As we face new circumstances and challenges due to COVID-19 – including isolation, balancing work life with homeschooling children, joblessness or grief – it’s critically important that we prioritize mental health during this time of uncertainty and sudden change.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and paying attention to our mental health means having a balanced emotional and psychological sense of one’s well-being
While people may be focused on staying up-to-date on news about the coronavirus outbreak, they may also be neglecting their mental well-being. It’s a fact that millions of Americans are experiencing disruptions to their lives as a result of COVID-19. Feeling stressed and anxious is normal during this period of tremendous change. However, paying attention to one’s mental well-being has perhaps never been as important as it is today.
“Mental health is critically important to everyone, especially during these challenging times,” said
Dr. Juan-Carlos Zuberbuhler, a board-certified child/adolescent/adult psychiatrist with Kaiser Permanente Southern California. “As COVID-19 impacts our way of life in a way not seen in generations, it is especially important to understand how mental health affects our lives, and know the signs when seeking help may be necessary.”
According to Dr. Zuberbuhler, signs of stress that can be related to the COVID-19 crisis include:
• Constant 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.
• Increased use of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs.
Dr. Zuberbuhler recommends taking the following action to relieve stress that is harmful to your health:
• Take breaks from news stories and social media that may be negative in nature, as hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting. Look for the “Helpers” in any tragic story.
• Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch or meditate. Eat healthy, well-balanced meals; exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep and avoid alcohol and drugs.
• Make time to unwind. Do some other activities you enjoy.
• Connect with others. Despite physical distancing, we can enjoy increased social connections. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling, and understand it is normal to feel anxious.
• Understand how much stress-related growth is happening around us. This includes using video and social media in a more meaningful way to connect with others as we observe physical distancing.
• Know that anxiety is normal during these challenging times, and can actually help keep us safe and healthy. The goal is to make room for your anxiety and foster other emotions such as compassion and empathy, especially for frontline heroes who are putting their lives on the line to protect us.
• Call your health care provider if stress gets in the way of your daily activities for several days in a row.
“Feeling mentally fit allows you to overcome and bounce back from setbacks and adversities such as losing your job, or feeling sorrow because a loved one is sick with COVID-19,” Dr. Zuberbuhler said. “Just like you wouldn’t hesitate to call your doctor when you are sick, you shouldn’t hesitate to tell your doctor if you – or a loved one – suffer from depression or anxiety that affect your life. This is especially true in the world we live in today as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic that calls for physical distancing, has caused economic havoc on many families, and as a result has added significant stress to many people.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people who may be more vulnerable to the stress of an infectious disease outbreak, such as COVID-19, include:
• The elderly and people with underlying health conditions, like chronic diseases, who are at a higher risk for COVID-19.
• Children and teens.
• People who are helping with the response to COVID-19 such as doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers, as well as first responders.
• People who have existing mental health conditions, including problems with substance use.
Remember, it’s important to reach out for help when needed to ensure your mental health does not lead to health complications.
For assistance on how to best deal with mental health issues, please visit Kp.org. The National Alliance on Mental Illness also provides valuable information.