COVID-19 has taken a major toll on people’s mental health. According to data from Mental Health America (MHA), 169,000 more people reported moderate-to-severe depression or anxiety by the end of June compared to before the coronavirus pandemic. The number of anxiety screenings completed in June was 406% higher than in January, while depression screenings increased by 457%.
“As schools reopen and people return to work in person this fall and winter, many people are still trying to learn how to cope with the daily stressors of the pandemic,” said Eve Gotham, LCSW-R, the senior director of clinical excellence and children’s behavioral health at Rochester Regional Health.
We spoke with Eve about some of the issues adults may be dealing with this year and how they can cope with feeling anxious, scared, or nervous.
Anxiety shows itself differently for each one of us. Some people get angry. Some people seek control like cleaning, organizing, or exercising. Others might engage in nervous habits like chewing their nails or wringing your hands, and others might shut down entirely. Because anxiety presents differently based on the individual, you may not realize that you or a loved one is suffering.
Signs and symptoms of anxiety may include:
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, call our Behavioral Health Access and Crisis Center at (585) 368-3950.
Yes, absolutely. Anxiety can impact anyone. In fact, anxiety does happen to everybody in some capacity.
Anxiety can be both good and bad. We get anxious when we are going on a vacation, or when we have guests coming to visit our house. These are all positive experiences that can trigger some form of anxiety and it’s our way of making sure that we enjoy our vacation and our guests have fun when they visit. Those are the good parts of anxiety, thinking and looking out for others.
Anxiety can be problematic when we get anxious about how we are perceived by others, or when we worry about the worst possible situation occurring. Anxiety is a universal experience. When we think back to the evolutionary beginnings of anxiety, it serves a very useful function. It kept us safe from predators. In this day and age, those same predators aren't around, but there are still threats in our environment.
Coronavirus is a real threat, and it’s something many of us are anxious about. Anxiety can be harmful when it interferes with your personal life, relationships, work, or other aspects of your life, and when your anxiety becomes too strong to control.
The basic premise of anxiety is the question of what if. What if this happens? One way to calm our minds is to try and come up with the answers to our what-if questions. And when we don’t have answers to our questions, we often turn to a task that we can complete and control, because not having an answer is a lack of control the feeds into our anxiety.
For example, mopping the floors or organizing the drawers gives you noticeable, tangible progress. Exercising can take your mind from not exercising to completing a workout in as little as 20 minutes (not to mention the natural endorphins it provides).
When we are dealing with a complex situation that doesn't have easy answers, like uncertainty around the coronavirus pandemic, we direct our minds to those tasks that we can control.
Yes. There are circumstances when medications can be very effective in helping people manage their anxiety. But it’s important to remember that medications often go hand in hand with other treatment options, like therapy, a change in diet, exercise, or other lifestyle changes.
Be patient and kind to yourself. We are all wading through uncertain waters, and the more that we can have compassion and patience with ourselves, the better we can then interact with the people that we care most about, our loved ones, our children. If we hold ourselves to some standard that cannot be met, we will be continually disappointed. If we hold ourselves to have compassion for ourselves and be kind and patient, we'll be able to do it for ourselves and for the people we care most about. This year, there are more questions than we have answers for, and that provokes anxiety in everyone. As a mother, and a therapist, I get it.
The first thing you can do is acknowledge that you are having to make difficult decisions this year, decisions that sometimes you question are right or wrong. Acknowledging and validating your own feelings is a good first step to relieving anxiety and stress.
Next, I encourage people to sit with their emotions and talk to people they trust and who will listen and respect their feelings. Anxiety often puts blinders on us. We only see one side of the situation. When we can sit with our emotions and talk with people who can listen to us and we trust, we often can see other things that we didn't see before.
This won’t take away the challenging decisions that people are making, but it may help put your mind at a little more ease, knowing that you’ve sat with our emotions, processed your feelings, and are making the best decision that you can in the moment given any limitations or barriers that exist. And then lastly, I recommend people listen and remain openminded to all possibilities—not just worst-case scenarios.
4 steps for facing your anxiety:
Setting boundaries for yourself and your peers, colleagues, and family members is important, especially as more of us work from home. Anxiety can linger for longer when our workspace and personal space blend into one another.
Everyone needs a mental break—whether that’s school-aged children learning from home or parents and teachers who now find themselves plugged into work more than before. You can set boundaries by creating transitions between work time and personal time.
How to create transitions between work and personal space:
Our therapists are at a real advantage during this time because we not only have the professional skills, knowledge, and experience to help people through tough and uncertain times, but we are also living through many of the same scenarios as our patients.
Many of us are parents who have had to decide whether to send our kids back to school or not. Like many of our patients, we are all out in the workforce, living with these decisions and experiences. And that perspective provides us the tools we need to relate to anyone who needs our support.
Call our Behavioral Health Access and Crisis Center at (585) 368-3950.
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