The COVID-19 pandemic may be stressful and incredibly frightening for some people.
Fear and anxiety about a disease can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in both adults and children, particularly during uncertain times. This is why it is crucial to take care of your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak.
The CDC reminds everyone that each individual reacts differently to a stressful situation. Your response to a situation may be completely different than another person's due to a number of factors.
However, according to the CDC, the people who may respond more strongly to the stress of a crisis include:
- Older people and people with chronic diseases who are at higher risk for COVID-19
- Children and teens
- People who are helping with the response to COVID-19, like doctors, health care providers, or first responders
- People who have mental health conditions including problems with substance use
The CDC outlines that stress during an infectious disease outbreak can include:
- Fear and worry about one's health and the health of loved ones
- Changes in sleep or eating patterns
- Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
- Worsening of chronic health problems
- Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs
The good news is that there are ways that may help you reduce stress and take care of your mental well-being.
WAYS TO MANAGE STRESS AND ANXIETY
According to the CDC, one of the ways to reduce stress during an outbreak is to share the facts about COVID-19 and understand the actual risk to yourself and people you care about. When you share accurate information about the novel coronavirus you can help make others feel less stressed and allow you to connect with them.
Aside from learning about the outbreak, partaking in activities that brings one joy as well as talking with people you trust about your feelings is also recommended by the CDC.
The CDC also notes that it is important to take breaks from watching, reading or listening to news stories since continuously hearing about a pandemic without a break can be upsetting. Although it is important to stay informer, people can become more distressed if they see repeated images of a disaster in the media.
The CDC also highlights the correlation between taking care of your body and your mental health. Taking deep breaths, stretching or meditating can help ease your stress.
The CDC also recommends trying to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, regular exercise, plenty of sleep, and avoiding alcohol and drugs.
CHILDREN AND TEENS
Parents who are also looking after the emotional wellbeing of children or teens can take certain measures to try and alleviate their stress.
According to the CDC, it is important to keep in mind that children and teens react, in part, on what they see from the adults around them.
"When parents and caregivers deal with the COVID-19 calmly and confidently, they can provide the best support for their children," the CDC says.
Just like adults, not all children and teens react to stress in the same manner. Some children react right away, while others may show signs of difficulty much later. How a child reacts and the common signs of distress can be different depending on their age, previous experiences, and how the child typically copes with stress, the CDC notes.
Some of the the signs that your child or teen may be stressed include:
- Excessive crying or irritation in younger children
- Returning to behaviors they have outgrown (for example, toileting accidents or bedwetting)
- Excessive worry or sadness
- Unhealthy eating or sleeping habits
- Irritability and “acting out” behaviors in teens
- Poor school performance or avoiding school
- Difficulty with attention and concentration
- Avoidance of activities they previously enjoyed
- Unexplained headaches or body pain
- Use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs
If you believe a child or teen may be stressed or overwhelmed by the coronavirus pandemic, the CDC recommends ways to support them, including:
- Taking the time to talk with your child or teen about the COVID-19 outbreak. Additionally, you should answer questions and share facts about COVID-19 in a way that your child or teen can understand.
- Reassuring them that they are safe. Let them know it is alright if they feel upset. Share with them how you deal with your own stress so that they can learn how to cope from you.
- Limit your family’s exposure to news coverage of the event, including social media. Children may misinterpret what they hear and can be frightened about something they do not understand.
- Trying to keep up with regular routines. If schools are closed, create a schedule for learning activities and relaxing or fun activities.
- Be a role model. How? According to the CDC, by taking breaks, getting plenty of sleep, exercising, and eating well. Remember to connect with friends and family members.
Responding to disasters is both rewarding and challenging work.
Responding to COVID-19 can take an emotional toll, particularly if you witness human suffering, risk of personal harm, intense workloads, life-and-death decisions, and separation from your family. However, there are things you can do, according to the CDC, to reduce secondary traumatic stress (STS) reactions:
- Acknowledge that STS can impact anyone helping others after a traumatic event.
- Learn the symptoms including physical (fatigue, illness) and mental (fear, withdrawal, guilt).
- Allow time for you and your family to recover from responding to the pandemic.
- Create a menu of personal self-care activities that you enjoy, like spending quality time with friends and family, exercising, or reading a book.
- Take a break from media coverage of the coronavirus outbreak.
- Ask for help if you feel like you're experiencing burnout, in other words if you are overwhelmed or concerned that COVID-19 is affecting your ability to care for your family or patients like you did before the outbreak.
PEOPLE RELEASED FROM QUARANTINE
As many people across the world experience social distancing, self-quarantine or mandatory quarantine, it is expected that the lack of interaction and isolation could impact one's mental health.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, there are a few pointers that could help you deal with spiraling negative thoughts during this uncertain time while you are in self-quarantine, quarantine or isolation for a prolonged period of time. The ADAA suggests the following:
- Rethink “I am stuck inside” to “I can finally focus on my home and myself”
- Stay close to your normal routine by maintaining some semblance of structure from your pre-quarantine days
- Avoid obsessing over endless coronavirus coverage
- A chaotic home can lead to a chaotic mind, so try to keep your home organized, predictable and tidy
- Start a new quarantine ritual
- Use virtual healthcare as an option to talk to a professional if your anxiety becomes unmanageable. According to the ADAA, many licensed psychologists are offering telehealth options over HIPAA-compliant video chat platforms.
Being separated from others if you have been exposed or think you have been exposed to COVID-19 can be stressful, even if you end up not getting sick. However, according to the CDC, some of this feelings could still be experienced even after coming out of quarantine. Some feelings, the CDC outlines, include :
- Mixed emotions, including relief after quarantine
- Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones
- Stress from the experience of monitoring yourself or being monitored by others for signs and symptoms of COVID-19
- Sadness, anger, or frustration because friends or loved ones have unfounded fears of contracting the disease from contact with you, even though you have been determined not to be contagious
- Guilt about not being able to perform normal work or parenting duties during quarantine
- Other emotional or mental health changes
The CDC also urges individuals with preexisting mental health conditions to continue with their treatment and be aware of new or worsening symptoms.
Additional resources for individuals with mental health conditions or substance abuse problems can be found on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website.
RESOURCES IN THE TRI-STATE AREA
If you feel overwhelmed, or if you need help coping, you can contact NYC Well, aconfidential 24/7 helpline, staffed by trained counselors. They can provide brief counseling and referrals to care in over 200 languages and other resources. Call 888-NYC-WELL (888-692- 9355), Text “WELL” to 65173, or chat at nyc.gov/nycwell.
The State of New York also set up a hotline if you need to speak with a mental health professional at 1-844-863-9314.
Additionally, New York State is partnering with Headspace app to provide mindfulness, meditation and mental health resources to all New Yorkers free of charge. Those interested can visit www.headspeace.com/ny.
For general questions about the coronavirus, New Jersey established a 24-hour hotline at 800-222-1222. Additional information can be found on the state's Department of Health website.
For the most up-to-date information from the State of Connecticut on COVID-19, including guidance and other resources, all residents in the state are encouraged to visit ct.gov/coronavirus. Individuals who have general questions that are not answered on the website can also call 2-1-1 for assistance. The information line is available 24 hours a day and has multilingual assistance and TDD/TTY access for those with a hearing impairment.