May is Mental Health Awareness Month.
You Have Good Reasons For Stress
Watching or reading daily news can send you into depression. There are reports of widespread illness, massive casualties, economic loss, protests, business shutdowns, abuse of power, and political corruption. The list goes on. Sometimes it is best to unplug or perhaps scan your eyes over the headlines without viewing the gory details.
Individuals are reacting to stress in ways difficult to comprehend. Violence and shootings occur in response to requests to wear masks in public places. Defense attorneys cite the pandemic as a contributing factor. The former First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, says she experienced mild depression in response to news reports.
It is common to view people with mental health issues as outcasts—an aberration of normalcy. But what happens when anxiety overtakes a significant portion of the population? How does it compound when healthcare workers themselves experience it? What can you do when health medical facilities shift focus from elective care to medical emergencies? I will consider these questions shortly. First, let’s define the emotions under consideration.
According to Mayo Clinic, “Anxiety affects a person’s thoughts and actions, and presents physical symptoms.” Stress or anxiety can be a brief reaction that releases hormones allowing us to better cope with a troublesome situation. Chemical imbalances can prolong anxiousness. Stress during an infectious disease outbreak can sometimes cause the following:
- Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones, your financial situation or job, or loss of support services you rely on.
- Changes in sleep or eating patterns.
- Difficulty sleeping or concentrating.
- Worsening of chronic health problems.
- Worsening of mental health conditions.
- Increased use of tobacco, and/or alcohol and other substances.
There is a difference between depression and anxiousness. Rather than feeling wound up or “jumpy,” when you’re depressed you feel listless and unmotivated. You procrastinate or want to sleep to escape troubling thoughts. You are experiencing a crisis if you have thoughts of self-harm or suicide.
Introverts and agoraphobic persons may be unfazed by shelter-in-place orders. Extroverts and claustrophobic individuals can experience anxiety when shut in. Some want to get out in public without masks. Adding substance abuse or pre-existing mental health issues to this powder keg of emotion can lead to explosive encounters.
As patients succumb to COVID-19 related illnesses, healthcare workers that are accustomed to helping people feel better are seeing a disproportionate amount of fatalities. Imagine the burden of working double shifts with no days off. Every day you struggle to save lives, and every day more are lost.
You wonder about your own exposure. You isolate yourself from family. This goes on for weeks, then months with no end in sight. Could you emerge with post-traumatic stress (PTSD)? More medical doctors are requiring mental therapists.
Coping With Stress
Whether you work in the medical field or not, you can practice some self-help coping behaviors and, for emergencies, telephone support is available. You feel better with proper nutrients so eat less junk food. If you are home more often, prepare healthy meals. If you are an essential worker or must work in the public, consider subscribing to a healthy meal delivery service.
Stay connected with family and friends over the phone. You can even video chat with many of them who may have been unreachable pre-pandemic. Establish a regular routine of “me time.” Carve out a moment or two each day to do something relaxing: Listen to soothing music, read a book, meditate on pleasant memories, connect with faith-based services, watch the sunrise or sunset.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, reach out for help before it escalates. Don’t downplay your feelings as less serious than COVID-19. There are crisis hotlines that can assist you. Your health plan may also include emergency care.
Binge-watching action movies or violent thrillers is not an effective way to cope with stress. Try to remain active during the day, even if it’s yard work. Go for daily walks in your neighborhood. Do something you love or take up a new hobby.
Pleasurable activity releases endorphins that counteract pain and anxiety. Research has shown that exercise is an effective but often underused treatment for mild to moderate depression.
If your thoughts are racing, start a journal. If you must take a nap, make it a brief one. Lying in bed only at bedtime conditions your body to rest better at the end of your day. Work on these tips to feel better during this public health crisis and beyond.