Our apologies to the governor for making him the protagonist in a full-page reader engagement exercise on the cover of this section. But we felt that he was the perfect subject for a story that required levity. Besides, how many states have race car drivers who double as governors?

Our “Phil in the Blanks” was our latest attempt to make lemonade from lemons. When the governor first declared the state of emergency back in March, we added more puzzles to the paper. We have been highlighting local heroes through our news coverage. We introduced Five Questions With … to give a face to the pandemic in each print edition. We’ve been asking you for photos, including wearing your facial protection and now suffering through your bad hair. All of these things are designed to reconnect you to your community, which is all but cut off behind closed doors.

The news right now can be paralyzing. The commentary can be terrifying (and tedious). And the stay-at-home order, while proving effective here in Vermont, is taking a toll.

It feels as though the mood in the last week has changed somehow. There has been a shift in attitude that suggest a lower tolerance for self-isolation and a growing impatience. Which is why we need little things like Phil in the Blanks that are unexpected, fun and light – a life preserver against monotony, boredom and layers of despair.

Experts will tell you that you are not imagining it. These are hard days.

“It’s really the perfect recipe for anxiety and panic,” said licensed clinical psychologist Debra Kissen, of Chicago. And stress, it should be noted, may be a factor in heart disease.

But Kissen, CEO of Light on Anxiety CBT Treatment Center, and others say anxiety can be managed — and social media, used properly, doesn’t have to send you on a mental-health spiral. It also can help you find balance.

Kissen acknowledged the pandemic is unprecedented because of the way uncertainty has crept into “every little nook and cranny” of life. People worry: Is your neighbor’s cough going to be the one? Is that touch going to be what does you in? Will I get infected in the supermarket?

Your brain’s response to such uncertainty is the very definition of anxiety, she said.

Fear and anxiety about a disease can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in adults and children. But coping with stress will make you, the people you care about, and your community stronger.

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 sleeping or concentrating; worsening of chronic health problems; worsening of mental health conditions; increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs.

Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations. But it is important to take care of yourself, your friends, and your family can help you cope with stress — even from afar. Helping others cope with their stress can also make your community stronger.

Medical and mental health experts agree, you need to come up with ways to cope with the stress. And that may be different for each person in your household. That is fine. Everyone needs to adjust to those individual coping mechanisms. But there are things everyone can do to help the process along.

— Take breaks from watching, reading or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.

— Take care of your body: Take deep breaths, stretch; eat well-balanced meals; exercise regularly; sleep; and avoid alcohol. Take art in an analog activity that doesn’t involve a smartphone or computer helps keep the mind active and focused. This doesn’t have to be anything complex or creative: clean a space, rearrange something, read a book, go for a walk.

— Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling. Or just talk, in general. Make a phone call; write a letter. Hear someone’s voice. Why? It helps to strengthen the sense of connection and communication. Don’t skimp on the Zoom and FaceTime, even in a world of tweets and Snapchats.

Set a schedule or routine. It gives the mind a sense of forward progress. Negative thoughts, doubts, anxieties can build up if you don’t give your brain a sense of forward activity. A schedule sets your mind and disciplines your mind to focus on certain checkpoints.

— Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy. Choose personal ways to relieve stress, and don’t feel bad if these aren’t the same methods used by others.

We suggest having a laugh with the governor today. We’re pretty sure he wouldn’t mind.

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