In this Age of COVID-19, where more than 258,000 Americans have died of the virus and millions more have contracted the disease, you don’t have to be a psychiatrist to know that far more Americans are freaking out rather than mellowing out.
We live in a country where our Declaration of Independence proclaims that our Creator endowed us with the unalienable rights of “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness,” but it isn’t easy to pursue happiness, let alone be happy, when you’re worried about you or loved ones dying from an enemy you can’t see — when your every routine, from eating out with friends and conferring with colleagues in the workplace to visiting grandma in a nursing home or enjoying Thanksgiving dinner with family and friends — has often had to change in the name of responsible public health.
The more Dr. Anne Weisman, the UNLV School of Medicine director of wellness and integrative medicine, talks with people about the emotional and psychological effects of COVID-19, the more she realizes it’s difficult for individuals, young and old, not to get overwhelmed by all the uncertainty and unknowns brought about by the pandemic.
“People are hurting,” she says. “And we should do all we can to help them.”
It is that mindset that’s seen Weisman serve as a catalyst for an online stress relief and COVID-19 crisis response training program for UNLV staff, faculty, and students, as well as the Las Vegas community at large. To be held Dec. 14-18, the program is hosted by the Center For Mind-Body Medicine in partnership with the UNLV Schools of Medicine and Public Health. Called “Crisis in Communities: Healing Ourselves, Helping Others Using Mind-Body Skills,” the program is will help participants reduce stress and build resilience, develop effective coping skills, enhance well being, and increase self-awareness, as well as teache them how to use the elements of the program to help others.
“We want to bring the benefits of this program to as many in our community as possible,” Weisman says.
There is no charge to participants for the grant-funded program. Register online by Dec. 9.
“We want to train 150 people from the UNLV and Las Vegas community, “ says Dr. Weisman.
The program is under the direction of Harvard-educated psychiatrist Dr. James Gordon and his staff. Internationally recognized for using self-awareness, self-care, and group support to heal populationwide psychological trauma. Gordon is the founder of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington D.C. A clinical professor at Georgetown Medical School, he is a former chairman of the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy.
In the wake of the Oct. 1, 2017 mass shooting on the Las Vegas Strip, Weisman learned of Gordon’s work and became trained in it. She has since brought the program to a number of local first responders, the coroner’s office, some K-12 and university students, and UNLV School of Medicine students, residents, and staff. The evidence-based skills she learned included: several kinds of meditation to promote relaxation; moment-to-moment awareness; movement to release stress and increase energy; breath work to reduce anxiety; and the use of self-expression through journaling and drawing to find solutions to previously insoluble problems.
Jessica Maquindang, a curriculum coordinator for the UNLV School of Medicine, found the program very helpful after COVID-19 hit Las Vegas.
“Working remotely and being home 24-7 without outside interactions was difficult…The mind and body sessions became my escape — my safe circle. I could cry, I could laugh, I could look sloppy, and it really taught me to just be me and love me. I learned multiple coping skills such as breathing techniques, meditation, writing my thoughts and feelings, dancing, and embracing the moment without thinking of the outside world. The program is centered to keep our mind off of distractions and negativity, instead focusing on the positive mindset. This process has definitely helped me get through the heaviness of the year 2020.”
Ana Untalan, a forensic medical transcriber at the Clark County Coroner’s Office, found the program invaluable after Oct. 1, 2017. Her office stayed in touch with the families who lost loved ones in the shootings.
“The program helps us to deal with the stressors around us just by centering ourselves in moments of quiet, reflecting on calming ourselves and thus helping to utilize that calmness to help others around us — our families, our coworkers. It has helped me realize that talking about your emotions with others is basically a release of the mental stress that surrounds negative experiences.”
Candace Caterer, an office and grant specialist at the coroner’s office, says she has appreciated learning a breathing technique to reduce stress. To this day, she uses a belly-breathing technique she was taught to calm her for sleep each night.
She says the program taught her to savor the moment, to live in the now.
“Life moves at a whirlwind pace and often we are too busy with yesterday’s regrets or tomorrow’s promise to appreciate today,” she says. “This is definitely a program people should take advantage of.”