Since mid-March, when the COVID-19 quarantines were put in place across the U.S, people were grappling with how they could function being stuck in their homes, with no place to go except the grocery stores and pharmacies.
For some, working at home is an option, while others on the front line – nurses, doctors, medical personal, food store employees, bus drivers, truckers and others – have been thrust full speed into the pandemic. Still many others have been furloughed and struggling without a steady paycheck, hoping to make ends meet until they are called back to work.
It’s no surprise, then, that mental health hotlines are at full capacity these days, as people all over the nation – and the globe – try to deal with stress, anxiety and depression. Even those lucky enough to remain employed while working at home are often dealing with the distractions of too many other people in the home at the same time.
On one end of the spectrum are husbands, wives, children all cramped up together 24/7, undoubtedly getting on each other’s last nerve, and on the other end are those who live alone, with no one to visit, except through teleconferencing.
Dr. Lata McGinn and Dr. Alec Miller of Cognitive Behavioral Consultants in White Plains, NY explain that it’s normal for people to be upset and uneasy during a stressful time like this. “It does feel unpleasant but that can actually be like an alarm to help us move toward helpful action,” said Dr. Mc Ginn. “We can call a friend, set up a video conference chat, watch a comedy or even clean out a closet to help distract us and experience some pleasure. Problems occur when we sit in a pool of emotions and don’t take any action.”
Dr. Miller added that continued sadness can eventually lead to depression. “There is a lot of grief out there – so many people are dying, others are getting sick, businesses are shut down and in many cases there’s a significant loss of income,” he said. “People can feel like there’s nothing they can do, but the fact of the matter is that there are still things you can do to feel empowered — even if it’s something simple like helping friends and family, donating food, or planning your next trip to the grocery store.”
Helping others, they both agreed, is a very powerful anti-depressant. The doctors also suggested balancing your life with healthy eating, exercise and limiting the continuous drumbeat of negative stories on television and social media.
Practicing mindfulness for just a few minutes a day is another important step in helping to improve your mood. “Just sit quietly and when your mind starts to wander, bring it back gently,” said Dr. Miller. “We also recommend a ‘gratitude check’ – being mindful about things you are grateful for, even in the face of this pandemic.”
As a result of COVID-19, virtual cocktail parties and drive-by visits to relatives are now part of the new norm. Retailers have been promoting online sales of products and even some non-profits are taking to their computer screens to host online fundraising events.
Health experts tell us the pandemic is on the decline, and quarantining won’t last forever, but three months is a long time to stay sequestered.
Cognitive Behavioral Consultants does offer a quick checklist that people can use to avoid negative thoughts during the remainder of the pandemic. “First recognize how you feel in a given moment when your emotion is high and then then recognize that what you say is having a powerful impact on how you feel, “said Dr. McGinn. “Your mind is believing everything you are saying to yourself and triggering powerful emotions. Then come up with helpful thoughts and do the mental exercise of saying them to yourself even if you don’t believe it.”
Above all, they recommend, try fill your mind with positive thoughts and know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.