”

 Kristen Dowd contributed to this story.