Staying mentally healthy during the pandemic
By Shelley Widhalm
In a matter of three weeks, life has changed with the pandemic outbreak of coronavirus, a faltering economy and the March 26 statewide stay-at-home order—and in a crisis, stress, anxiety and mental health issues can result.
But there are many ways to cope from practicing self-care to starting a gratitude journal.
“From my clientele, I’ve seen a lot of stress and anxiety, not specifically around the virus but around the economy, the loss of jobs, a lack of income … and kids being out of school and concerned about being capable of educating (them),” said Heather Meyer, a licensed professional counselor and owner of Victory Counseling Services in Berthoud,
Meyer offers a few tips beginning with the practice of self-care and finding activities that help with physical or emotional well-being. For instance, instead of going to the gym, create an exercise routine such as walking, jogging or using an app to do exercises at home. Also, set aside time for a daily pleasure activity, like reading a book or listening to a podcast, where family isn’t allowed to interrupt, and open some windows or head outside.
“The sun is very helpful with dealing with depression, even if it’s sitting on the porch,” Meyer said. “Right now it’s still socially acceptable. Social distancing and staying in place doesn’t mean you can’t be outside. It does mean you can’t gather and congregate.”
Meyer encourages setting up a schedule or some sense of structure, especially for those who are working at home. That can include getting up and eating at specific times of the day and taking regular breaks.
“There’s a sense of safety and security that comes from structure,” Meyer said.
With structure comes the need to separate work from home, such as designating a room or area of the home that is only for work and leaving work at “work” after the tasks are finished, so that home remains a place to relax, Meyer said.
Meyer’s other suggestions include building a sense of community and keeping up communications with friends and family through text messaging or video and phone calls or joining an online or chat group. Also, check in with friends and family to ask how they are doing and limit the viewing of social media and news outlets to specific times of the day.
Finally, end the day with a gratitude journal by responding to the phrase, “Today, I’m grateful for,” and listing three things that resulted in feeling grateful.
“It requires you to be mindful the next day and end the day on a positive note,” Meyer said, adding that the therapeutic exercise helps with finding the positive even within a negative situation.
If the negative situation still causes stress or anxiety, Meyer recommends reaching out to friends and family for help or connecting with a therapist. Because of staying in place, many therapists are providing teletherapy through online venues or phone or video calls (Betterhealth.com is one source).
Those in recovery may have additional issues they have to face during a time of staying in place, and their families can engage in ways to be supportive.
“When you were drinking, you used to cover up your feelings by drinking,” said Judy Herzanek, creative manager of the Changing Lives Foundation, a Berthoud-based resource that provides materials for families struggling with addiction, alcoholism and substance abuse. “When you stop drinking, all of your emotions are raw. You’re not covering anything up. …It’s hard when you’re stuck inside with people; you just want to get away. You feel more vulnerable.”
Herzanek recommends if those living together cannot leave their home to avoid getting upset and letting the little irritations go. Her other recommendations include getting enough sunshine, eating healthy, avoiding too much sugar and doing those to-do list items that never get done in busier times but keep the mind engaged, she said.
“If you’re able to sleep in or take a nap, then you’re in a lot better place mentally if you have enough sleep,” Herzanek said.
For those in recovery, Herzanek recommends finding a meeting, even if it is online since in-person meetings are temporarily banned—those participating in remote meetings can opt for audio or video call-ins and be anonymous if they choose. Family members also can look for remote-based Al-Anon and Alateen meetings.
The two Alcoholics Anonymous groups that meet in Berthoud currently do not have an online option for meetings, but nearby groups in Longmont, Loveland and Berthoud do, Herzanek said. She started a private Facebook group for members of the Berthoud Hump Day AA Group to provide a way for members to connect, communicate news and get answers to their questions—and only members can see who is in the group and what they post, she said.
“A lot of people in the Berthoud meetings, a lot of them are older and are not tech-savvy,” Herzanek said.
AA meetings are a way to remain accountable and connect with the other members and sponsors in the group, Herzanek said.
“You can sit in a meeting … and it seems to happen maybe two to three people say things that hit you. It’s almost just what needed to hear,” Herzanek said. “It makes friendships where people can be completely honest with each other.”
The Centers for Disease Control has a few recommendations for handling stress and anxiety during an infectious disease outbreak like the coronavirus. Responses can include fear and worry about health, changes in sleep and eating patterns, difficulty concentrating and worsening of chronic health problems.
The CDC recommends taking care of the body through deep breathing, stretching, exercising, eating well-balanced meals and avoiding alcohol and drugs. Other recommendations including taking “time to unwind” by doing enjoyable activities, as stated at cdc.gov, and connecting with others by talking out concerns and feelings.
“Make sure you have a group of people you can reach out to maintain a sense of community,” Meyer said. “We need to make sure we have connections in some way even if it’s not physical.”
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