Managing Your Mental Health During COVID-19

The outbreak of the new coronavirus, COVID-19 is stressful for many individuals throughout the world. Fear and anxiety associated with the disease can be overwhelming and cause a significant impact on our mental health. We recently spoke with a panel about how to manage your anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What are the signs I should look for?

Many people are uncertain if they are truly dealing with stress and/or anxiety. Jennifer Elpers, LSCW with explained, there are a number of stress and anxiety signs we or loved ones should keep an eye on, such as:

  • Change in sleep patterns such as sleeping more or less
  • Change in eating patterns such as binge or emotional eating
  • Isolating more than is required, such as staying in their bedroom more than is normal or isolating in a corner
  • Talking more negatively
  • Expressions of increased loneliness
  • Increased negative self-talk
  • Talking about not wanting to live anymore or how awful life is
  • Emotional outbursts—more angry or irritable
  • Increased anxiety or depressive symptoms
  • Increased symptoms for diagnosed conditions such as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder or Anxiety
  • Decreasing, stopping, or changing how medications are taken (which impact or treat mental health); especially if concerns about access to medications due to pharmacy access

Jason Youngblood, LPC from Cigna added that the mind and body connection matters and it is also important to pay attention to what is going on with your physical body, as it can have a direct impact on mental health. During stressful times, it’s important to maintain your mind/body balance.

How can I start my day to reduce stress and anxiety?

Dr. Eric French suggests that one of the most important things to do when starting your day it to take a pause, breathe deeply, practice gratitude and mindfulness. Slow your thoughts to the singular thought of following your breath; this slows the body down, allows us to loosen anxiety and reset. This can be done as often as needed throughout the day.

Once you have taken this time, Dr. French also recommends that we all resist the urge to reach for our phones and consume COVID-19 news first thing in the morning. Reading and listening to this news at the beginning of the day can make it difficult to manage your mental health and monitor stress and anxiety levels.

Patrick Harrington from Kindness Yoga mentions that another way to cope is to practice yoga as a way to stay active, but also to build a consistent and daily ritual. Creating a schedule is another helpful way to reduce stress and anxiety.

Am I being careful or paranoid?

Dr. French explains that there is a delicate balance and shares a few tips to identify the difference:

  • Ask yourself: How much of your mental real-estate is being occupied with COVID-19?
  • Be self-aware: check-in with yourself for increased muscle tension, restlessness, more irritability or outbursts.

These can be signs you are spending too much time with COVID-19, binging on news and social media, or not allowing yourself to enjoy favorite activities or your family.

What can I do to help?

  • Get the thoughts out your head!
  • Set a routine such as dressing in work clothes, working at your desk, and setting daily goals.
  • Talk to a professional.
  • Forgive yourself because it’s normal to have anxious thoughts.
  • Talk with a trusted person about it.
  • Don’t forget to exercise.
  • Remember to breathe.

Healthcare Workers and Anxiety

Health care workers are at higher risk for increased anxiety right now. During a health care worker’s day, they are covered in protective equipment, sweating in it all day long, and worried about spreading the virus, said 9Health Expert, Dr. Payal Kohli. They are worried about contaminating themselves, they are washing their hands all day, and worried about their families.
Dr. Eric French mentioned that taking a break from the news is so different for those who must go to work and have an increased risk of caring for others. We have the choice to control, to some degree. on what we focus on. Direct your focus to:

  • Remember that you got into this work to care for people.
  • Acknowledge that you take your individual responsibility for not spreading the virus.
  • Focus on what you must do, on the people who need your help or care.
  • It’s normal for this time to increase our anxiety.

Remember why you are doing this work. Speak to yourself, “I am providing care for those who need it, it’s a noble cause,” and “I have fear and concerns; but right now, I’m a part of something bigger and I’m going to focus on that and the care of people who need it.” It’s not easy, but try to reframe the narrative in your head, channel worry into something positive. It’s important to focus on the why and not the what.

Resources:

If you are in crisis, call the Colorado Crisis Service Line 1-844-493-TALK(8255).

9Health
Free Anxiety & Depression screening with immediate results
Mental Health video topics
9Health Neighbors
Call 303.698.4455, ext 2005. Ask your health or medical questions and connect with a medical professional.

Cigna
Offers 22,000 behavioral health providers for virtual meetings and more.

Spark the Change
Free mental health services 1-844-380-6355

Center for Disease Control and Prevention

National Alliance on Mental Illness

World Health Organization

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Kindness Yoga
Virtual yoga classes, great for first-timers or those seeking to establish a practice.