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Experts say it's important to keep coronavirus fears in check

How to handle anxiety in yourself, children
Posted: 9:30 AM, Mar 03, 2020
Updated: 2020-03-03 10:43:37-05
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Whether it's on television, online or through talks at home, the coronavirus has been a strong topic of conversation lately.

Some people may feel anxiety from all the information surrounding the coronavirus — which is normal, according to experts.

Dr. Shawn McDaniel, a psychologist with Truman Medical Centers in Kansas City, says one of the most important things to do when checking your anxiety level is to know the source of it.

"It's always good to be aware and seek out accurate information," McDaniel said. "I think that can help with a lot of people's fears, getting accurate information from the local health department, the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and not getting it from Facebook groups or other social media platforms that you don't know the level of expertise of the information you're getting."

It’s important that a person’s first exposure comes from a reputable source for the health information they’re seeking, McDaniel said.

If you're worried about what may be an excessive level of worry or fear and whether it rises to a clinical level of concern, McDaniel says to ask yourself whether the anxiety has started interfering with your daily life.

"So nothing's wrong with washing your hands multiple times a day," McDaniel said. "But if you're spending an hour doing it or getting in trouble at work or you can't leave the house because you're worried about something, that's a mark where you should probably talk to somebody if you are having a serious anxiety issue."

For children who may be experiencing worry or anxiety about the virus, Susan Pinne, a clinical social worker with the Saint Luke's Hospital of Kansas City’s Crittenton Children's Center, says one of the first things parents can do is stay calm.

"Kids take their cues from their parents, and so if parents are calm and seem to have everything under control, kids are a lot more likely to remain calm," Pinne said. "So the first thing I would say to parents is think about your own concerns, your own anxiety, and how to get those under control, and then begin to speak to your kids about the coronavirus."

It's also important to remember what’s new about information related to the coronavirus.

"If it's the same story being repeated again and again, then it doesn't mean it's gotten worse, it doesn't mean it's grown, it just means that that's all the information we have right now," Pinne said. "So just to help them understand and to put it into perspective to notice when it's a repeat of a past story and when it's something new."

For any fears children may express, Pinne says it's important not to dismiss them.

"You don't want to downplay their fears and say, ’Oh, it's nothing, it doesn't matter.' You want to be sure that you say, 'I understand that's scary.' And once your child is calm, then you want to talk to them about any misconceptions that they may have and correcting those," Pinne said.

She says acknowledging the concerns children have to validate their feelings also is key.

"So you might say, 'Wow that might be really scary,' and then you want to to consider the child's age," Pinne explained. "And again, what they already know about it so you can respond to their fears and their questions in an age-appropriate way."

For example, a 16-year-old may want to know the science behind it and understand things on a deeper level, whereas a younger child is mostly interested in knowing adults aren't afraid and have a plan, according to Pinne.

The Crittenton Children's Center partners with Sesame Street in Communities, which has developed an Emergency Kit list.

It's a way to help families prepare for any type of emergency with the goal to be prepared, not scared, in any event.