Mental health therapist offers help during COVID-19

Melissa Paulsen
Staff report

     The outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) can be stressful for so many people. Daily lives are interrupted. A disease like this brings out fear and anxiety in adults and children.

     The Express reached out to local licensed marriage and family therapist, Melissa Paulsen, for professional advice on coping with COVID-19. She is the CEO of mental health for Life Connections.

     She specializes in adjustment-related stressors, anxiety, depression, grief and loss, self-harm, and trauma. She works with all populations from as young as 3 years old to the elderly. She is certified in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, is a Registered Play Therapist with over 270 hours of play therapy-specific training, received Level 1 Theraplay training, and is an EMDR Clinician. She also facilitates Mediation Education and Children in the Middle Classes in Jones County.

     Paulsen is on the Wyoming Library Board of Directors, Paul Petersen Fitness Center Foundation, Jones County Community Partnerships for Protecting Children, Jones County Family Council, and the Jones County Safe & Healthy Youth Coalition.

Q: Right now there are a lot of people dealing with stressors because of COVID-19? What can be done to ease some of that?

     A: Coping skills normally recommended to aid in depression and anxiety include progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, meditation, deep breathing, and journaling.

     Any of the following apps are great resources for utilizing these coping skills: Calm, Sanvello, Headspace, or Insight Timer.

     Journaling to get your thoughts and feelings out is also a great tool and could be a keepsake you look back on someday.

Q: What can parents do when it comes to talking to their children about COVID-19? Are there ways parents can talk about it without adding fear in their children’s lives?

     A: What you share with your child depends on the age of the child. Very young kids are blissfully unaware and do not need to know much. For younger children, this is a good opportunity to teach them all about hygiene and healthy habits! Follow the child’s lead by answering their questions on an age-appropriate level. If a 5-year-old wants to know why they can’t go to grandma’s you can explain that lots of people are getting sick and we’re trying not to pass it to other people by staying home for awhile so we don’t spread germs.

     The older the child, the more information they can tolerate and process. Search for “The Yucky Bug” by Julia Cook on YouTube and you’ll see a video of kids with their illustrations explaining it so younger kids can better understand it.

     Most importantly, kids will follow your lead. If you are anxious and fearful and show this, they will pick up on it and do the same. Use healthy coping skills to remain calm and in control and your kids will too!

Q: There seems to be a panic to run to the store and stock up. How does that mentality add to people’s anxiety?

     A: Fear and anxiety lead to panic, which in turn leads people to overbuy and create a shortage that would not otherwise exist.

     Our toilet paper needs are the same as they were one month ago. The only difference is people are stocking up and buying more than they need, which makes people think they should be doing the same and ultimately creates an unnecessary shortage. Running out of food, toilet paper, or other necessities is scary and shortages, or perceived shortages, contribute to the anxiety we experience.

Q: I read that one’s background and community can also impact how they react in situations like this with COVID-19… Any insight on this? With Monticello/Jones County being a rural area, are we more inclined to be less fearful than places like New York, Seattle or LA.?

     A: Living in a rural area means we are naturally more socially distanced due to living further apart and we can, thankfully, go outside to get some fresh air without bumping into someone. While this may slightly reduce our anxiety and fear, it is not necessarily true and everyone’s level of worry or fear will be individualized regardless of where they live. There may be, however, a false sense of security of “things like that don’t happen here” which is not the case, as we already know cases are spreading in Iowa.

Q: Rather than sit at home and stress about the current situation, how can people cope right now?

     A: 1) Stay Connected – It is important for people to stay connected during this time as humans thrive on meaningful connections to others. Using FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, or any other virtual platform can help you feel connected with loved ones. Try not to isolate, reach out for support!

     2) Limit the COVID-19 Black Hole – Social media, theoretically, should be a way to connect right now but if you hop on Facebook you could be flooded with opinions and information about COVID-19. Being flooded with information may result in feeling conflicted due to not knowing if what you’re seeing is factual or not.

     Watching the news and reading articles you find on Facebook is fine, but don’t submerge yourself and fall down a black hole that leads you to feeling dismal and hopeless. Limit time spent reading or watching COVID-19 related articles or news stories.

     We recommend seeking information from reliable and evidence-based resources such as the CDC and World Health Organization (WHO) websites instead. 

     3) Keep a Routine – Whether you’re working at home or your kids are at home, it’s important to find a new normal. We know kids thrive on structure, but so do adults! If you’re working from home, get up and get ready for work like you normally would! Maintain one space in your home for work and only enter that space when it is time to work. If you are homeschooling, try to come up with some basic daily structure to follow. 

     4) Self-Care – Basic self-care such as eating healthy and keeping the same sleep schedule can really aid in supporting your mental health right now.

     5) Seek Therapy – If you are feeling so overwhelmed that it is impacting your daily functioning, please reach out for help. Life Connections is providing Teletherapy at this time so you can see a therapist via thera-LINK, Google Meet, Skype, FaceTime, or even via phone in certain situations. Contact me at and I can help connect you with one of our therapists from all across Iowa! We are here for you!


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