Coping with depression, anxiety, stress during social distancing

Pocahontas Memorial Hospital

During this stressful time for our community and state amid the COVID-19 outbreak, we often find ourselves feeling very depressed, anxious or stressed. As many people experience isolation and social-distancing, we need to be mindful of how it affects our mental health. We asked our Behavioral Health Clinic Program Director, Angela Lester, a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker for tips and advice on coping through this challenging time.

Social contact is extremely important for humans to be able to maintain positive attitudes and good mental and emotional health. Without that contact it becomes very easy to experience increased irritability, sadness, tearfulness, anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, fear, and a whole host of other symptoms that describe the decline in one’s mental well-being.

It is important to look for and identify positive ways of coping to help improve one’s mood and overall emotional health. Activities such as reading a book, doing a puzzle, or arts/crafts could help distract attention long enough to provide some relief from the sadness or anxiety. Other activities such as watching a funny movie, listening to music, or talking on the phone to a family member or friend can help lift the spirit of the affected individual. Doing relaxation activities such as deep breathing, stretching, guided imagery, meditation, and progressive relaxation are also important to help reduce stress and anxiety.

It is widely recognized and accepted that exercise is a wonderful way to treat depression. Some people ask, “How can I exercise when all of the gyms are closed?”

The response should be that there are many ways to get creative in doing solitary exercise activities at home during this time of social distancing. Activities such as taking a walk outside while staying away from others to prevent exposure, going for a run or jog, doing yard work (weather permitting), bike riding, and others can work to release endorphins to elevate the mood. Indoor exercise may include yoga, Pilates, weight lifting, aerobics, Zumba, and walking up/down stairs. Media formats such as YouTube offer options for exercise instruction.

Another point about coping that bears mention is the difference between healthy and unhealthy coping.

The ideas already mentioned such as exercise, relaxation techniques, reading, watching movies, talking on the phone, etc. are viewed as healthy activities that help improve mood and effectively cope with stress. These activities generally help maintain a healthy emotional lifestyle in spite of the limited social contact.

On the other hand, examples of unhealthy coping may include things such as binge drinking, overeating, becoming very sedentary by binge watching TV or playing too many video games, not getting adequate sleep or sleeping too much, or using substances. These choices continue to foster addiction and health risks that may have long term negative effects on the body and mind.

During this time of uncertainty and upheaval we all need to remain mindful of the importance of staying as healthy as possible, both in body and mind. The best way to accomplish this is through healthy coping with our emotions. If you or a loved one find that you are unable to deal with stress or other emotions during this challenging time, be sure to reach out for help from your doctor or local mental health professionals who are there to provide extra support.

For information about PMH’s Behavioral Health program, please contact Angela at 304-799-1075 or arlester@pmhwv.org

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