Shawn Scholten

A licensed mental health counselor from northwest Iowa has some suggestions for Iowans who’re experiencing anxiety in the midst of a global pandemic.

Shawn Scholten works at the Creative Living Center in Rock Valley. “It’s important to separate what is in your control from what is not,” she says. “Focus on those factors that you can control like social distancing, appropriate hand washing, and sneezing and coughing, take vitamins, stay hydrated, good nutrition.”

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, occasional anxiety is an expected part of normal life, but for a person with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time.

“Anxiety is rooted in the future and anxiety then tends to make us more fear- and anxiety-based and we become very self-focused,” Scholten says, “whereas it’s really a time to be other-focused, to reach out to others and staying community-minded — being more interconnected, but in a safe way.”

Iowans have been seeing empty store shelves, with shortages of hand sanitizer and toilet paper well documented. Scholten urges Iowans to respond rather than react.

“I think some of the hoarding is very much a reaction,” Scholten says. “Just take a step and be reasonable, take some deep breaths and respond appropriately.”

Scholten’s advice is to acknowledge your emotions and, for example, get creative with modern technology, using smartphones and laptops to video chat with others.

“You know a lot of people today are feeling a lot of similar emotions, some to different degrees than others, and it just validates your feelings when you hear them from somebody else. It affirms: ‘Oh, yes. They’re feeling that way, too,'” Scholten says. “So that, in itself, reduces some of that sense of isolation and loneliness because you can identify with somebody else having the same feelings that you do.”

She recommends going outdoors, if possible, to exercise or get fresh air and sunshine — while maintaining proper social distancing from others. She says spiritual resources like devotions, prayer and meditation can help reduce anxiety as well.

(By Mark Buss, KSOU, Sioux Center/photo from Creative Living Center website)