Mental health in the time of COVID-19
March 25, 2020
By now, we have all seen the news and heard countless coverage on the COVID-19 situation. However, there is something else that is spreading among us, and that is fear.
The amount of emotional and mental energy fear and worry take is quite staggering. Mix this with an unprecedented situation of “social distancing” and we as humans are sitting in a recipe for anxiety, depression, sadness and mania.
Watching the internet, constantly refreshing for updates, and checking your phone every few minutes are cyclical activities that provide the illusion for control. If we keep ourselves in the “know” then we are somehow helping the situation, right? Helping ourselves maybe? Maybe. Or maybe we are getting into a negative compulsive thinking cycle that is causing us more mental stress.
Our brains are powerful, incredible tools. One of their main jobs is to take in information from the world, make sense of it based on our own experiences and then tell us how to act, feel and move through life in a way that keeps us safe. Here’s the tricky thing: Our brain’s methods of keeping us safe aren’t always accurate or helpful.
There is so much information we must sift through every day. When we as a community, as a nation, are hit with something like this COVID-19 virus it is in our social nature to turn to others for support. We look around to those we trust–or those who talk the loudest–to see how they are reacting so we know how to regulate and respond. If those we look to are panicked, our brains say, “Oh, we need to panic too.”
These kinds of instincts and coping skills have kept our human species alive for thousands of years. However, this is a perfect example of our brains trying to take in information and protect us but when the information is muddy water, it is difficult to see it clearly.
This is not to say that fear is unwarranted. We need a healthy amount of fear to make good choices and survive. So where does that leave us? Stuck at home, scared, feeling out of our routine and cut off from enjoyable activities and people. It is this social struggle that we need to pay attention to just as much, if not more so, than the news coverage of illness.
With many of us at home, perhaps out of work, our children out of school, establishments closed down and having few, if any, opportunities for social interaction, emotions start running higher and heavier. Feelings of loneliness, sadness, isolation, anger and boredom can spur into rage, depression, anxiety and simply feeling lost and consumed with worry. Please know, you are not alone and these reactions make complete sense.
So what can we do?
There are a few mental exercises that can be helpful to get through some daily worries and challenges. There are also resources that can further help with those out of work, parents struggling with children, kids struggling with the feeling of confinement, and so on. (See the end for a specific list of resources).
We are in trying times and whatever you are feeling, however you are struggling, is okay. Step one is to reach out for help. Talk to someone about your struggles; preferably a mental health professional. The importance here is being heard, having your feelings and worries expressed, then getting feedback that doesn’t promote that negative compulsive thinking cycle.
We have a few options of mental health professionals here in Carbon County that are available. There are options for TeleHealth (counseling via computer) so that you can interact with a counselor if you need without leaving your home.
Some mental exercises you can do for yourself, and even with your children and friends, can also be helpful. If you find yourself ruminating on worry and fear, ask yourself, “What am I grateful for?” Gratitude is the antidote to worry. Take this a step further and really dig into what you are grateful for. An example is, “I am grateful for my family.” That’s wonderful! Say more. Who in your family? What is it about them you love? What color are their eyes? Can you hear their voice in your mind? What is a wonderful memory you have with them? Thinking through these things in detail helps break up that negative mental cycle in our brain and give it a chance to reset.
Writing and drawing is another simple, expressive tool that can help break up some of that negative mental cycle. Write down what you’re thinking of. Dig into those thoughts that are spinning round and round in your mind. See them on paper. They are tangible now. You can see the cycle out in front of you. Acknowledge this. Maybe rip up the paper afterward if you’d like. The goal here is to get what is going on inside, out. It feels less invasive when you can touch the paper and see that it doesn’t have to live in your mind.
Shifting your mindset from “I am out of control” to “Is there an opportunity here?” is a good mental exercise. We are all in a tough spot but perhaps there is an opportunity to take advantage of here? Perhaps you are getting to spend more time with your kids at home right now? Playing games and enjoying activities together could be a fun opportunity.
Maybe you have time to call and catch up with an old friend or read that book you’ve been eyeing on your bookshelf for a while? Trying to look around and see what is possible and what could be an opportunity helps break up that negative mind set.
Communication during these times is key. Whether it is being at home with your partner, kids, friend or even alone. Tension can run high and all of our emotions are simmering. Keeping communication simple is best. Rule of thumb for communication: Clear = Kind. When you are clear with what you are saying, kindness will shine through.
Acknowledge to your partner (or others) what you are feeling and what you need. “Hey, I am stressed out right now and I need a few minutes of fresh air.” Then remember to ask the same question in return. “How are you feeling and what do you need?”
Communication with your kids is also important. Remember how we as adults look to others in order to gauge our own response? Kids look to us in the same way. They watch their parents and adults they trust to figure out how scared they should be, how they should react, how to feel.
That’s a lot of pressure, but also important to recognize. Demonstrating calm, deep breathing and self-regulation makes for calm, self-regulated kids in return. This is not to say kids can’t go nuts. Being of high energy and out of routine can absolutely impact kiddo’s behavior. It is important for parents to reach out for help, even just to talk, to gain support for their mental stability.
If your children are scared and suffering from their own negative mental cycle, reading books with them is a great way to help reduce anxiety. Books specifically about characters overcoming fears are powerful in these times.
These are unprecedented times and we are social creatures. We need to interact with each other to feel our best. Taking care of your mental health right now is a priority because you are important. Reach out for help in any way you need it. Be honest and say what you feel and what you need. Lean on those you trust. Talk to a mental health professional in whatever capacity you feel comfortable with, whether it is in-person, phone or computer. When in doubt, step outside, take a deep breath of mountain air and look around. What are you grateful for?
•Brittney Parmeter MS, PPC, NCC (307)-329-3843
•Ron Hoopes, MS, LPC, NCC (307) 760-3700
•TeleHealth Providers: http://www.uwyo.edu/wind/wytn/telehealth%20provider.html
Worry/Coping Cards: https://trello-attachments.s3.amazonaws.com/5e73ac6cdb83cf1b89f342af/5e73ada721160f1ad1964a10/f504aa88178930cbed6da5521df65566/worry-coping-cards.pdf
Books for Children: https://www.readbrightly.com/9-books-help-kids-manage-fears-phobias/
Online Library: https://gowyld.libguides.com/econtent
Online Party: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/netflix-party/oocalimimngaihdkbihfgmpkcpnmlaoa?hl=en
Free Online Classes: https://www.thenewstribune.com/news/local/article241307611.html