8 Tips to Manage Your Coronavirus and Social Distancing Anxiety, According to an Expert

Isolation and health fears are affecting everyone.
Isolation and health fears are affecting everyone.
fizkes/iStock via Getty Images

While the spread of COVID-19 has become a threat to the physical and financial health of the world, the increasing disruption to daily life is exacting another toll, this one on our collective mental health. To stave off transmission, citizens are being urged to keep their physical distance from one another, leading to protracted time either alone or with members of the household. Coupled with unending media coverage of the virus and accompanying worst-case scenarios, anxiety in communities has become palpable.

If you’re feeling emotionally overwhelmed by the risk of illness or the reality of limited activity, it’s important to reach out to local mental health professionals for guidance. In many cases, telemedicine appointments will be available. For more general tips on coping with feelings of unease during this period of uncertainty, Mental Floss spoke with David H. Rosmarin, Ph.D., the founder and director of the Center for Anxiety in New York and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. Here’s what he had to say about staying balanced in these tumultuous times.

1. Remember that social distancing doesn’t mean social isolation.

Video calling loved ones is a great way to stay connected and feel less alone.Halfpoint/iStock via Getty Images

Leading health experts from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have made it clear that minimizing the impact of coronavirus means lessening transmission by staying home. For people who thrive off social interaction, the practice can be troubling. But Rosmarin says a lack of physical proximity shouldn’t mean a lack of socializing.

“Social distancing does not mean social isolation,” he says. “We can use electronic means to connect to each other.”

Rosmarin says phoning friends and staying in touch can allow us to maintain our connections, though he cautions that social media doesn’t provide the same benefits. “Social media and news might make you feel connected, but it creates distance,” Dr. Rosmarin says. Instead, call or conference people you know personally, one-on-one. Playing online games or other virtual activities can also help you maintain feelings of remaining connected when avoiding in-person visits.

2. Don’t let the news cycle dictate your emotions.

The coronavirus situation is dynamic and seems to change by the hour, resulting in a number of people feeling compelled to stay on top of updates by constantly checking their phones for new information. While that can be stressful at any time, it can affect your ability to relax if you surf news outlets just before going to sleep. “People need to be shutting off information an hour before they go to bed,” Dr. Rosmarin says. “It’s not a good time to be watching the news.” It’s very unlikely an update will be so urgent or pressing it would lose relevance by morning. Sleep is critical to a healthy immune system, and giving yourself an opportunity to unwind is important.

Rosmarin also recommends avoiding scrolling during mealtimes for the same reason. In some cases, it may be best to avoid news or news outlets that make you feel particularly stressed. WHO recommends [PDF] checking in on the news once or twice a day at specific times, and getting information from reliable sources like local health authorities to avoid rumors and misinformation.

3. Don’t argue with people who seem unconcerned about the crisis.

Now is not the time to pick fights.YiorgosGR/iStock via Getty Images

One major source of stress for people right now is the fact that they might face peer pressure from friends or family to attend gatherings when they aren’t comfortable being in groups—even small groups. Others may be upset people aren’t following federal or state guidelines to stay home.

Arguing about it isn’t productive. “This comes up a lot,” Dr. Rosmarin says. “In-laws may feel rejected, or a friend may want to come over. I would suggest a technique called ‘validation.’ You convey to a person that their feelings are reasonable. If someone wants to come over, you can say you’re sorry but that you’re practicing social distancing. You can say, ‘You might feel I’m rejecting you, but I’m not. I want to see you.’ As opposed to, ‘You’re crazy and you’re not paying attention.’ That conversation will always go south.”

4. Ask family members to respect your boundaries.

For many households, school cancellations and shifting to a work-from-home arrangement means couples and children are spending a lot more time together. People who previously had time and space now have neither. Boundaries need to be established. “People need to have a set-up for work,” Dr. Rosmarin says, whether that’s literal (a desk) or figurative (an armchair). Whatever that area is, other family members need to respect that when you’re there, you’re trying to be productive or recharging. “You need to have a certain area of the house where you can go without judgment, a place to either decompress or get things done.”

If you feel a fight coming on, remember you’re in this together—sparring with someone you love and need isn’t going to solve much.

5. Practice a certain amount of acceptance.

Halfpoint/iStock via Getty Images

In many ways, people are able to exert a significant degree of control over a pandemic. Social distancing, hygiene, and other precautions can make a tremendous impact on the seriousness of the situation. But if you’re feeling overwhelmed by possibilities, Dr. Rosmarin says it’s important to acknowledge our control has limitations. “It’s rare these kinds of things happen, but if you look throughout human history, they do happen,” he says. “We need to respect and appreciate that there’s only so much we can do.” It’s good to pause, step back, and realize you’re doing what you can given the circumstances.

You can also try a technique known as temporal distancing, which imagines how you’ll look back at the present. Thinking about how you’ll remember or regard these events helps remind you they’ll be exactly that one day—a memory.

6. Give yourself a few minutes to think the worst, then move on.

Whether you’re fearing becoming ill or stressing about the overall consequences of coronavirus—and for many, it’s often both—there may be value in giving yourself some time to let your imagination take off. “For a couple of minutes a day, it’s acceptable to think the worst and then move on with your life,” Dr. Rosmarin says. Imagining what you might do if you or a loved one falls ill allows for a degree of emotional preparedness, so long as you confine it to a limited amount of time.

7. Don’t ignore your regular routine.

Continuing aspects of your usual routine, like walking your dog in the park, is a good way to maintain some normalcy.Drazen Zigic/iStock via Getty Images

Do laundry on Sundays? Keep doing it on Sunday. Not going to work? Get dressed anyway. Maintaining a semblance of a regular routine will go a long way toward helping you avoid feelings of disorganization and unpredictability.

“Anxiety is just the beginning,” Rosmarin says. “Within a week or two, people are probably going to start feeling depressed, sad, and lethargic, especially since we are distancing from one another. That’s really where the benefits of scheduling come in.”

Sticking to your normal sleep and wake times, your exercise routine, and other practices will maintain feelings of familiarity. It will also help you adjust when the world returns—as it inevitably will—to normalcy.

8. Don’t hesitate to seek help if you need it.

For people already struggling with anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or depression, fears over coronavirus can be especially disruptive. Always seek professional help if you feel overwhelmed. Currently, the Center for Anxiety is offering one free virtual consultation no matter where you are in the country. Dial their office at (646) 837-5557 during normal business hours for more information.

12 Creative Ways to Spend Your FSA Money Before the Deadline

stockfour/iStock via Getty Images
stockfour/iStock via Getty Images

If you have a Flexible Spending Account (FSA), chances are, time is running out for you to use that cash. Depending on your employer’s rules, if you don’t spend your FSA money by the end of the grace period, you potentially lose some of it. Lost cash is never a good thing.

For those unfamiliar, an FSA is an employer-sponsored spending account. You deposit pre-tax dollars into the account, and you can spend that money on a number of health care expenses. It’s kind of like a Health Savings Account (HSA), but with a few big differences—namely, your HSA funds roll over from year to year, so there’s no deadline to spend it all. With an FSA, though, most of your funds expire at the end of the year. Bummer.

The good news is: The law allows employers to roll $500 over into the new year and also offer a grace period of up to two and a half months to use that cash (March 15). Depending on your employer, you might not even have that long, though. The deadline is fast approaching for many account holders, so if you have to use your FSA money soon, here are a handful of creative ways to spend it.

1. Buy some new shades.

Head to the optometrist, get an eye prescription, then use your FSA funds to buy some new specs or shades. Contact lenses and solution are also covered.

You can also buy reading glasses with your FSA money, and you don’t even need a prescription.

2. Try acupuncture.

Scientists are divided on the efficacy of acupuncture, but some studies show it’s useful for treating chronic pain, arthritis, and even depression. If you’ve been curious about the treatment, now's a good time to try it: Your FSA money will cover acupuncture sessions in some cases. You can even buy an acupressure mat without a prescription.

If you’d rather go to a chiropractor, your FSA funds cover those visits, too.

3. Stock up on staples.

If you’re running low on standard over-the-counter meds, good news: Most of them are FSA-eligible. This includes headache medicine, pain relievers, antacids, heartburn meds, and anything else your heart (or other parts of your body) desires.

There’s one big caveat, though: Most of these require a prescription in order to be eligible, so you may have to make an appointment with your doctor first. The FSA store tells you which over-the-counter items require a prescription.

4. Treat your feet.

Give your feet a break with a pair of massaging gel shoe inserts. They’re FSA-eligible, along with a few other foot care products, including arch braces, toe cushions, and callus trimmers.

In some cases, foot massagers or circulators may be covered, too. For example, here’s one that’s available via the FSA store, no prescription necessary.

5. Get clear skin.

Yep—acne treatments, toner, and other skin care products are all eligible for FSA spending. Again, most of these require a prescription for reimbursement, but don’t let that deter you. Your doctor is familiar with the rules and you shouldn’t have trouble getting a prescription. And, as WageWorks points out, your prescription also lasts for a year. Check the rules of your FSA plan to see if you need a separate prescription for each item, or if you can include multiple products or drug categories on a single prescription.

While we’re on the topic of faces, lip balm is another great way to spend your FSA funds—and you don’t need a prescription for that. There’s also no prescription necessary for this vibrating face massager.

6. Fill your medicine cabinet.

If your medicine cabinet is getting bare, or you don’t have one to begin with, stock it with a handful of FSA-eligible items. Here are some items that don’t require a prescription:

You can also stock up on first aid kits. You don’t need a prescription to buy those, and many of them come with pain relievers and other medicine.

7. Make sure you’re covered in the bedroom.

Condoms are FSA-eligible, and so are pregnancy tests, monitors, and fertility kits. Female contraceptives are also covered when you have a prescription.

8. Prepare for your upcoming vacation.

If you have a vacation planned this year, use your FSA money to stock up on trip essentials. For example:

9. Get a better night’s sleep.

If you have trouble sleeping, sleep aids are eligible, though you’ll need a prescription. If you want to try a sleep mask, many of them are eligible without a prescription. For example, there’s this relaxing sleep mask and this thermal eye mask.

For those nights you’re sleeping off a cold or flu, a vaporizer can make a big difference, and those are eligible, too (no prescription required). Bed warmers like this one are often covered, too.

Your FSA funds likely cover more than you realize, so if you have to use them up by the deadline, get creative. This list should help you get started, and many drugstores will tell you which items are FSA-eligible when you shop online.

10. Go to the dentist.

While basics like toothpaste and cosmetic procedures like whitening treatments aren’t FSA eligible, most of the expenses you incur at your dentist’s office are. That includes co-pays and deductibles as well as fees for cleanings, x-rays, fillings, and even the cost of braces. There are also some products you can buy over-the-counter without ever visiting the dentist. Some mouthguards that prevent you from grinding your teeth at night are eligible, as are cleaning solutions for retainers and dentures.

11. Try some new gadgets.

If you still have some extra cash to burn, it’s a great time to try some expensive high-tech devices that you’ve been curious about but might not otherwise want to splurge on. The list includes light therapy treatments for acne, vibrating nausea relief bands, electrical stimulation devices for chronic pain, cloud-connected stethoscopes, and smart thermometers.

12. Head to Amazon.

There are plenty of FSA-eligible items available on Amazon, including items for foot health, cold and allergy medication, eye care, and first-aid kits. Find out more details on how to spend your FSA money on Amazon here.

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The FDA Has Approved the First At-Home COVID-19 Test Kit—Here's What You Need to Know About It

A new at-home test for COVID-19 can provide results in 30 minutes.
A new at-home test for COVID-19 can provide results in 30 minutes.
Photo by Polina Tankilevitch from Pexels

One of the biggest factors in controlling COVID-19 is understanding who might be spreading the coronavirus. Currently, most people are tested when they’re symptomatic or have been in contact with someone known to have coronavirus, but arranging for that test—and getting results in a timely manner—can be a hassle.

It may not be long before testing for COVID-19 becomes as simple as self-administering an at-home test. Last week, the Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization for a home collection kit made by Lucira Health that allows individuals to collect their own nasal swab sample and get results in 30 minutes. While promising, there are also plenty of caveats. Here’s what we currently know about the test.

How does the COVID-19 home test kit work?

The test kit includes a battery-operated diagnostic device, a sample tube, and swab. A person swabs their nostrils, inserts the sample into the tube containing a solution, and then inserts the tube into the device, which looks for genetic material associated with the virus and will display a positive or negative result within 30 minutes. The kit is approved for those 14 years old and up. Those younger than 14 are advised to have a health care provider administer the test.

How effective is the COVID-19 home test kit?

Lucira Health claims that the kit was tested in roughly 100 people who used another FDA-approved test for COVID-19 and compared results. The company says it was 94.1 percent accurate in detecting those who were deemed positive by the other test and 98 percent accurate in detecting negative samples. As with any coronavirus test, it’s possible to get a negative result if the person is tested too early after being exposed to the virus.

Why is the COVID-19 home test important?

Having an individual collect their own sample and get results in 30 minutes allows for those positive for COVID-19 to quarantine immediately, reducing the chances of being around others while infectious. A person could, for example, self-administer the test before going to work or school and know they’re likely to be negative. 

Haven’t there been other COVID-19 tests for home use?

Yes, but those tests typically involve a sample being collected at home and then sent away for laboratory testing. The Lucira Health test is the first to offer both collection and results at home.

Who’s eligible to use the COVID-19 at-home test?

Currently, the kit can only be obtained with a prescription from a doctor, who will likely want to know if a patient is symptomatic before ordering it.

How much does the COVID-19 home test cost?

The single-use test will cost around $50. It’s unclear whether additional sample tubes and swabs will be available for purchase, or if insurance plans will cover the cost.

When will the COVID-19 at-home test be available to the public?

The test is expected to be released for patients of Sutter Health in California and Cleveland Clinic Florida in Miami-Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in the near future. Lucira Health needs to ramp up production to make the test kit widely available, which may not happen until spring 2021. The company plans on asking the FDA to allow the kits to be available to consumers via overnight mail with a doctor’s approval.

[h/t Reuters]