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Anxious about a return to normal? How to rework your schedule amidst change

Officials at Bangor's Northern Light Acadia Hospital say clients have expressed anxiety about the return to some type of 'normal' amidst Maine's reopening plans.

BANGOR, Maine — Since mid-March, daily life for most of us has been filled by change after change. Most Mainers are eager to return to some type of normal, as Governor Janet Mills' reopening plan moves forward month by month -- but that doesn't mean anxiety isn't still looming.

Officials at Northern Light Acadia Hospital in Bangor say they've had clients express fear and stress about what life may look like, as we navigate the coronavirus pandemic, while trying to open businesses again and return to workplaces. 

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Angela Fileccia is a manager for healthy life resources at Northern Light Acadia Hospital. Some positive news -- she says the anxiety that people are experiencing is natural during times like these for a number of reasons.

First, this pandemic is lasting a lot longer than crisis events in our lives normally would. It's human instinct to want to avert crises as fast as we can. Since COVID-19 is affecting basically every aspect of life, we can't do that at this point.

"Most of the time when people experience a crisis, that crisis is singularly affecting a portion of their life, versus a pandemic like this," Fileccia explained to NEWS CENTER Maine via Zoom. "Every single aspect of people's lives has been impacted."

When it comes to returning to the workplace, some people are worried about their health and safety, while others are concerned about child care, since schools are closed. To add to that, most of our go-to social outlets are not available, as a means to relieve stress.

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Fileccia says our anxiety is actually a biological response to try to keep us safe. In a situation like this, our brains basically jump into a 'fight or flight' mode and release stress hormones. 'Fight or flight' isn't always literal, either -- for some of us, we may just feel disconnected or be more cranky. 

So, how do we navigate the anxiety that accompanies the uncertainty most of us are feeling right now? Fileccia says it starts with simply feeling your feelings. It's normal to have a sense of discomfort or upheaval right now, so allow yourself 15 minutes to an hour each day to actually feel miserable. Afterwards, find a way to move on, so it doesn't take over your entire day. 

Fileccia says that while you're structuring a 'new normal' for yourself, you should do it in chunks of time, since it's bound to change. That way when it does, you won't feel as overwhelmed or defeated.

"You might even decide to say, 'Okay, what’s going to be my new normal for this particular week?,'" Fileccia suggests. "(Lay) out the schedule per week for yourself. That way, you’re ready for the change, because changes are going to happen -- and yet, humans really like schedule."

In the schedule you create, Fileccia says you should try to include some kind of physical activity. You should also try to spend more time outdoors, less time on technology, and watch the amount of substances you're consuming (i.e. alcohol, caffeine, etc.) Getting a good amount of sleep each night is also important to mental health.

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Fileccia is asking people to watch out for a few things during these tough and uneasy times -- the feeling as if you can't get out of bed, not being able to sleep, having trouble getting through the day. Those could all be signs of a more significant illness, like clinical depression, which involves a two-week time frame of depressive symptoms.

The coronavirus pandemic could be a catalyst for something like clinical depression or major depressive disorder, so if you're need in help, you should reach out to an expert. That can include calling the Maine Crisis Hotline for immediate need at 1-888-568-1112, or scheduling appointments (even via telehealth) with a local counselor or therapist. 

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