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How to Cope with Mental Health Concerns Related to COVID-19

Tips to manage the increasing mental health effects of the pandemic.

Source: prawny/CanStockPhoto

The global COVID-19 pandemic has impacted each of us in ways we never imagined only a few short months ago.

Although the heart of the crisis is an unchecked virus which can sicken or even kill us, perhaps one of the longer-term outcomes of the pandemic will be how it continues to impact our collective mental health.

The current pandemic is negatively affecting our mental health on multiple levels:

  • Social isolation is extreme and prolonged, with no definite end yet in sight.
  • Anxiety, worry and fear of exposure to an unseen threat is constant.
  • Millions have lost their jobs and source of income.
  • Large-scale societal systems are impacted, affecting education, health care, religion, financial markets, commerce, and travel.
  • Access to critical health care resources is scarce in some areas.
  • The barrage of troubling information and accounts in the media is unceasing.
  • Grief and loss from the ever-increasing death toll is mounting.
  • Depression, hopelessness, and traumatic stress reactions are common.

Even when the pandemic and its physical threats are over, we will find ourselves still greatly challenged by many of these longer-term negative effects on our emotional and mental health, which could take months or even years to subside.

But there is much we can do right now to begin to promote better coping and mental health.

First, we must actively and consistently spread accurate, science-based information to help the public access and benefit from the science, practice and knowledge base of fields such as psychology, psychiatry, social work, counseling, marriage and family therapy, and addiction counseling.

These and other highly trained and compassionate mental health care providers stand ready now and moving forward to help us cope with and to ultimately heal from our emotional and psychological wounds.

What other critically important messages can we convey to help manage our current mental health challenges? There are many, but let’s start with these:

  • Many mental health providers can provide telehealth services right now and in the future, through two-way video and phone options. These allow for social distancing and access to care in rural and remote areas.
  • Mental health professionals are highly trained in addressing depression, stress, anxiety, trauma, and many other symptoms which have been worsened by the crisis. Treatments for these conditions are highly effective.
  • Remember it’s okay to admit you are struggling and need help. Right now we are all struggling and need help in one way or another.
  • Resilience during and after a crisis is not just “who you are,” it’s also “what you do.” You can learn specific skills and behaviors to increase your ability to cope and bounce back from seemingly insurmountable situations.
  • Optimism is also not just an attitude. It can be learned and strengthened through consistent focus and practice.
  • There are many free tools and resources online to help you cope during this crisis. Start with sites like the APA, SAMHSA, and NAMI.
  • It’s been said before, but social distancing is not social isolation. Talk frequently with family, friends, mentors, and loved ones through technology.
  • Limit media exposure, both in time spent each day and also select only a few outlets which provide accurate and balanced information.
  • Establish simple daily self-care routines, including healthy food choices, physical activity, getting out doors, and adequate rest and sleep. Try out meditation, yoga and mindfulness activities.
  • Deliberately engage in pleasant distractions, including escapist TV, books, games, hobbies, crafts, music, humor, faith-based activities, etc.
  • Monitor and challenge negative and critical self-talk. Now is not the time to impose high standards of productivity on yourself.
  • Limit worry about things you cannot influence or change. Focus on the things you can still control.
  • Provide support and reassurance to your family and friends who are also impacted in many of the same ways you are. Talk with children about their fears in a clear and age-appropriate manner.
  • Keep things in perspective. This crisis seems never-ending but it will eventually run its course. Focusing on health, safety, and caring for one another right now will help as much as anything.

As I’ve said before, we can all be advocates for mental health, as we share these important tips, strategies and information. We are truly stronger together and we will stay strong if we work together now to actively promote positive attitudes, skills and behaviors to improve our mental health. Let’s get started.

Copyright David Susman 2020