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March Mania

Shaw: 'It's OK to feel anxiety'

Jim Shaw

FARGO — For the family of Amy and Hudi Kobrinsky of Fargo, the COVID-19 outbreak has dramatically changed their lives. The Kobrinskys have three young boys. They don’t quite understand what’s going on. The boys do know they aren’t going to school anymore, can’t play with the neighborhood kids, and can’t visit their beloved grandparents. To make matters worse, the oldest boy, who just turned 8, had his birthday party cancelled.

“It’s hard to explain to them what’s happening,” Amy Kobrinsky said. “I just try to act upbeat, and not let my kids know how concerned I am.”

So, Amy has created a schedule for the boys, where they do walks, crafts and screen time.

“We do better when we have schedules,” said Sanford psychologist Dr. Jon Ulven of Fargo-Moorhead. “Human beings prefer structure. This is a challenge now… My suggestion is to wake up at the same time, as well as eat and do enjoyable things at the same time… We need to remind children that they’re home so we don’t get other people sick.”

“We need to have a regular day as much as possible,” said Dr. Kim LaHaise, a psychologist at Neuropsychology Associates in Fargo. ”Kids are so social. They want to be up and about. They should stay in touch with their friends and relatives with letters, texts, or phone calls. We need to give children the information they can understand and to help calm them.”

Local mental health professionals say they have seen a significant increase in demand for their services since the pandemic struck this region. Staying home, losing income and fear of the virus have been very tough on people already dealing with depression or anxiety.

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“We have to acknowledge that distress and worry are normal,” LaHaise said. “With any crisis people can have more depression, anxiety, trouble sleeping or turn to drugs or alcohol. Not knowing what’s going to happen brings up so much stress for people.”

“The effects of this type of isolation can be traumatizing,” Ulven said. “It’s OK to feel anxiety. It’s a normal part of being human… We have a culture that just says you should never feel pain. Most of us are feeling anxiety. As human beings, we’re wired to respond to threats with anxiety.”

Both LaHaise and Ulven emphasize that people going through the hardships of this pandemic are not alone. They emphasize that people shouldn’t hesitate to seek professional help, and that some good can come out of this.

“This is a good time to be community minded,” Ulven said. “Get in the habit of reaching out to folks.”

“The best of humanity often comes out in crisis situations,” LaHaise said. “People help each other. It helps people have a perspective on what’s important in their lives. You understand how important friends and family are.”

As for the Kobrinskys, the adjustments seem to be working. “It’s challenging to change schedules and keep spirits up,” Amy said. “So far, so good.”