USC social work professor shares televised advice amid coronavirus fear

To help people in this time of need, Ruth White of the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work is offering up stress management tips on Bay Area television.

USC faculty are pitching in to help in a variety of ways during the COVID-19 crisis. While some are making masks with 3D printers or sewing them, others are providing valuable advice over the airwaves.

Ruth White, a clinical associate professor in the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, is among the latter. She found her own way to help people feeling overwhelmed by the stress, sadness and fear brought on by the outbreak.

“I was up late one night — I’m very nocturnal — and around 3 a.m. I was searching for contact information to submit an article on stress and COVID-19 I’d written for Fast Company,” she recalled. “I suddenly thought, this information needs to be on television where more people can see it.”

She sent a quick email pitch to a TV station in her hometown of Oakland and got a response just hours later, offering her a Skype interview spot on the news program that morning.

White’s initial appearance on the program was a hit with viewers, so the producers invited her back for the rest of that week to continue sharing tips for stress management.

USC professor offers advice on stress management, wellness

Fast-forward two weeks and White has become a regular contributor on Bay Area Morning Buzz on the San Francisco station KRON-TV. Several times a week, she appears via Skype to talk about stress management and emotional and physical wellness.

Consistent with the unpredictable nature of television news, the producers often throw her a curveball. She was surprised when she was asked to comment on a controversial series of interviews with college students who ignored public health warnings and traveled to Florida for spring break vacation. White responded without judgment but with compassion: “Young adults are used to taking risks. They are also being defiant: ‘You can’t control me; you can’t tell me what to do.’”

She explained that young people may be more likely to listen to health professionals about slowing or stopping the spread of this virus.

“Because of the nature of the illness and the fact that the majority of younger people have mild or moderate symptoms — or no symptoms at all — they feel they’re not at risk. They need clear, accurate information about the risks to their families and communities,” she said.

On another day, she expressed empathy for the complex feelings people are experiencing at this moment, including anticipatory grief about what is still to come.

“Most of us have never experienced anything like this. I think the hard part is the fear.”

“Most of us have never experienced anything like this,” she said. “I think the hard part is the fear. All of us are hearing about people we know now who have COVID-19. Members of my own family have it. It’s getting personal. It’s now real … Everyone is feeling, what will happen to my loved one? Because of course, the unique situation is that you can’t go to the hospital and hold someone’s hand. And if they do die, you can’t hold a funeral or a memorial. Mourning alone is going to make people more at risk for depression.”

Students, parents and the elderly all need assistance with stress management

White draws on her own experiences to offer advice that people are desperate to hear. She thinks often about the unique pressures on her students. Many have emailed her asking for extensions on their assignments, and “some of them are freaking out.”“ She considers the challenges facing people who are suddenly working at home, while caring for young children or for elderly parents.

“I understand the unique pressures of sheltering in place and the stress it’s creating for people of all ages and situations,” she said.

She plans to share more tips on dealing with stress via short videos posted online — something she’s used in her work for creating healthier and happier workplaces, workforces, classrooms and communities.

“I’ve been online for several years now with USC and it’s second nature for me to communicate using these different tools, including videos,” she said. “I’m thinking of doing more content for my students, and then offering it up more widely.”

By Jenesse Miller

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