Pandemic Mental Health Check
Sweats and slippers? Check. Zoom meeting schedule? Check. Temperature at 98.6? Check. Mental health stability? Check back later.
Admit it. After all of these months, the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic is starting to really get to you. At first you liked the comfort and convenience of working from home. Now you feel like you are climbing the walls. In the beginning, you thought the virus would dissipate in no time. Now you are starting to wonder if it ever will. All of the changes and anxiety the coronavirus has brought with it may be taking a toll on your mental health—perhaps even more than you realize. This is why it is so important to monitor important mental health issues such as stress, anxiety, depression, and anger management.
It’s certainly not surprising that stress is experiencing a pandemic of its own these days. As if worrying about ourselves and our loved ones contracting a potentially fatal disease wasn’t enough, we are forced to social distance, work from home, wear protective gear, and forgo our favorite forms of entertainment. The changes in our lives and routines are bound to cause stress in even the most stable individuals.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA) “People under stress experience mental and physical symptoms, such as irritability, anger, fatigue, muscle pain, digestive troubles, and difficulty sleeping.” It is critical for your mental and physical health that you monitor your stress levels.
The primary ways to measure your stress levels in terms of their physical manifestations are by taking your blood pressure and your pulse/heart rate. And you don’t even have to go to the doctor to do it. Instructions on how to measure your own pulse/heart rate at home can be found here. A normal resting heart rate for the average adult will be between 60 to 100 beats per minute. You can purchase home blood pressure monitors to keep track of your BP daily. If you are not on any blood pressure medications, your blood pressure should be at or below 120/80. If either of these vitals are not reading normal, please contact your physician immediately.
Some ways you can help keep your stress levels down during these trying times include:
- Breathing exercises
- Healthy eating
- Taking regular breaks from work
- Listening to music
- Working out/walking
The terms “stress” and “anxiety” are often used interchangeably. However, according to the APA, they are notably different. Stress is a reaction to something bad that has happened, i.e. an external stressor. Anxiety, on the other hand, is a persistent feeling of dread or apprehension that is maintained whether external stressors occur or not. This does not mean, however, that anxiety cannot be exacerbated by ongoing stressful events like COVID-19. The symptoms of anxiety are very similar to those associated with stress, so you can follow the advice above to monitor and reduce it. The difference is you may want to do it on a more consistent, long-term basis.
Depression and related issues of substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicide are all cause for concern during the pandemic. Depression and suicide help lines are receiving considerably more calls than usual since COVID-19 began ravaging our world, indicating there is much more to this virus than physical distress.
Some of the signs that you might be experiencing mild to severe depression include:
- Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
- Losing interest in daily activities, work-related or personal
- Changes in weight and/or appetite
- Sleep changes such as insomnia or sleeping too much
- Short temper
- Loss of energy
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Engaging in reckless behaviors, including substance abuse
- Trouble concentrating
- In severe cases, thoughts of self-harm and suicide
If you are experiencing severe symptoms, please immediately contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), your doctor, or the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
There is a lot to be angry about these days; and being trapped at home with restless children and/or a cumbersome workload only adds fuel to the fire. If you find your temper is becoming increasingly short lately, you are not alone. But what can you do about it? Dr. Lynn Saladino encourages people in this situation to “feel their feelings” rather than trying to downplay them. It is better to have mini outbursts than to let the anger build up inside until you erupt like a volcano. It also can’t hurt to engage in some of the stress-reduction activities listed above.
No one is enjoying the pandemic. If you are feeling stressed out, anxious, depressed, or angry during this crisis, you are among the majority. The important thing is to monitor your mental health, as well as the physical manifestations of it, on a consistent basis. Don’t assume you can just muddle through it alone. If you need help, ask for it. Your wellbeing is not worth risking.