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The mental toll of the coronavirus crisis and what we can do to cope

As the stay at home orders remain in place, a local neuropsychologist shares the key to keeping ourselves calm.

SEATTLE — Washington state health officials say they're starting to notice an uptick in the number of people seeking mental health services amid the coronavirus crisis.

They said it's to be expected considering the circumstances, but there are steps people can take now to keep themselves mentally well. 

Dr. John Mace is a neuropsychologist, which means he studies the relationship between the brain and behavior. He said the first thing people can do to cope better is to accept they are grieving. 

"And you have to remember the stages of grief don't go in order. They bounce around like a pinball machine. You pay a quarter, you get 3 shots, and it's over. When we can acknowledge what stage we are in and say 'this is where I'm at', 'I understand it', it starts to empower people. You feel better. You feel more in control," said Mace.  

RELATED: Advice for extroverts dealing with social distancing due to coronavirus

He said another powerful tool is to ask yourself an important question: "What do I want my story to be one year from now about what I learned during this situation?"

Mace said getting there requires other questions, like, "Where did I grow in resiliency? What bad habits did I confront? What insights did I get...?" explained Mace.

"Right now, we wonder where our reason for being is because there's too much chaos. So when we start to tell the narrative of what story do we want to tell a year from now, we acknowledge there's a year from now. And I will be there and this is what I want to learn from that situation. That's empowering to people," said Mace.

The Washington Department of Health has also suggested some strategies to help people cope, such as:

  • Nurturing good social supports virtually or helping someone in need.  
  • Limiting news media exposure to no more than 2 hours per day 
  • Managing your physical health  
  • Make meaning. (Do something that gives you a sense of purpose). 

Dr. Mace stressed it's also important to cultivate creativity.

RELATED: 5 ways to improve your mental health while practicing social distancing

"Yes, I get it you don't have a job or you don't know how you pay the rent,  but what is the creative solution? It feels scary, but how do we reboot our brain in a way that will help solve the problem? Creativity, play, and love will all help reboot that mid-brain function; and once that reboots, our brain can connect the dots," explained Mace.

If you or someone you know needs additional mental health support, perhaps related to substance abuse, you can contact Washington's Recovery Help Line.

Coronavirus | Facts not Fear