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Published on February 14, 2022

Caring for Your Emotional Well-Being During COVID-19: Tips for Adults and Kids

Caring for Your Emotional and Mental Well-Being: Tips for Adults and Children During COVID-19

The emotional toll of the COVID-19 pandemic can make it harder to connect with others. Licensed clinical psychologists David Gutterman, PhD, and Jenna Mendelson, PhD, share ways to care for your mental well-being in this Valentine's Day episode of 2 Your Well-Being with WFMY News 2.

How important is it to take care of our mental health?

Dr. Mendelson: "It's crucially important to take care of our mental wellness. On a physiological level, emotions are physical experiences, and they have a real impact on our physical health as well. For example: There's a 2016 study that found that 30% of heart attacks are directly attributable to psychosocial factors like stress. So it's a real physical experience to be stressed out -- plus, it doesn't feel good emotionally! So even just for that reason, it's important to take care of our mental wellness."

What impact has COVID-19 had on people's mental health?

Dr. Gutterman: "The impact has been significant. And in fact, I think it's far beyond what any of us really anticipated. First of all, we didn't anticipate this would be going on for two years. But we've seen huge spikes in reported depression and anxiety, sleep disturbance and even substance abuse during these past couple of years. And it's for all the reasons you would expect: the length of time this is going on, the isolation, the uncertainty, I think compounded by the fact that what we have seen is that the understanding of COVID - it's a moving target. And they've been learning so much about it as we've been going through these last couple of years, so it appears as though for many people that the information we've been getting is is inconsistent, when in fact this is a normal learning curve. As we learn more about the virus, the recommendations shift and they change. It's very frustrating, and that lack of understanding and the uncertainty of the future just contributes to all the mental health stress that we feel."

How has COVID-19 impacted children's mental health?

Dr. Mendelson: "Certainly, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all of us. It does seem to have had a slightly different impact on children than on adults. A 2021 meta-analysis that was actually conducted internationally found that children have been less impacted by social isolation as a result of COVID-19 because they've had family there the whole time, but they have been more vulnerable to the stress and the psychopathology of their parents. And unfortunately, this is especially the case for children in homes where abuse has been a factor. They've been just that much more vulnerable as the parents are more stressed out and there aren't as many people outside the family involved in the care of the child to bear witness to what's going on."

What suggestions do you have to help people who may be struggling emotionally while we continue to fight the COVID-19 pandemic?

Dr. Gutterman: "Self-care is vitally important at a time like this. It's always important, but especially throughout this pandemic. So there's several things."

"First of all, take care of your body. That is something that's easily forgotten. So making sure you get sleep and and create a regular schedule for that. Participate in regular physical activities as much as you can safely. Eat healthy... junk food is not good for one's mental health. Avoid alcohol in significant amounts certainly. Limit screen time - it's a big one. We're all spending so much time on the screen. Limit that especially 30 to 45 minutes before bedtime, because that disrupts your sleep. Relaxing and recharging is is important as well. So that's taking care of your body."

"Take care of your mind as well. Reduce those stress triggers whenever possible. Maintain a regular schedule for all of your activities throughout the day. Limit your exposure to media - depending upon what the media is, there's the potential for false information. Making sure you get good information from reliable sources is is vitally important as well. Stay busy with hobbies, reading, writing, games, cooking - all kinds of activities. Keeping yourself busy is really important. And maintaining positive thoughts."

"The third thing I would say is connect with others. We have figured out very creative ways to connect with others during this pandemic virtually. So virtual gatherings with friends, and as you know, there are recommendations about how to gather in person safely - when to wear a mask, outside versus inside... So whenever possible, connect with others and do what you can to help others. Reach out to those who might be isolated or need some contact. Helping others also helps ourselves."

What suggestions do you have for parents and kids who are struggling emotionally with COVID-19?

Dr. Mendelson: "You know, parents have really been on the front line of trying to navigate the recommendations, and you kind of think a certain activity is OK, and then it seems like it's not, and it's just such a shifting playing field. So I think an important first step is just to acknowledge that this has gone on for a long time now, and this is hard."

"I'm a big believer in meditation, but I saw a quote online that I thought was funny and kind of stuck with me: That you can't meditate your way out of a 40-hour work week with no child care. Many parents have been just asked to do the impossible, and are just doing their best right now. Where you can, access all the social support that's available to you so that you have adults that you can vent to, not your kids - that is really important. Yaking advantage of what child care options are available to you - if you have family members in the area that are able to help, so that you can have some time for some self-care, that can be be really helpful."

"And certainly when those moments happen, that you maybe aren't your best self around your kids - maybe you blow up a little or you act really anxious - just to give yourself some grace and remember that those moments too can be an important teaching opportunity for kids to see what you do to calm yourself down. And if you don't have the wherewithal in the moment where you're kind of losing it, you know ,repair goes a really long way with kids, to come back afterward and say, 'I really don't like how I spoke to you a few minutes ago. I had a really big feeling, but I've had a glass of water, I've had some deep breaths and and now I'm feeling a little better. Let's talk about it now instead of ignoring it and passing it off.' Really meeting it head on is good so that both of you can learn together and they can understand that it's OK to be stressed sometimes and we all need to learn how to handle it." 

2 Your Well-Being

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