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How the Coronavirus is Affecting Our Mental Health

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Managing Anxiety and Depression During a Pandemic

By Tina Lechnir, LCSW - regional director of behavioral health at Ascension Wisconsin

Originally published on 9/22/2020 at 12:30 p.m. CDT

While the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a physical toll for many, new data shows the alarming psychological toll exacted by the virus.

According to the Census Bureau, a third of Americans, including 29 percent of Wisconsinites, now show signs of clinical anxiety or depression.

These findings suggest a significant increase from before the pandemic - almost double the rates in 2014. According to the study results, rates of anxiety and depression were far higher among younger adults, women and people struggling with poverty.

There are various factors related to COVID-19 that could contribute to the increase in anxiety and depression rates, including any or all of the following.

  • Trauma from widespread disease
  • Grief over losses of life
  • Fear of getting sick
  • Social isolation
  • Financial concerns - including unemployment, housing and food insecurity
  • Loss of community

It’s important to remember that if you or a loved one are experiencing increased anxiety or depression because of the pandemic, you are not alone.

Our world has changed drastically in the last seven months and the effects of the pandemic are compounded by social injustice and political stressors. In fact, a majority of Americans (66%) are feeling more empathic and are more willing to have open conversations about mental health.

How to Manage Pandemic-Related Stress, Anxiety and Depression

There are many resources and healthy strategies to cope with depression and anxiety:

Rest and practice self-care

Unplug from work, turn off social media notifications. You may even consider deleting the apps from your phone. Turn off the news. Read a good book. Take a long walk with a family member or friend outside (minding social distancing recommendations).

Eat well-balanced meals

Our mental health is directly linked to our physical health. When we eat well, we feel better. The pandemic has forced many of us to rediscover home-cooked meals - try a new recipe that’s packed with whole foods and a variety of colorful vegetables.

Avoid foods that are high in carbs, sugars and/or artificial sweeteners. Read more about making healthy choices at home here.

Manage challenging emotions

View your emotional range during this complicated time with acceptance, mindfulness, relaxation, soothing and/or pleasurable activities.

Search your smart device’s app store or browse video sites like YouTube for guided meditations. Practice square breathing to slow your nervous system: exhale all the air out of your lungs, then inhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of 4, exhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of 4, and repeat.

Talk to someone

Whether it’s a friend, spouse, family member, trusted colleague, pastor or licensed therapist, you are not alone. It’s okay to not be okay. Reach out for help. If you’re employed, see what resources are available through your employer. Many companies have employee assistance programs (EAPs) that include short-term counseling.

COVID-19 has also made it easier for individuals to receive treatment from a mental health provider through virtual (video) visits. The ability to speak with a psychiatrist or therapist from the comfort of home may also reduce the added stress of driving to a doctor’s office, finding parking, paying for gas or parking or other outside stressors.

Virtual visits are just as effective as in-person visits.

Get enough sleep

Good sleep hygiene is critical to our physical and mental health. In times of stress you may find it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you may find yourself more exhausted and sleeping more frequently.

To establish healthy sleep habits, start with a consistent sleep schedule. Get up at the same time every day, even on weekends. Set a bedtime that is early enough for you to get at least seven hours of sleep. Limit exposure to technology and bright, blue light at night. Avoid large meals, caffeine and alcohol before bedtime.

Exercise often

Even 20 minutes a day can make a significant difference. Find a time that works well for you and commit to working out at that time every day.

Being physically active during the day can help you fall asleep more easily at night, and it releases endorphins which improve your mood.

COVID-19 Pandemic Makes the Need for Mental Health Management Strategies Clear

As the frequency of anxious and depressive symptoms are on the rise, so is the willingness to talk about mental health.

A new national survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults ages 18 and older shows that 81 percent of those surveyed say that, as a result of the pandemic, it's more important than ever to make suicide prevention a national priority.

The survey also shows 52 percent report being more open to talking about mental health as a result of COVID-19.

If you or anyone you know needs help, please contact the National Suicide Lifeline at 800-273-TALK or HopeLine Text SelfService by texting HOPELINE to 741741.

You are not alone. One of the best things we can do during this challenging time is to reach out to one another.

About the Author

Tina Lechnir, LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker and the regional director of behavioral health at Ascension Wisconsin. In the Fox Valley and Oshkosh area, Ascension behavioral health specialists provide crisis and addiction interventions for children, adolescents and adults. Many programs and treatment options are available from inpatient hospital care to outpatient counseling and group therapy. To learn more about Ascension Wisconsin's behavioral health services in the region, click here.

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