Life can be stressful during a global pandemic and it has magnified the level of stress in the population. Fear of disease and death have been primal fears since the dawn of man. No one has total control over diseases and no one avoids death. With Covid 19, we are encouraged to be socially distant and to avoid social interactions and get togethers. This leads to social isolation and loneliness. It also may make it unsafe to visit elderly relatives at a time when we worry more about their health and mortality.
The Center of Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) states that the pandemic leads to worsening of mental health, impaired sleep patterns, and poor appetite. The stress related to Covid can lead to concentration problems and increased use of tobacco and substance abuse. It also leads to delay in preventative medicine (screening tests, doctors visits, etc) that contributes to worsening of chronic medical conditions. The CDC also notes an increase in suicidal thoughts and suicide during the pandemic.
There are many things we can do to help cope with stress during these trying times. With the fear of catching Covid, financial stressors due to unemployment, or fear of losing your job, it is easy to focus on the worst case scenarios. This eventually leads to more anxiety and a vicious spiral of distress.
If you can try to dismiss the anxious thoughts and focus on something positive or constructive, you will reduce your anxiety. Try to come up with constructive activities to deal with your anxiety, like meditation, cooking or going for daily walks. If your fear is Covid, you can mask up and socially distance yourself and avoid high risk situations. If your anxiety is loneliness, you can pick up the phone, text or videoconference friends and family. If you anxiety is over your finances, you can get any job that is available, get a second job or sell things on EBay. You can find ways to reduce expenses.
It can be helpful to limit social media and screen time. Don’t check the news throughout the day. You can turn off push notifications on your phone as well. If something really important happens, someone will tell you. This has been called “Media Distancing” which might be the mental health equivalent of Social Distancing to avoid Covid 19. Whether you are suffering from anxiety during Covid or after the pandemic is over, it is extremely important to practice self care. Take care of yourself physically, mentally, socially and spiritually.
Physical self care can include a healthy diet, regular exercise like going for daily walks, and getting adequate sleep. You can set a goal for yourself to not use any technology like phones or TV, 30 minutes for bed and see if it helps your sleep.
Emotional self care includes avoiding unhealthy coping skills like drugs, alcohol and tobacco. If also includes limiting screen time and compulsive behaviors like pornography and gambling. It involves finding time to relax and recharge. This includes meditation and focusing on positive things. If you feel like you need more support, it is okay to reach out to a health care provider, therapist or psychiatrist.
Self care also includes connecting with others. If you must social distance, you can call, text, or write a letter. It is important to create structure. You can check on family and friends or an isolated neighbor. Find volunteer work to help others and give yourself a feeling of purpose.
Spiritual self care may include getting involved in organized religion. Participation offers social connection and opportunities to help others. Read the Bible or watch religious services on TV or online. You can talk to to your religious leaders to process your anxiety, fears and loneliness.
If at any point you feel suicidal or at risk of hurting yourself, reach out for help. Call 911 or make an appointment with a doctor or mental health professional. You can also call a Suicide Hotline, like the National Suicide Prevention LIfeline (1-800-273-8255). Don't lose hope, there are resources to help you! Remember TMS is an option for treatment resistant depression and it is also an off-label treatment for anxiety. Contact Houston West TMS at 713-464-4455 for more information.