Dec 9, 2020
Eliza W. Menninger, MD, spoke with Psychcast host Lorenzo
Norris, MD, about how to help patients deal with anxiety related to
the COVID-19 pandemic.
Menninger is medical director of the behavioral health partial
hospital program at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass. She treats
patients with major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia,
and schizoaffective disorder. Dr. Menninger also treats patients in
McLean’s Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder Outpatient Clinic. She
has no disclosures.
Norris has no disclosures.
- Anxiety related to stress, fear, worry, and grief has spiked in
all phases of the pandemic. Initially, we faced uncertainty not
knowing how to adapt to restrictions, and we assumed that the
adaptations would be short term. Six months into the pandemic,
we’ve moved into questions about maintaining these adaptive
processes over the long term.
- As the medical director of a partial hospitalization program,
Dr. Menninger created an acronym, “MASK,” to help people cope with
the stress of the pandemic.
- MASK stands for Make boundaries, Avoid the virus, Stay
connected, Keep the faith.
- Making boundaries refers to encouraging people to use similar
behaviors from their past routines to maintain normalcy. For
example, for people who work from home, Dr. Menninger suggests
getting dressed and ready for work as though you’re actually going,
and taking breaks from screens to reduce virtual platform fatigue.
People are feeling socially and physically restricted by the
pandemic, and she emphasizes going outside regularly. Boundaries
that help delineate physical spaces and emotional responsibilities
can alleviate the physical and mental clutter that compounds
- Avoiding the virus is a constant chore, so Dr. Menninger came
up with a humorous song aimed at helping her patients remember
their role in avoiding exposure to the coronavirus.
- Staying connected means focusing on the social connection and
feeling the presence of the other person instead of just sensing
the temporary connection provided through the virtual platform. Dr.
Menninger suggests imagining that the person with whom you’re
connecting is in the room with you. Self-care through maintaining
routines; exercising; maintaining healthy nutrition; seeking out
humor; and enjoying art, music, and other stimuli helps people
connect with themselves and others.
- Keeping the faith means remembering that the pandemic will end,
and we have the tools to build resilience in ourselves and
patients. Dr. Menninger finds hope in the way her clinical staff
has been creative to make a difference in the patients’ life amid
the constant changes. She and Dr. Norris cite examples of patients
using creativity to overcome overwhelming life circumstances, build
on their strengths, and reframe the pandemic to find the silver
Marcus PH et al.
Current Psychiatry. 2020 Dec;19(12):28-33.
Show notes by Jacqueline Posada, MD, associate producer of the
Psychcast; assistant clinical professor in the department of
psychiatry and behavioral sciences at George Washington University
in Washington; and staff physician at George Washington Medical
Faculty Associates, also in Washington. Dr. Posada has no conflicts
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