March 11, 2021 marked one year since the World Health Organization (WHO) formally declared the coronavirus outbreak as a pandemic. What had begun as temporary restrictions and changes soon became more permanent and more restricting. Over the last year, all of us have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The amount of research about how the virus harms us physically continues to grow but there remains a limited number of studies about the mental health effects. A study published in February 2021 noted the links between those who tested positive for COVID-19 and an increase in depression, anxiety and dementia. But what if you have not tested positive for COVID-19? How has your mental health been affected?
At Elevate Mental Health, we have seen an increase in the number of calls per day of people wanting therapy. Most of these calls are for increased feelings of anxiety and depression. Many clients are reporting the strain that COVID has had on them directly and indirectly. They discuss their change daily routine, employment issues, loss of income, working from home, children being at home, decreased socialization, increased time spent indoors, colleges not meeting in person or allowing students to stay on campus, relationship strain in marriages, and the loss of pleasurable activities such as going to the gym, time with friends and eating at restaurants. Everyone has been impacted by these changes.
When change takes place that are outside of our control it can cause anxiety. Anxiety does not need to be at a clinical level to have a negative impact on you and those around you. Feeling agitation, restlessness, trouble concentrating, poor sleep, gastrointestinal (GI) problems, uncontrollable worry, unexplained increased heart rate, and a want to avoid people and events, may be a sign of anxiety. Here are a few things that you can begin now to cope with these feeling.
1) Create a consistent daily routine: Even though things change daily that you cannot control, there are certain things you can. Creating a consistent daily routine can assist with your ability to cope with stressors that are outside of your control. Waking up and going to sleep at the same time, eating consistent healthy meals throughout the day, turning off all electronics an hour prior to going to bed, leaving the house daily, having a consistent school and work schedule, and remaining in consistent contact with your social network, are just a few things that can be used to structure the day.
2) Stopping binging the news! There is such a thing as too much information. This is especially true for the news. Decrease your intake of news channels, websites, podcasts, etc. to a limited number of minutes each day. Do not leave the news on in the background while doing other tasks. Make the consumption of this information short and intentional so you can process it fully and assign the appropriate emotion to the information being received.
3) Avoid self-medicating: Do not use alcohol or other controlled substances to cope with feelings of anxiety. These substances may decrease the symptoms temporarily but will result in an increase of symptoms over time. If you are wanting a temporary relief then change your environment. Go to a different room, outside, a car ride or take a brief shower.
4) Slow down and relax: Your brain and body are telling you to be stressed and anxious. By slowing down, taking deep breathes, practicing mindfulness, doing guided meditation, and creating a thankfulness journal will cause your body and brain to slow down and understand that you are safe. Your heart rate will decrease, thoughts will be clearer and your environment will be less triggering.
5) Be kind to yourself and others: Make sure to be kind to yourself and those around you. We are all trying to cope with the changes that have been brought on by the pandemic. This has not been easy. You are not alone. Remind yourself that you have been coping with this for over a year! You are strong and will learn to enjoy life by controlling what you can and releasing those things that you cannot.
If you are struggling with anxiety, depression or other mental health symptoms you need to reach out for help from others. You can and should receive help for what you are going through. If you are in the State of California feel free to contact us at Elevate Mental Health or look in your area for a psychologist, therapist or counselor to help you.