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Guide to self-care: Coping with coronavirus

Category: Health & safety

By Lane McKenna and the BeWell staff

As Stanford works to reduce the spread of COVID-19 (novel coronavirus), it is also important that we each take care of ourselves in every possible way and that we assist in individual and community efforts to prevent further spread of this virus.

While this BeWell guide summarizes important medical facts and strategies, we lead with the issue of how to cope with the anxiety and mental stress that many are experiencing in this difficult time.

Staying calm, managing anxiety

Even on a “normal day” in history, emotional stress can prove very challenging. So add in COVID-19, and it’s really tough. How can we stay calmer and make wiser choices?

Firstly, bear in mind that as COVID-19 news spreads, it has created heightened stress for many of us. (For others, it has added to existing anxieties.) As James Kendall, LCSW, CEAP, of Vanderbilt University states, “sensationalized stories add to our angst and panic. The stock market has responded with a downturn, and many are unsure whether to travel or attend social gatherings. It may be similar to our response to other stressful world events: HIV, H1N1, SARS, mass shootings and 9/11.” It may therefore be wise for some to limit news overexposure: Sensational news stories can perpetuate unnecessary anxiety.

On the other hand, staying educated means something more than just watching TV news:

To help your state of mind as you process current events, we hope the following advice from several Stanford experts will also prove helpful:

Self-care: The gift that keeps on giving

Tending to your emotional health

Rough day: Be grateful

As was summed up in an article published by The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley:

“One way is to use whatever tools you have at your disposal for keeping a cool head — like practicing mindfulness, which has been shown to both lessen emotional reactivity and help us make better decisions. We might take a walk in the park or nearby woods and let nature soothe us. Or we could talk to a friend — a calm friend, that is — who can help us reduce our anxiety. Of course, our normal ways of connecting socially — like singing together at a concert or going to large parties — may have to change. But whatever we can do to maintain an air of calm, and to spread it to those around us, the better. After all, our emotions tend to be contagious in our social circles, and we should do our best to keep fear and panic contained.”

Lastly, BeWell has also long advocated that each of us carve out “alone time” — enhanced even more when combined with fresh air and exercise. Simplistic as this may sound, now more than ever, this strategy is a useful tool. Take yourself away — both physically and mentally — from coronavirus for at least a while by going out for a run or long walk, alone.
Runners on running at Stanford
Why walk?

Still having difficulty with emotional stress?

  • Faculty, staff, and postdocs can contact the HELP Center at 723-4577.  All scheduled sessions are being held remotely (Zoom).
  • Santa Clara County maintains an anonymous crisis line that is available 24 hours, 7 days a week, at 1-800-704-0900 (Mental Health Services). 
  • SAMHSA’s Distress Helpline (related to any natural or human-caused disaster) is accessible 24/7 at 1-800-985-5990 or via text (send TALKWITHUS to 66746; Press 2 for Spanish).

 Do what you can to help prevent the spread of the virus  

Within the website, Stanford has a list of preventative strategies that include:

  • Get a flu shot. We strongly recommend that everyone obtain seasonal flu vaccination. (While it will not prevent COVID-19, influenza is currently in widespread circulation in California, and initial symptoms can be similar to novel coronavirus.) Members of the Stanford community can contact the SU Occupational Health Center (Stanford employees) or go to Vaden Health Center (Stanford students) to get a flu shot.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Don’t share food and drinks.
  • Clean and disinfect shared surfaces and objects that are touched frequently (e.g. door knobs, desks, phones).
  • If you can, avoid close contact with anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms.

On “social distancing”: Take that as far as you can

Expanding on the recommendation to “avoid close contact with anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms,” physicians speaking at the March 11 Stanford Department of Grand Rounds pointed to “the 6-feet rule,” otherwise known as social distancing, or the strategy of maintaining a minimum of 6 feet between yourself and any other individual. Why?  When someone coughs or sneezes they spray small liquid droplets from their nose or mouth which may contain virus. If you are too close, you can breathe in the droplets, including the COVID-19 virus if the person coughing has the disease.

Going beyond social distancing

While clearly it is not BeWell’s nor Stanford’s job to tell you how to live your life outside of work or our campuses, readers may be interested in Stanford Medicine’s advice regarding COVID-19 as it pertains to community spread. Quite simply, the advice is not to get on an airplane, and even to avoid groups of people altogether. While it may be emotionally challenging to cancel a family reunion or other large gathering, the risks are considerable. See Stanford’s Self-Isolation Guidelines.

A note on the use of masks and gloves

While the university concurs with CDC recommendations in not recommending the use of surgical masks by people who are well, it is increasingly clear that “asymptomatic” individuals (those who have COVID-19, but have yet to experience symptoms) are now at large in many communities. Stanford Medicine recommends the use of a mask by an individual who feels they absolutely must visit an elderly or otherwise immunocompromised relative or friend.

Gloves have limited effectiveness because a gloved finger can still touch virus, and then the glove can end up touching your face, another person, another surface. Stanford Medicine physicians suggest taking a stack of paper towels with you for use, for example, to cover a shopping cart handle or door knob; then, dispose of the paper towel immediately.

COVID-19 symptoms

The current evidence is that most cases (~80%) of COVID-19 appear to be mild. The most common symptoms include fever (38°C/ 100.4 °F) and respiratory complaints such as cough and shortness of breath. In more severe cases, infection can lead to pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure, and even death.

Those with chronic underlying medical conditions appear to be at high risk for serious complications. Runny nose, sore throat, vomiting, and diarrhea are less commonly present.

As discussed in the recent Stanford Medicine Grand Rounds, COVID-19 does not typically “hit you like a freight train,” as do other flus (such as A-1, contracted recently by the likes of Stephen Curry of the Warriors basketball team). Rather, COVID-19 typically starts with cough, then later a fever. If those symptoms progress to shortness of breath, COVID-19 is suspected, and you might be a candidate for a diagnostic test to confirm. Call your doctor.

Read more about COVID-19 Symptoms.

If you get sick

Stanford employees (non-hospital-based):

  • If you are sick (have a fever of minimum 100 degrees and cough or shortness of breath) or are awaiting test results (waiting for the results of a COVID test and currently self-isolating):
    — Contact your local HR representative and let them know if you had symptoms at work, and when they began.
    — Seek care with your regular doctor.
  • If you have tested COVID-positive:
    — Call or email the Stanford University Occupational Health Center.

Stanford University clinician/staff working in Stanford Health Care:

  • If you are sick (have a fever of minimum 100 degrees and cough or shortness of breath) or are awaiting test results (waiting for the results of a COVID test and currently self-isolating) or have tested COVID-positive:
    — Notify Stanford Hospital Occupational Health Services (650-723-5922 or 650-725-6126).
    — Seek care with your regular doctor as indicated.

If you test positive for COVID-19, Stanford Medicine’s current advice is the following:

  • Can I come to work? No, you will need to self-isolate or quarantine at home, following the County orders.
  • If you are a Stanford employee, please call or email your HR Manager. Your HR manager will work with you to arrange your medical leave / sick time and discuss the return-to-work process.
  • Do I need to be tested? You will need to be tested again before you return to work, with the local County assisting with this.
  • Where do I go for care? If your symptoms are getting worse, you can contact the County and your doctor.

What to do you’ve been in contact with a COVID-19-positive individual

See this Stanford guide if this applies to you.

For updates on how COVID-19 developments are affecting the BeWell Program, see Update: BeWell’s Response to COVID-19.