SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD, NJ -- The outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) has been stressful for people, and fear and anxiety about the disease can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in adults and children.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), stress during an infectious disease outbreak can include:

  • Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones;
  • Changes in sleep or eating patterns;
  • Difficulty in concentrating;
  • Worsening of chronic health problems;
  • Worsening of mental health conditions; and
  • Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs.

"In every single conversation I’m having with patients, we spend at least a half-hour is spent on talking about the virus," said Maria Sikoutris Di Iorio, founder of Hellenic Therapy Center in Scotch Plains.

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"People tell me their kids are home, they’re overwhelmed, and trying to work on their jobs, as well as working on instructions from school and watching what the kids are doing," said Di Iorio, who has stopped in-person counseling sessions and is instead conducting tele-therapy or meeting virtually though apps like Facetime and Zoom. "It is very challenging and difficult for families, especially ones that have a smaller home. They’re all together, all the time."

The advice she has for families who feel they are all on top of each other is tp see if they can establish a sense of boundaries. For instance, a parent might work in the morning, have instructions with their children until about noon, take a lunch break, and then go for a walk with them. After that, the parent can say, "I need to go back to work now."

"All of this is new for everyone, and people don’t know how to do this," explained Di Iorio, a licensed professional counselor and marriage and family therapist.

"Kids are having a tough time with this. College students have returned home; they've lost some of their independence and are stuck in the house with mom and dad, who want to them to follow the rules of the house," Di Iorio said. "It's stressful for everybody."

"I’m guiding parents," she said. "This is not business as usual, we have to be flexible. Who cares whether they made their beds today -- no one is coming over to see."

Di Iorio says that one of her patients had to be admitted to the hospital because her condition had gotten so bad.

"Hearing about new precautions took her over the top. For people who suffer from anxiety, this is just awful for them," Di Iorio explained. "They are telling us that there are going to be more deaths and now they are telling us that we shouldn't even be going to grocery stores or pharmacies. It is unsettling. If you are already an anxious person, it can be too much."

For anyone who is feeling a great deal of stress about coronavirus and the social distancing restrictions because of it, Di Iorio suggests the following:

  • Turn off the news ("You cannot watch TV news all day. Watch for a ½ hour pr so, but not at night.")
  • Call a friend ("Catch up with people you might not have heard from in a while.")
  • Read a book ("Read something other than information about coronavirus.")
  • Have a Happy Hour. ("People are scheduling virtual get-togethers at the end of the week. Thank God for all this technology.")
  • Lower the expectation of what you want done in the house ("It's not business as usual. Let things go. This situation is only temporary,")

For patients who were already meeting with a counselor, continue doing so.

"If you are making progress, don't stop the therapy," said Di Iorio, who explained that some people call or Facetime her from their cars because there is no privacy in tight quarters.

What's the hardest part for a therapist?

"The worst part is talking with a parent who is dying, They can’t see or talk to the parent. It’s not the natural way to be," Di Iorio said. "When someone is dying, we want to be there with them, but right now, because of coronavirus, we are not allowed to be there for them. That is the hardest part: to think that a family member had their last breath alone."

Hellenic Therapy is located at 567 Park Ave. in Scotch Plains. To find out more, call (866) 654-8933 or visit www.hellenictherapy.com.

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