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EAP: Good Tidings of Comfort and Resources


Catherine Ragin Williams |
March 30, 2020

The novel coronavirus, COVID-19, is novel to all of because whether you’re 4 or 84, Americans have never experienced a pandemic — and have not, until now, been told to become hermits inside their homes in a concerted effort to “flatten the curve.” Anxiety, especially if you happen to glance at the news, is at an all-time high.

NASA Johnson Space Center’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP), throughout it all, remains a steadfast friend and resource to the Johnson family. While face-to-face counseling has come to a halt as a result of social-distancing guidelines, the team is ready and poised to respond to the center’s needs — just differently.

“We are currently not doing in-person counseling sessions; however, we can offer video sessions through Microsoft Teams, which is HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) compliant for confidentiality, as well as VSee and Skype,” said EAP Director Jackie Reese. “We are also offering telephonic sessions for clients who already have an established case with us.”

Like most of us, the EAP has been scrambling to work within the new parameters put forth for the safeguarding of our nation. And for a group whose bread and butter is human interaction, “it’s been really tough,” Reese noted. “But I want people to know that we are still up and running, all our usual hours.”

[Reach the EAP between 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 281-483-6130 or jsc-employeeassistanceprogram@mail.nasa.gov.]

No matter how you receive help from the EAP during these trying times, Reese emphasized that the conversations, either by phone or video conferencing, are never recorded.

Also transitioning is the group’s ability to do presentations for organizations on-site and offer interactive classes. While training classes have been temporarily halted, they will be back.

“Anika (Isaac) does a six-week assertiveness class,” Reese said. “In that she does a lot of role play, because the way you learn how to be assertive is to practice — and the role-playing is really helpful for folks. She is going to look into doing that by Teams, too, because it’s a relatively small class.”

For Johnson team members who need help but would rather not reach out, the EAP website is a bedrock resource that is constantly being updated with helpful information related to the COVID-19 crisis.

“I would have folks check back twice a day, because Daisy (Wei) and Anika are filling that with resources, including things like emergency loans for small businesses,” Reese said. With just a click from the homepage, Johnson team members can learn about what different counties are doing to respond to coronavirus, health and human services, and resources on everything from parenting to stress to emotional-wellness tools.

“We have two SharePoint pages on our website: one for caregivers and the other for Anika’s Autism Support Group,” Reese said. “And we want to add one for stress and relationship things, whether it be couples or co-workers or parenting. Those are in development, and we’re growing that every day.”

Right now, the caregiving portion of the website is active with national resources. As Reese said, “People are really concerned about parents in other parts of the country right now. We’ve heard some heartbreaking stories, and want people to know that we recognize how difficult it is when you have vulnerable loved ones who don’t live with you. We want them to reach out for support, whether it’s through the caregivers group (which will be ongoing via phone/Web Ex, with links in Roundup Today), or they can also call us individually if they need support or just need someone to listen to their fears. We get it, we appreciate it.”

Parting advice

In addition to concerns about health, there’s also the compounded problem feeling alone and scared.

“We are concerned about people feeling isolated, and we want them to take advantage of positive interactions. This is not the time to spend time with folks that are negative or folks who are critical of you. We all need comfort right now,” Reese said. “I know people aren’t sleeping well. We’ve not had to deal with this before, and we don’t know what’s going to happen. I think there’s a tendency for people to go, ‘I can’t handle this, it’s too intense … I’m just going to do what I’m going to do.’ But we can’t do that right now. And so even though this is really hard for everybody, we have to hunker down and stay safe, connect this way (virtually). Over time, it gets easier and easier to do that.”

And if you’re the type that will not stop checking your news feed or keeping too up to date with numbers of cases in your surrounding area, Reese understands the need for some semblance of control.

“Try to stay away from the news that’s very polarizing,” Reese said. “If you want information, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and the World Health Organization are the two really solid, fact-based organizations. Maybe check your news just briefly in the evening, have your dinner, engage with your family, help the kids with their homework and do board games. The big message here is focus on what you can control.

“There is a small degree of anxiety that’s adaptive in that it makes us pay more attention than we normally would. But it can grow into you becoming anxious about all the things instead of specific things.  Instead of wringing your hands, focus your anxiety about the virus by asking, ‘What are the things I’m worried about? What’s my plan for dealing with each of those things?’ Keep your attention on things within your sphere of control. You’ll feel more empowered.” 


NASA’s Human Health and Performance Directorate also has some tips for coping with social distancing — and they would know a thing or two about it. Click here for more.


The challenges of isolation are well known to the NASA family. Image Credit: NASA
The challenges of isolation are well known to the NASA family. Image Credit: NASA