The Psychology of Quarantine

Dr. Allison Hanauer, a local clinical psychologist in Collierville, TN, explores how to cope with anxiety and isolation on this episode of the Main and Mulberry Podcast. Dr. Hanauer provides listeners with a handful of unique tips to manage mounting worries while maintaining a productive schedule.

See the transcript below.

Anna Bell: Hello everyone, I’m Anna Bell and today, I’m thankful to have clinical psychologist and owner of her own practice, Dr Alaison Hanauer, PhD LLC on the phone with us to talk about the psychological toll call COVID-19 may be taking on us, along with some encouraging thoughts on how to persevere through these challenging times. So Dr Hanauer, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today.

Dr. Allison Hanauer: Oh, you’re absolutely welcome. Thank you for having me.

AB: Yeah, and I know you probably don’t get this a whole lot because you’re typically the one asking questions, but how are you doing? How have the last couple of weeks been for you and your family? 

AH: Oh, you know, I’m doing fine. It’s been an adjustment just like it is for everyone else. You know, going from regular clinical care to telemedicine and my teenagers are home and,  I’m also adjunct faculty for NYU, so all of those students are online that were doing some extra hours, extra classes there. It’s a shift, but things are going well.

AB: Yes, we’re all having to adjust. But it does sound like your plate is kind of full right now.

AH: Yeah. You know, I’m part of the essential healthcare. So, for all of us, you know, we’re thankful to be working and to be helping folks, but like everyone else things have kind of changed suddenly. So it’s just adjusting to those changes.

AB: That’s so true. You’ve been in the medical field for quite some time now. Can you kind of tell us about your background and when you opened up your practice in Collierville? 

AH: Sure. I actually did my doctoral work at Virginia Tech and then I went on and did a residency with the United States Air Force. I was actually specializing in trauma and secondary traumatization. So I commissioned as an officer in the Air Force to get more experienced in that area. And I served for seven years at active duty stations, in a few different locations. I’ve been deployed, I’ve been on the ground in Baghdad, lots of different things to the Air Force. And then, I left the service in 2005 and moved to Collierville about six years ago on a congressional grant for the Department of Defense. There’s a Navy base out in Millington, kind of working with wounded warriors and folks with PTSD coming back from different deployments. And then in 2014, I opened my office here in Collierville. So now I do clinical work really in all areas, but I do have kind of a heavy concentration with folks that have been traumatized. So we worked a lot on that. And then I also spent some time doing executive coaching. So that’s really the communication, building, leadership development, that sort of thing. Which is, it’s just kind of a fun balance for me having been a military officer and been through all kinds of leadership training and kind of gives me a nice little outlet to explore those areas and to help people who are just kind of going through stresses, and organizational challenges.

AB: I bet. I bet. And communication it sounds like is kind of key and all of those areas and kind of relating to what we’re going through now, social distancing and, and being isolated from others has to have an effect on people. I mean, people who know me know that I’m a hugger and personally I’ve struggled not being able to hug my family and friends, you know, for the last few weeks. So maybe you can talk a little bit about what are some of the psychological impacts going through a crisis like this as both an individual and, you know, on a community level? 

AH: Sure. You know, I mean, there’s so much uncertainty right now and anytime we have that kind of perceived lack of control, anxiety goes up. So I think most members of our community are experiencing anxiety. It’s  absolutely normal to the situation. And you know, when we’re anxious, we have fearful thoughts and we wonder what will become of us, whether it’s medical, financially, physically, you know, so those worries start and it’s harder to cope with those worries in isolation. One of our biggest resources usually is to kind of reach out to others and get that perspective, in having a conversation. So, it’s important to find the alternative ways of connecting, you know, whether it’s an evening chat with family members online or, you know, increases in social media communication, and new phone conversations. I’m hearing all the time that people are taking this time to connect with folks that they haven’t spoken to in years, whether it’s from a past job or school or childhood. You know, these are great opportunities to kind of purposefully try to reconnect and share some of those experiences.

AB: I totally agree. I think it’s so important to kind of keep perspective, you know, and really from my standpoint, you know, nothing feels harder than just kind of having to stay put, you know. Honestly, it almost feels like doing nothing feels harder than kind of rising to a challenge and doing something difficult. So maybe what message would you have to those that are struggling to shelter at home? 

AH: Yeah, so, you know, a few things are really important. First of all, we want to work hard to kind of keep structure to the day. So that means, you know, giving yourself a sleep schedule, first of all. A lot of people are struggling with sleep concerns right now and so getting up in the morning, even if you’re tired, getting up at the same time. Having breakfast, giving yourself some structure with activity, whether it’s outdoors, walking, you know, time with a pet, working in the yard. You know, if you’re doing online work, keep yourself a schedule for that. We want to get you up and moving. When I raise your body temperature in the morning, it says that as you grow through the course of the day and you’re approaching the evening, your body temperatures go cooling down and then you’re ready to sleep, you know, at your normal time.

AB: That’s so interesting. Yeah. I didn’t know that. That’s so interesting. I mean I enjoy kind of getting up and getting going, but I didn’t know that about your body temperature and, and what these last few days of being some good weather. It is good to kind of get up and get moving. So that’s, that’s a really good idea.

AH: Well, I think there’s no tendency right now for folks that are new furloughed or not doing those online meetings in the morning, that sort of thing to kind of sleep later, ease into the day, still watch TV, social media, that kind of thing. And that doesn’t really signal to your body that your day is starting. So we want to kind of give that signal by moving around, getting some fresh air, getting that fuel, that food in there and that will protect your ability to sleep at night, which then will do all kinds of wonderful things. It’s going to help offset anxiety. It’s going to help you maintain your mood when you get good sleep. So you want to kind of think about that structure to your day. Not, not just for sleep, but also for that activity, that movement, and as human being, as we like to feel like we’re moving in some sort of direction.

AH: So, you know, what tasks are you accomplishing? If there’s something that you can do right now that you haven’t gotten around to, but there’s something that will give you some sense of purpose each day. I’m hearing from a lot of folks that the night before they’re giving themselves like a little to-do list, you know, just sort of like three items on a sticky note. Even just so that when they get up the next day, they look at it and they think, this is what I’m going to do, and this is important to me. I’m going to follow through with this and kind of keep that momentum going.

AB: That’s so important. You know, I love the idea of a little to-do list. I’m one to always kind of jot down and, you know, keep perspective, keep things top of mind. And one thing you know, that is been on my mind, is the emotional state and wellbeing of our family units. You know, right now that’s something I’m particularly concerned about. I know parents and caregivers are having to become teachers, you know, and, and students are no longer having schooling and activities that they’re used to. And many of our families have loved ones on the front lines of this COVID-19 pandemic. And just quite honestly, we’re spending a lot of time together at home. So, what are some key lessons that we should be focusing on as we kind of continue through this crisis? 

AH: Yeah, that’s a great question. Is there, if you, things that we want to think about, first of all, you know, we mentioned anxiety, so as these anxious thoughts develop, uh, we want to kind of find a middle pathway through that. And what I mean by that is, if you sort of allow yourself to freely think about worries, worst case scenarios, negative predictions, this horrible, terrible things going to happen in the future. If you allow yourself to think about those months thoughts, then you will be miserable. So you want to kind of structure and use again that structure and activities and distractions, all those other things so that you’re not thinking of stuff. On the other hand, if you avoid thinking about those things that all humans are wired the way we are, the anxiety will increase. So avoiding this pot constantly by sort of digging into TV or social media or something that, you know, prevents you from kind of thinking that through or will ultimately make you feel worse.

AH: So the middle pathway is sitting down for a period of time and even if you have to pull out a piece of paper and a pen, the old style kind of define outward: what am I worrying about? Is it paying my mortgage come June? Is it the health of my elderly parent, or being exposed by going to the store? Is it, you know, is my teenager falling behind in school next year? So sit down and define that and as you define it, then you’ll start to get some clarity on some steps that you can take to offset that. That’s really the best approach and sort of reducing that anxiety and that discomfort. And for a lot of us, when we’re feeling anxiety, you know, we kind of keep moving, we’re not necessarily tracking on it, so it needs to come out in other ways and may come out as tension or conflict or arguing with loved ones. So if we can kind of take a little space and protected time to put that definition there and kind of outline some concrete steps that should help do some of that.

AH: You know, in terms of being in such a closed space, it is entirely okay to take a time-out. You know, it’s okay to give yourself permission to say, now I’m going to go sit in a room and close the door for an hour. I’m going to go outside because my family members inside, you know, we don’t, you know, we don’t have to have such unrealistic expectations that we’re together playing a board game from sunup to sundown and that we are always happy. It’s, you know, these are stressful times so that’s not going to be the case. So sometimes it’s kind of resetting those expectations and taking a little time and space coming back together can be really, really helpful. Another piece of this, I was talking with a colleague recently and we were kinda talking about how the COVID-19 experience is very different for everyone.

AH: So you might want to keep in mind that your experience is different from even your spouse or your child. Um, so you know, if you’re looking on social media for example, and I wouldn’t recommend overindulging social media, but if you’re looking at social media and you see some people say, Oh, this is a vacation that I’m watching, you know, Netflix 12 hours a day. Well there are other people that are exhausted from working excessively. Maybe they’re working for FedEx or ups or something. Cause there are other people who have illness in the family and then others who maybe are exhausted from taking care of young children or special needs family members since every experience is different. So we have to kind of pull back on, you know, this is what I’m going through and kind of stop for a second and think, all right, well how has the stress affecting this other person in my household, it’s probably not the same.

AH: You know, I have a senior in high school and her stress right now is very different than my stress. Kind of remind myself not to compare and to kind of think, all right, well this is my stress, it’s related to some extra work and on unusual or different hours and, and you know, that sort of thing. My daughter’s stress is being young and filled with uncertainty and losing, you know, her social activities, which is kind of the identity of a senior in high school and that her age and her developmental window, that was really a high stress to her. So kind of maintaining that perspective is really useful and kind of getting along. I mean, you know, and knowing how to talk with people that we’re living with during social isolation.

AB: So it sounds like kind of maybe to sum it up in three kind of big, big chunks is, you know, have some time for reflection to kind of get down your thoughts, your concerns, acknowledge them and then kind of understanding, you know, we all need to maintain perspective too, you know, and understand that what we’re all feeling is not the same as someone else, you know, and just kind of take that time. Yeah, find some balance. That’s right. And I know that’s hard to do on a normal day, but add a crisis into the mix and yeah, you really are, you know, have a hard time trying to find that. But it is possible to, to find that balance, right? 

AH: Yes. Yeah, it is. And just being kind of compassionate with yourself in those moments when you’re not feeling it, that’s okay. You know, you kind of took your self, that’s the validation.

AB: Absolutely. You’ve served in our military and, our community for several decades now. Have you ever experienced anything like this before? And, and what have you learned personally as both a medical professional and a business owner? 

AH: Oh, that’s a good question. No, I really haven’t experienced anything quite like the circumstances and the pandemic.

AB: I guess none of us really have, this is uncharted territory.

AH: It really is. It’s new and different. And I think, you know, that brings up one of the significant points about anxiety, worried because of this happening really for the first time for our communities. The question mark hanging in the air, will this happen again? So, you know, that’s a big part of this. I will say one of the things that the military taught me to kind of push forward and gather information and you know, looking at coping with the pandemic, I think one of the things I would recommend to a lot of folks out there in the community is keep sight of our movement as a community, and this is very much a military style message. But what I mean by that is, as you’re seeking out information, seek out credible information, scientific information, and make note of those things that show that we are not static, that we’re moving forward. So maybe if you want to get an update, look to the CDC and look at, you know, how  we already have a vaccine that’s some trials on the West Coast or you know, look at the advances we’ve already made with the CDC and the antibody testing and these indicators that we are moving forward and out of this. And there’s an end in sight because that movement brings strength and courage.

AB: That’s so true.

AH: You know, as a business owner, it’s somewhat unchartered territory for so many businesses right now. And I think it’s making all of us kind of go back to the drawing board and think about contingency planning that maybe we didn’t have before. As a business owner, you always have some contingency planning, but it’s maybe more of a sudden disaster, you know, that’s sort of time-limited or it may be for, you know, other circumstances, but this is very different. But I would say, you know, reach out to colleagues because business owners are incredibly supportive and resilient as a community with each other. So, you know, retell and communicate and share those ideas because there are some very, very creative solutions coming through small businesses, especially in the food industry and retail. But reach out and share resources and kind of continue to remember that you’re functioning in a community of other professionals that are going through the same circumstances. And, that can be very helpful in navigating a pathway forward.

AB: I know I’ve seen so much of this creativity in our local businesses, our small businesses here in Collierville. I mean it is, it’s heartwarming to know that when we all kind of are going through this together that we can make it to the other side together. We just kind of support one another. And that definitely kind of keeps me on a positive note for sure. Um, Dr Hanauer, I’d love to let you have the floor to kind of share your personal message to the community on whatever you think they really need to hear right now.

AH: You know, I just want to first of all say that I’m actually very proud of being a member of the Collierville community cause I think our community is very supportive and extremely cooperative. So it’s a fantastic place to be if you’re going to be anywhere in a crisis. But now, you know, in terms of words of encouragement, just hang in there and, and try to be kind to yourself and to kind of have some reasonable expectations for what you can accomplished right now. Reasonable expectations for how you’re going to feel and what your stress level may be. Remember that we are moving through this, that we’re not stagnant. Stop and give yourself a little time to kind of think about things that maybe you haven’t thought about before to look at, like we were saying this creative solutions with alternatives that might actually, you know, provide you with a new and fantastic opportunities that you’d never really considered, whether it’s in your personal relationships or if it’s in your business development. So try your best to keep your eye on that movement and to give yourself some structure and you know, to have that compassion.

AB: Absolutely. That’s so true. I appreciate your time and your insight, Dr. Hanauer, so much. I know several things you’ve said really resonated with me and I know will with others, so we sincerely appreciate you and your staff’s, you know, service to the community.

AH: Oh, well thank you. I’m glad to be here and you know, I’m very happy to help you over this message to the community. I think that we’re all going to go through this just fine. Thanks so much.

AB: That’s right. And for all those who are listening, I’d like to send you all well wishes from my home to yours. Until next time, I’m Anna Bell.

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