Ways to reduce stress over the last year-and-a-half or so during the COVID-19 pandemic could be as easy as drinking a glass of water or deep breathing exercises.

A limiting all the information about the pandemic receives would also help.

That presentation was given by Dr. Mary Berge, a clinical psychologist from Pennsylvania, at Tuesday's Rotary Club of Porterville meeting. Berge gave a presentation on how to stay sane during the COVID-19 pandemic, but said her tips were helpful in dealing with any stressful situation.

Berge is a critical incident de-briefer with the Pennsylvania State Police and Game Commission and she's the Clinical Director and team member of the Southern Allegheny Critical Incident Stress Management team. Berge gave her presentation online on Tuesday.

Berge said normally “information is power” but stressed that's only the case when it's the right information and limited when it comes to COVID.

She said those being inundated — and she stressed using that word — with information on COVID has led to more people suffering from anxiety and depression. “You can't escape it,” Berge said. “It's just COVID, COVID, COVID being thrown at you like a stink bomb.”

Berge said much of the information causing anxiety and depression is caused by what's on social media. “It's a lot of acting,” she said.

Berge said she limits to looking at her information sources one time a day. When she was asked what kind of news sources one should have, Berge said try to keep it local. “I still get the newspaper every day,” she said.

She added to rely on information that's less speculative. “The less sensationalized the better,” she said.

Berge also said it's important to have a routine to provide structure for one's life. She said those who didn't have a routine were more likely to be lethargic and to suffer from depression, especially during times when people were quarantined.

And now with the latest surge being caused by the Delta variant and the situation being unsure as far as what restrictions could be put back into place, Berge said it's more important than ever to have a routine.

When it comes to having a routine, Berge said it's important to not just set goals but write them down. She added she loves the 3x5 cards she has and has a large number of them. “A written goals is a much better goal than a perceived goal,” she said.

She recommended people drink 64 ounces of water a day, adding the first thing she does in the morning when she wakes up is drink 16 ounces of water. She said when one is under stress, a great thing to do is drink a glass of water.

She said physical touch whenever possible like hugs help in dealing with stress. Even hugging a pillow. “A little hug goes a long way,” she said.

Along with hugs, smiling also helps to reduce stress, she said, stating the brain doesn't know if the smile is fake, forced or real.

She said anxiety happens in two situations — when one is thinking about the past or thinking about the future and not staying in the present.

What if this happens, what if that happens,” said Berge about what people think about the future. Or “would've, should've, could've,” when it comes to thinking about the past.

But Berg said she realizes we all think about the past and future. “We do that,” she said. “We're human.”

One exercise that reduces stress is a deep breathing exercise in which one inhales slowly through the nose, holds their breath for a a few seconds, and then exhales slowly through the mouth. She said to do that three times in a row.

She also talked about bilateral sound therapy in which someone listens to music in one year and then the other. This forces the eyes to move from one side to the other, which actually reduces stress, she said.

Bilateral sound therapy also helps in other areas such as falling to sleep, she said. “Trust me on this, this stuff works,” she said.

We're going to get through this. One way or another, we're going to get.” But the key is how oneself gets through this – to become a better person or just to survive.

She added a great way to become a better person is to be “graciously kind to other people. At the end of this, will you be a better person, a better friend.”

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