Mental Wellbeing: coping with stress and anxiety during COVID-19 times



Mental Wellbeing: coping with stress and anxiety during COVID-19 times

An interview with UCCI Faculty:

Dr. Alexandra Bodden – UCCI Psychologist & Counselor

Dr. Sandra Lee Samuels - Psychologist and UCCI Assistant Professor of Psychology

written by Mark Muckenfuss – UCCI Adjunct Instructor


It’s normal to feel some anxiety these days, Alexandra Bodden says.

Given the current battle with the coronavirus pandemic and the social upheaval it has caused, most people are dealing with some resulting stress.

Bodden, an adjunct instructor in psychology and counselor at the University College of the Cayman Islands, says people typically have trouble when life is unpredictable. She is among several mental health experts working at UCCI.

“Humans by nature don’t like change,” Bodden said, speaking from her home this week. She, like most Caymanians, is staying home and working remotely. But, she added, there are strategies people can use to help ease any anxiety they might be feeling.

In her practice, Bodden, a UCCI alumna who holds a master’s degree and a doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University in Florida, deals with adults as well as teenage clients. She’s had several new referrals since the current crisis began, she said.

“It’s a scary time,” she said. But, she added, coping mechanisms can help navigate the unfamiliar terrain.

First, she said, it’s helpful to maintain a routine while being at home. “Get up, have breakfast, take a shower, get dressed,” she said. “Take breaks throughout the day and find things to do, especially things that are productive.”

There are ways to look at the restrictions in a positive light, Bodden said. “There are lots of new opportunities that can come from this,” she said. “Focus on what you can do.” Some of the things she suggests include the following:

  • Tackle a home project or two that you haven’t had time to do before.
  • Set time aside for family fun, such as a board game or watching a video together.
  • Do some yoga or meditation.
  • Get out and exercise.

The current government guidelines limit outdoor exercise to 90 minutes. Bodden says, take advantage of that. “Walking and exercise are great ways to burn off energy and get some fresh air,” she said. “Get out in the sunlight. Sunlight helps with vitamin D and with your mood. ”For friends and family that might be prone to anxiety, Bodden said there are things to watch for that indicate a decline in mental health:

  • Difficulty sleeping;
  • Changes in appetite;
  • Increased drinking or smoking; even
  • Complaints about bodily aches or pains.

UCCI Assistant Professor of Psychology Sandra Lee Samuels said depression could be subtle at first, so changes in hygiene, such as not brushing one’s teeth or showering, can also be a warning sign of depression.

Children, she said, can be particularly susceptible to anxiety, but often do not show it.  “They will experience a whole lot, but they tend to internalize it,” she said. Parents need to provide “warmth, support, and initiate dialogue. Ask them, ‘What’s happening. What are they feeling? What do you miss most? What can we do to fill that void?’”

Given the kinds of things that can propagate on the internet, Samuels said, “you might want to restrict the amount of time (children and adolescents) spend with their electronic devices. There’s a lot of scary stuff out there, and this can cause trauma.”

Bodden advised that adults consider limiting their own exposure.

“Avoid social media,” she said. “When you’re constantly bombarded, it can become overwhelming.”

Samuels suggested this is an ideal time to strengthen family ties.

“Now is a great time to mend fences and rebuild relationships,” she said. “Plan regular family activities, such as games or movie nights.” Some families she knows are reading scripture and singing hymns as a group. And there is the old standby of sitting down to dinner together.

“The children can help in the preparation,” Samuels said. “They can set the table and help to clear. Involve them in those activities.”

While everyone is isolating at home to stop the spread of the virus, Samuels said it is important not to let teens isolate too much. Parents need to make sure teens, famous for holding up in their rooms and avoiding family members, are socially engaged beyond the digital world.

The digital world comes in handy; however, when connecting with people outside of your home.

“For me, it’s important that I network, so I know the important people in my life are OK,” Samuels said. “Social support is important. Have a specific time to check-in.  For example, if you have elderly parents, maybe call them twice a day. Make sure they’ve had a good day and that they are taking their medications. Other individuals you can check on once a week or every other day, depending on the need.”

She said people should look at the current situation as an opportunity to improve their family lives and themselves holistically. But, given that there may be government-imposed restrictions on movement for a protracted amount of time, it is good to take care of any problem issues now.

“What you are doing now will be a predictor of what you will be doing in the future,” Samuels said. “Do not wait until after the fact.”

Keep the dialogues open, and on a positive footing, she added.

“This is really a time to reflect and build important relationships and self-awareness,” she said. “If we do that, we can come out of this much stronger.”

If you or someone you know needs additional help, call the Cayman Islands mental health hotline at 800-534-6463.