Managing mental health during COVID

Elizabeth Irvin 
PC: John Robinson Elizabeth Irvin PC: John Robinson

For some people, quarantine has given them the opportunity to spend more time with their family, catch up on their favorite TV shows, or finally learn how to bake bread, among other things. But for those struggling with anxiety and depression, this time may be very difficult, especially if they live alone.

To learn more about protecting our mental health during the ongoing pandemic, we spoke with Elizabeth Irvin, a licensed clinical social worker and executive director at The Women’s Initiative, which offers free and low-cost (now virtual) counseling to women.

C-VILLE: How may the pandemic be affecting people who struggle with anxiety and depression?

Elizabeth Irvin: The virus and our stay-at-home order are triggering fear and uncertainty for everyone. In different ways, that is showing up for people who had depression and anxiety before this all got started. Their symptoms are continuing and sometimes worsening, but we’re also seeing incredible resilience, with many people really putting in the extra effort to reach out and get the care that they need.

The other additional impacts on people with depression and anxiety are what’s facing so many people, including issues with job security, money, and childcare, as well as feelings of isolation and disconnection from others. So as those issues worsen during this time period, it’s that much more important for people with underlying conditions to take even more steps for their self-care and well-being.

What can people struggling with mental wellness do to stay healthy at home?

It’s so important to get the facts about the virus from reliable sources, and make sure to also take media breaks. Avoid…too much negative content, because it really increases your anxiety. Taking the healthy actions that we all can, like good hand-washing, social distancing, and having a plan if someone gets sick—that’s anxiety-reducing too.

I also recommend keeping a schedule and making time to do activities that you enjoy…If the despair or depression is really starting to settle in, you may not have any interest in doing these things. However, it’s really important to start activities often, even without a lot of motivation to them, because they themselves help you feel better.

Taking time to create calm in your day…and taking care of your body are very important. The studies on exercise are clear, both for reduction of anxiety and depression, as well as improved sleep. They also are beginning to show results of fighting the virus. You can do that by running in place in a room and doing jumping jacks—things that don’t even require you to go outside.

Lastly, there’s staying connected. We are physically distancing, but we can make scheduled times to call and reach out to friends and family through FaceTime, Zoom, or however you can. Checking in on a neighbor, from a safe distance, is just as important. We don’t want people to feel acute isolation during this time.

But if you’re trying these things at home…and your symptoms are worsening, please call and reach out for professional help.

What can those who aren’t struggling with
mental wellness do to support their friends and family who are?

Regular check-ins, in the way the person would prefer you to do them. That could mean a text, a brief phone call, or a scheduled longer phone call once a week…You can also reach out for help from a professional yourself to know at what point somebody might need more support.

Overall, do what you can to help and support that person, and recognize you also need to then take care of yourself. Don’t forget your own self-care as you’re supporting others.

For more information on how to access The Women’s Initiative’s free call-in clinic, go to thewomensinitiative.org

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