By Linda Moro, LICSW
Unusual stress or depression. Anxiety about leaving the house or getting sick. Increased use of alcohol or drugs while isolated at home. Obsessive-compulsive behaviors getting worse. Difficulty creating daily structure for self or family. Trouble concentrating, anger, tearfulness. Suicidal thoughts. For many, mental health during COVID-19 can be hard to maintain.
Especially if you are hard hit economically by the punch of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be experiencing financial and emotional struggles you’ve never before encountered. Or, mental health issues you’ve been managing well may be harder to handle. If you have children at home and must leave home for your job, your stress may be uniquely difficult. COVID-19 has stolen our sense of control over life, adding to anxiety and depression.
Do any of these issues resonate for you? If so, you are not alone, and help is within reach. And it’s worth the effort: taking care of yourself can help you care for others more effectively.
Polls in recent months found 45-50 percent of adults reported mental health impacts due to COVID-19. And “back to normal” may be many months off. The Centers for Disease Control recognizes the stress and mental health risks of COVID-19 as well, and has published helpful information on this topic.
Most behavioral health office visits are curtailed to avoid in-person contact. But many therapists – including those at CHP — have moved successfully to telephone and video appointments with clients, also known as telemedicine or telehealth. If your insurance provider covered your in-person appointments, your telehealth visit will also be covered.
Getting back on track may start with identifying your strengths, setting manageable goals and making small, easily doable changes in daily routines. CHP’s behavioral health experts can help you take these first steps toward better stability.
At high risk for emotional strain are elders and people living with disabilities who may have already been isolated even before COVID-19. Some people’s underlying health conditions can mask genuine stress. First responders and medical providers are anxious about passing on workplace-acquired COVID-19 to their families at home. Parents caring for children while also required to work at home are especially stressed. And lower-income people report higher levels of mental health concerns than higher income people, according to a KFF poll.
In addition to seeking professional support, you can also take simple steps on your own to enhance your (and your family’s) well-being. Pick one or two to start, and slowly add others.
If you must work at home, get dressed for work. Present yourself as you would in a work setting, to mark a boundary between professional and home life.
- If you are unable to work due to COVID-19 and financially stressed, take advantage of programs that will help with food and rent assistance, including food pantries, WIC, SNAP and other benefits. This is no time for pride or embarrassment about seeking available benefits.
- Take time to exercise and get outside every day, even for 10 minutes. A brief walk or a bike ride, alone or with a friend– can boost spirits immensely.
- Maintain social connections by phone or video visits, but one on guard for “Zoom fatigue” from too many after-work video calls.
- Set limits or take a break entirely from TV news intake, which can add to anxiety. Turn off news alerts on your smartphone or other devices. Beware of false or inflammatory news and information.
- Eliminate or reduce time spent on social media, which is based upon triggers of emotional engagement.
- Eliminate late-night use of phones and other electronic devices. Leave them in another room while you sleep.
- Seek support and guidance if you believe you are misusing or abusing alcohol or drugs—many resources are available online, including support group meetings.
- Many organizations need volunteers to help in the community; there are many ways to offer hands-on help or online support for many nonprofits.
- Imaging the enjoyable things you did before COVID-19 impacted your life, and see if you can adapt these to present limitations. If you liked to go out to eat, plan a picnic. If you like to walk the trails but are concerned about social distancing, choose times and locations likely to be less crowded.
- Routines are essential for children and families—enlist your family team to help create these new schedules and routines.
- Incorporate outdoor time to your daily schedule.
- Find a creative outlet that you can enjoy together. Small home art projects, finding new music, games and other playful activities can relieve tension.
- Don’t worry too much about your children’s increased screen time—provided they close down well before bedtime and as long as online time is not dominating your child’s day.
- Partners and spouses should find ways to take breaks from each other and to pursue individual interests, while also exploring new shared activities.
If and when you seek out support from a professional behavioral health therapist, stick to it. Having a standing schedule for talking about your experience will be a comfort going forward.
For more information, contact a Community Health Programs practice location in Berkshire County.
Linda Moro is a licensed independent clinical worker at Community Health Programs in Great Barrington.
If there is the immediate risk of harm to you or another person, please call 911, go to the nearest hospital emergency room or call our region’s 24-hour Crisis Team, (413) 499-0412 or (800)-252-0227.