COVID-19’s Impact on Mental Health and How to Move Forward
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health has been significant. Learn how to care for your mental health as we move forward from David Gutterman, PhD, clinical psychologist and clinical director of LeBauer Behavioral Medicine, in this 2 Your Well-Being discussion with WFMY News 2.
Has COVID-19 impacted the mental health of adults and kids?
"Very much so. It has been a significant learning curve for everybody. You know, just like the virus, we were learning about things every week, every month - that's gone by and we're just now starting to really grapple with the significant impact It's had on mental health for everyone."
What are some ways to manage anxiety and fear as they're reentering back into normal life?
"Reentry anxiety is something I've been talking a lot about with people for the last couple of months, but especially as the vaccine is becoming more prominent, people are making their way out, as you know, back out into the world, and there is a significant amount of anxiety for many people accompanying that reentry. We've spent the last year and a half learning about all the precautions that we need to take, being very careful, and many people have done a great job of adapting to those precautions, but now going back into society and with things beginning to open back up, people aren't so quick to make that adjustment. The information's coming at us fast and furiously, and changing a lot, and it takes us a little longer to adapt to some of those changes. And that's okay. But it is creating a quite a lot of anxiety among many people. Other people, on the other hand, seem to embrace it and are willing to adapt fairly easily."
"If you are having the anxiety, I think to manage it, first and foremost, by staying up to date with with the information, the facts about really what's going on. This is one of the things that's made this so very complicated - information's coming at us from so many different directions, in social media - and again, I appeal to people: please get your information from reliable sources and and make sure you you have the facts. The facts will help guide the standards that you can adhere to."
"With regard to the anxiety, I think you can employ a lot of the same kinds of things you do with with any kind of general anxiety, you know, taking care of yourself and making sure that you do the types of things that help keep you relaxed and calm. Exercising and good nutrition and all those kinds of things will certainly help, but I think being real clear about what your own standards are and the standards for your family will help you reenter back into society and back into what will be somewhat of a different norm."
What can parents who are anxious do to help their children not feel that anxiety?
"Good question, because you're exactly right that children often will emulate what they sense or hear or feel from their parents. So it's very important that you be cautious and careful about what you say around your children or to your children. Help them understand if your family is taking certain particular types of precautions, if you're still wearing masks in certain places, and they ask you why, you know - 'Why aren't why aren't we taking them off like some other people?' Explain to them, help them understand where you're coming from and why it's important. You can do that in a way without a great deal of anxiety and stress associated with it, and if you're comfortable and the more you work at being comfortable, the more comfortable they're going to be as well."
How do we handle situations where people have completely different views than we do? If things start to get uncomfortable, how do we deal with that?
We've been dealing with this for a year and a half, right, as people have very different ideas about what they're - about how to manage their precautions around COVID. And so just like we did at the beginning, in the middle of this, here toward the end of this, people are also are exercising very different types of precautions, and it can get very uncomfortable. One thing I would say unless someone is - if you feel like someone's threatening your safety, and what I mean by that is that they're not taking precautions, it's making you uncomfortable - but unless they're doing that, you stay in your own lane, you don't need to necessarily make commentary or judgments to other people verbally that you're passing in the store. I think that it's important that, again, you remain comfortable.
"If you're in a situation that's not comfortable or someone seems to be either giving you a hard time or saying things to you as we've learned for the last year and a half, it is not worth getting into any kind of a significant confrontation with people, and we always have the option of exiting stage left, you know, to get ourselves out of those difficult situations. And I think that's an important model for our kids and it's important for ourselves to be respectful of each other."
What advice do you have for those who are struggling with the thought of getting back to normal?
"It's a good point that for so many people, they're not going back to normal, right, because if you've been - certainly it's not normal if you've lost someone close to you, someone that you know, and and I think it's important to recognize life is always throwing us changes and we're always evolving and we're always changing. I wouldn't get so locked into trying to get back to to normal. There'll be a different normal. We need to be patient and work our way work our way into that. I think for a lot of people, it's very difficult if their lives have changed in some very significant way. It could be economic. It could be the loss of a loved one. It could be, as you said, a long haul or it could be any of those things - and it's difficult because when you see other people around you getting back to what looks like normal for them, it isn't for you, and it takes time. But in time you develop a new norm and you integrate that into your life. So again, I would just caution people. You know, be patient with yourself as well with others. We will develop into to what will be a different norm to varying degrees for everyone."
When should someone seek professional help and what are the options?
"Fortunately, the good news is there are a number of options that are available throughout the pandemic. So many mental health professionals have converted over to doing virtual sessions like this, we can do virtual types of meetings to make mental health services much more accessible. You know, Cone Health is going to be opening up an emergency outpatient facility within the in the next couple of weeks. LeBauer and many other practices throughout town have outpatient services to really help folks, but it's important to recognize that these are abnormal times, and so don't feel as though you're the only one going through something significant like this. So if the anxiety that you feel, the depression that you feel - and keep in mind, the depression and anxiety and PTSD, that's been reported throughout the pandemic, is about four times what it was in the pre-pandemic stages. So it's it's very prominent and significant and so it's not unusual."
"But if it becomes debilitating where you really find yourself that anxiety isn't just a sense of nervousness or uneasiness in your stomach, but it becomes debilitating where you can't leave your home, where you've become more and more obsessed with what's going on, your friends or family are commenting to you that you're not the same, or you're not sleeping well and not eating well - those kinds of things are usually good indicators that you might want to consult with a professional, talk to somebody who can really help navigate your way through this tough time."