Psychologist gives advice on how to deal with COVID-19 emotional stress

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Dr. Mary Katherine Fegurgur, a psychologist with Guam Behavioral Health, said that if you look at history, we've always had epidemics. "It's a temporary medical condition," she said.

The phones are ringing at the Guam Behavioral Health’s 24-hour crisis line.

The call-in outlet for people, which always existed, has seen an uptick in caller volume since COVID-19 began its grip on the island.

Dr. Mary Katherine Fegurgur, a psychologist with Guam Behavioral Health, said that if you look at history, we’ve always had epidemics.

“It’s a temporary medical condition,” she said.

And that’s what the doctor says we have to remember through this struggle … that there WILL BE an end.

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The crisis hotline counselors are hearing a lot more stress about finances and the economic impact of the virus.

Dr. Mary says the one word they’re getting most often from callers is “terrified.”

“They have a friend, family member or somebody who’s working on the front line. They’re worried about our nurses and our doctors who are trying to keep us safe. They’re worried about our police officers and our firefighters. They’re worried that someone in their community might contract it and then it’ll spread. They’re worried about their kids…they’re worried that the kids are seeing that they are worried,” Fegurgur said.

The doctor says that to process this new reality, we need to accept that this is a difficult time, normalize the fact that we’re feeling all these emotions and focus on how temporary the situation is.

To spur happiness and cope, Dr. Mary says, try being grateful: “What gratitude is, is that for this moment in time, I can find one positive thing. That’s what gratitude is…at this moment, this very second what am I grateful for? Once you do that, your body, in a normal biology, is going to access those happy hormones — serotonin and dopamine — and those other neurotransmitters. And your brain is going to be flooded with the happy hormone, and you are going to have some happiness.”

Undeniably, we’re all being overloaded with information and the doctor says that’s a major challenge.

“So I suggest we turn off the notifications and you choose, one time a day from a reliable source, what you’re going to turn on and watch for a brief moment,” she said.

Fegurgur also says you should include children in your coping mechanisms as they’re struggling too.

“It’s like a progressive physical relaxation game. So wiggle your toes…everyone lays down and wiggles their toes in the sand. A big Caribou sat on your stomach and you take a deep breath. Stretch your hands in the air like a cat,” Fegurgur said.

She added: “Also, drawing what you are grateful for or kindness…what would be kind behaviors? And you’ve seen in the United States, kids decorating their windows.”

Ultimately Fegurgur says doing the things that are good for you — like eating well, drinking water, getting sunshine, enough sleep and keeping your spirituality high — are the crutches to help you through this.

If you would like support from the Guam Behavioral Health counselors, you can call the crisis line by dialing 311 and then pressing 7.

You can stay anonymous on their 24-hour phone line or choose to have a more in-depth virtual counseling session.

Those telehealth one-on-one sessions are available from 8 am to 5 pm and all these services are free!

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