CLEVELAND, Ohio – Ann Guins’ extreme concern about the COVID-19 pandemic began with a family visit.
In March, Guins and her husband welcomed their daughter, son-in-law, and grandson to the Guins Winter Home in Hudson, Florida. Seeing ominous news of the spreading coronavirus, the younger Guins canceled a scheduled trip to get back to their home in Annapolis, Maryland early.
The 67-year-old Guins became increasingly concerned about the pandemic. Her racing mind focused on fears that her daughter’s family – especially her grandson – might get the disease and become very sick, even though they were healthy.
“I was really scared of COVID-19,” she said.
Guins, who grew up in Cuyahoga Falls, started taking medication for her panic attacks, but “the fear was still there. It would build up, ”she said.
She had to do more. In her search for solutions, Guins discovered that regular exercise, medication, and advice helped her build optimism and resilience. Your panic attacks are a thing of the past.
This story is part of the ongoing cleveland.com series, “Coping Through COVID,” which aims to help Northeast Ohio residents manage the stress of COVID-19 by studying the psychological and behavioral aspects of the pandemic. The series tells individual stories and examines various challenges and strategies with experts.
During the pandemic, worrying about loved one’s health, the future, money and so many other things is normal, said Dr. Francoise Adan, director of the Connor Integrative Health Center of the university hospitals and psychiatrist.
Anxiety becomes a problem when it interferes with daily life and connections with others.
Panic attacks are so scary that many people go to the emergency room when they first experience one, Adan said.
Physical symptoms – fast heart rate, dizziness, abdominal pain, shortness of breath, and tunnel vision – can last for up to 90 minutes. “Your first idea is what is wrong with me physically?” Said Adan.
People don’t know when another panic attack can occur, which leads to more anxiety. Some change their behavior to avoid potential triggers, Adan said.
Exercise lifts the mood
As a competitive swimmer, Guins trained in pools before the pandemic. When Florida closed all the gyms and pools, she and her husband bought bicycles and set off.
Her husband George, 77, and a recently retired coach, encouraged them to ride bikes every day to improve their mood, and they worked up to nine miles.
“He didn’t give me a choice,” she joked. “As long as I was training, I would get the fear thoroughly.”
When the couple returned to their Mansfield home in May, Guins was once again able to swim at a YMCA. The facility asked swimmers to make appointments to use the pool to regulate the crowd.
Now the couple are back in Hudson, Florida, where pandemic restrictions on pools in their area have been lifted. Your days are full of swimming and biking.
“Practice absolutely helped me,” said Guins, a retired first-grade reading teacher. “Swimming helps my sanity.”
Getting the body moving is one of the best ways to deal with stress, reduce anxiety, and regulate moods, Adan said. Swimming and cycling also help Guins feel in control of their emotions.
“She’s taking over the ownership,” said Adan. “Exercise is a way of relying on yourself.”
Cognitive behavioral therapy
The therapy taught Guins other strategies for treating her panic attacks.
During her stay in Mansfield, Guins began seeing a therapist who used cognitive behavioral therapy to replace anxiety with positive thoughts.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a way to focus on what’s right instead of what’s wrong, Adan said. Patients learn that they are resilient and can rely on their own coping skills to help them get through difficult times.
The therapist taught Guins that if she had a panic attack, she should remember that she had survived other seizures and that the uncomfortable feelings would only last a short time. Instead of worrying that her grandson might get sick, she reminded herself that the odds were slim and that he was taking precautions.
“It must have worked,” said Guins. “I felt better overnight.”
The therapist also gave her slips of paper with positive affirmations such as “Don’t be afraid”, “You are strong” and “It won’t last forever.” Guins put the notes in her car, on her bedside table in the bedroom, and anywhere else she would see them every day.
“I still have it,” she said.
Good nutrition, adequate sleep, and stress management techniques like listening to music, journaling, and meditating are also effective ways to stave off panic attacks, Adan said.
It is also helpful to consult a therapist such as Guins or find a support group.
“Asking for help is a sign of courage,” said Adan. “Solidarity is more important than ever.”