You Are Not Alone
September 28, 2020
Take time out on October 10, designated as World Mental Health Day, to become aware of mental health issues around the world and in your own surroundings, especially in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mental health is one of the most neglected areas of public health. Close to 1 billion people are living with a mental disorder, 3 million people die every year from the harmful use of alcohol, and one person dies every 40 seconds by suicide.
As the world’s population has witnessed from afar and has experienced close-up since earlier this year, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a stressful time for many people. Though necessary to prevent illness and loss of life due to COVID-19, public health recommendations, such as social distancing, business and school closures, shelter-in-place orders, and wearing face coverings in public, have made people feel isolated, lonely, and financially distressed. Fear and anxiety about the rapidly spreading coronavirus have caused strong emotions in adults, teenagers, and children. Finding healthy ways to cope with the stress you are experiencing may help you, the people you care about, and your community become stronger.
Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations. How you respond to stress during the COVID-19 pandemic can depend on your background, your social support from family or friends, your financial situation, your health and emotional background, the community you live in, and many other factors. Stress during the COVID-19 pandemic can cause the following:
- Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones, your financial situation or job, or loss of support services you rely on.
- Changes in sleep or eating patterns.
- Difficulty sleeping or concentrating.
- Worsening of chronic health problems.
- Worsening of mental health conditions.
- New or increased use of tobacco and alcohol and other substances.
You are not alone if you are experiencing any of these reactions to stress during the COVID-19 pandemic. Symptoms of stress did not originate with the current pandemic; John Cassian, a monk and theologian who wrote in the early 5th century, referred to the emotion of what we are collectively feeling today as “acedia.” A strange combination of listlessness, undirected anxiety, and inability to concentrate make up the paradoxical emotion of acedia. In reaction to physical and social isolation, the symptoms of acedia are the seizing up or freezing of feelings, reactions that were fairly common among medieval monks shut away in monasteries.
You may feel like you are living in a monastery because your way of life has changed drastically and consequently your emotional health may be challenged. You need to take care of your mental health, an important part of your overall health and wellbeing, that affects how you think, feel, and act. It may also affect how you handle stress, relate to others, and make choices during an emergency. People with pre-existing mental health conditions or substance use disorders may be particularly vulnerable in an emergency. Mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia affect a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, or behavior in a way that influences their ability to relate to others and function each day. These conditions may be situational or long-lasting. People with preexisting mental health conditions should continue with their treatment and contact their health care providers if new or worsening symptoms develop.
The new realities of working from home, temporary unemployment, home-schooling of children, and lack of physical contact with other family members, friends and colleagues may be taking a toll on your mental health. Adapting to lifestyle changes such as these, and managing the fear of contracting the virus and worrying about people close to you who are particularly vulnerable, are challenging for everyone. They can be particularly difficult for people with mental health conditions.
Fortunately, there are lots of things that we can do to look after our own mental health and to help others who may need some extra support and care.
Here are tips and advice that you may find useful.
- Keep informed. Listen to advice and recommendations from your national and local authorities. Follow trusted news channels, such as local and national TV and radio, and keep up-to-date with the latest news from reliable sources.
- Minimize newsfeeds. Try to reduce how much you watch, read or listen to news that makes you feel anxious or distressed. Seek the latest information at specific times of the day, once or twice a day if needed.
- Have a routine. Keep up with daily routines as far as possible, or make new ones. Get up and go to bed at similar times every day. Keep up with personal hygiene. Eat healthy meals at regular times. Exercise regularly. Allocate time for working and time for resting.
- Make time to do things you enjoy. Pursue a favorite hobby or start a new one. Engage in exercising, collecting items, gardening, reading, writing, cooking, baking, drawing and painting, sewing, knitting, crocheting, or doing other forms of arts and crafts.
- Keep in contact with others. Regular contact—by phone, email, text, live chat, or old-fashioned letter and note writing—is important for you and other people you care about to feel less isolated and more appreciated.
- Limit alcohol and drug use. Limit the amount of alcohol you drink or don’t drink alcohol at all. Don’t start drinking alcohol if you have not drunk alcohol before. Avoid using alcohol and drugs as ways of dealing with fear, anxiety, boredom, and social isolation.
- Be mindful of screen time. Be aware of how much time you spend in front of a screen every day. Make sure that you take regular breaks from on-screen activities.
- Balance video games with off-line activities. While video games can be a way to relax, it can be tempting to spend much more time on them than usual when at home for long periods. Be sure to keep the right balance with off-line activities in your daily routine.
- Keep a positive social media presence. Use your social media accounts to promote positive and hopeful stories.
The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic downturn have negatively affected many people’s mental health and created new complications for people already suffering from mental illness and substance use disorders. Take time on World Mental Health Day, and every other day of the year, to create a positive perspective on dealing with your stress levels during the COVID-19 pandemic.
If you need to maintain prescriptions for your or family members’ health conditions, you can keep records at InsureYouKnow.org of prescribing physicians, the trade names and dosages of medicines, locations of pharmacies that fill your medications, the number of days supplied, and refill expiration dates.