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Spread the Calm, Not the Virus: A Q&A with Dr. Susan Wehry

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sunrise has closely monitored and implemented guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other health and government agencies to help inform internal policies and shape essential expanded infection control and social distancing protocols.

Additionally, Sunrise has also worked closely with a number of internal and external experts on a wide range of topics to help put the proper tools in place to help safeguard our residents, team members, and communities.

Dr. Susan Wehry is one of those experts. Not only is she a geriatric psychiatrist with over 30 years of experience, she has also been a consultant to Sunrise for several years and is very familiar with our mission and the roles of our team members. She understands how hard it is to take care of one’s self and to balance personal responsibilities at home while caring for seniors in our communities. Dr. Wehry currently hosts weekly support calls for Sunrise team members called Spread the Calm, Not the Virus. 

To share some tips and advice based on her own experience and expertise, we asked Dr. Wehry a few questions about the COVID-19 pandemic and how individuals can best prioritize self-care and help manage the stress and anxiety they may be experiencing. Here are her responses.

Q1: We know you were involved in disaster relief work after 9/11 and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Is the COVID-19 pandemic like anything you’ve seen before?

A1: From the beginning of stay-at-home orders in late February or early March, I was struck by the similarities in the initial response: in the face of well-founded fears and uncertainty, we embraced precautions to keep ourselves and one another safe. There was an outpouring of generosity, goodwill and pride in our resilience. Healthcare workers, first responders and essential workers at supermarkets kicked into high gear. An esprit de corps developed and #InItTogether resurfaced. And for a while, a spirit of cooperation has prevailed. Now, just as in other disasters, that is beginning to fray a bit and we may be entering a familiar period of disillusionment.

Q2: What is unique about the COVID-19 pandemic?

A2: Two aspects stand out—our efforts to contain this virus through stay-at-home orders, social distancing, and closed businesses have had a profound impact on all our lives and is unprecedented in my lifetime. Missed milestones such as graduations, births, weddings, and funerals have taken an enormous emotional toll. While 24/7 news coverage of both 9/11 and Katrina turned them into collective traumas, social media has magnified the collective trauma of this pandemic like nothing I’ve ever seen. At the same time, social media has provided an outlet for public health messages and shared tips on how to get through it that is utterly amazing to me. Who doesn’t know about washing your hands, coughing into your elbow, not touching your face, keeping six feet apart, and staying home when you’re sick? Who hasn’t heard we’re expected to wear a face mask in public places? Or that you can visit museums virtually?

Q3: What steps can we can take to help ease mounting stress and anxiety and help us feel like we’re regaining control of our lives during this challenging time?

A3: This is where there’s more good news from what we’ve learned in the past. We can regain control of our lives and feel more confident and less fearful. And it starts with taking good care of ourselves:

  • Engage in physical activity every day. Twenty minutes of aerobics and weight-bearing exercise is great, but any amount will do to help ease the stress.
  • Spend time in the natural world on a daily basis. Go for a walk. Ride a bike. Read a book at the beach. Just get outside and soak up some Vitamin D.
  • Get enough sleep—this is really important, especially when you’re working so hard responding to a crisis like this one.
  • Look for opportunities to laugh out loud! Don’t have any? Fake it. Just laugh. Laughter boosts heart rate, oxygen flow, and endorphins, the feel-good hormones. So laugh by yourself or with others.

Q4: In addition to good self-care, are there ways we can take better care of each other?

A4: Absolutely.

  • Wear a mask when you’re out in public. Beyond helping control the spread of infection, wearing a mask is also a gesture to others—especially the most vulnerable—that you’ve got their back.
  • Tell each other that you notice their hard work. A few kind words and tokens of appreciation can go a long way.
  • Talk to each other about what is happening in your life. It doesn’t always have to be about COVID-19.
  • And respect those who don’t want to talk about it!
  • Remind your teammates that you’ve come this far and can go the rest of the way. #YouGotThis
  • Prioritize. Do first things first. Keep it simple. This will help keep you from feeling overwhelmed.

Q5: As certain states and regions begin taking steps to reopen and ease social distancing measures, what are some things we should be aware of, and what precautions should we continue to take?

A5: While we’re all anxious to get back to pre-quarantine life, it’s important to remember that the pandemic is far from over and there’s still potential to catch and spread the virus. While you may be able to venture out a little more, it’s important to continue to ‘do the five’—frequent and thorough handwashing, coughing or sneezing into a bent elbow or tissue, wear a face mask when in public and around vulnerable populations, don’t touch your face, and stay home when you’re sick.

Also remember that at Sunrise, there are no current plans to ease social distancing or infection control protocols, so especially for those who work in communities, it’s critical to follow those protocols in and out of work to help stop the spread of the virus and avoid infecting residents and fellow team members.

For more information on Dr. Wehry’s background and experience, please visit her website. For more on all the steps Sunrise has taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, visit the We Are Prepared page on the Sunrise Senior Living website.

Article By: Sunrise Senior Living


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