Heightened stress and anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic is a normal, human reaction to the crisis, said mental health experts in the Denver metro area. But it can also escalate into an unhealthy state of mind.
Losing interest in activities someone typically enjoys, being unable to eat or eating too much, being unable to sleep and increased substance use are all signs someone may need to seek professional help to manage his or her mental health during the outbreak.
There are many ways to make the best of social distancing, self-isolation or self-quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only can these tips fend off boredom and restlessness, but they can also help manage stress, anxiety and other mental health challenges, local experts say.
Mental Health Colorado President and CEO Vincent Atchity suggests staying busy to keep the mind off stressors and limiting the flow of information on social media and the news. Stay informed and educated, but don't obsess over updates.
He also encouraged people to get outside and appreciate the natural beauty around them.
Cynthia Grant, chief clinical officer for AllHealth Network, and Abigail Tucker, chief clinical officer for the Community Reach Center, offered several other suggestions. Take up a home-improvement project. Bake cookies. Clean the house. Play with the kids. Take the dog for a walk. Go on your favorite hike. Most importantly, keep connected with loved ones using technology like Facetime, phone calls and social media.
If you or someone you know needs additional mental health support during the COVID-19 crisis, here are some resources based in the Denver metro area.
A mental health nonprofit with crisis services, a walk-in center, acute treatment, counseling and substance-use services. Locations in Castle Rock, Highlands Ranch, Littleton, Parker, the Denver Tech Center and more.
For information or to schedule an appointment, call 303-730-8858 or go to allhealthnetwork.org.
Community Reach Center
A mental health community center also offering substance-use disorder assistance. The center is based in Westminster and has locations in Thornton, Northglenn, Broomfield, Brighton and Commerce City.
For more information, go to communityreachcenter.org.
Colorado Crisis Services
Colorado Crisis Services provides free, confidential and immediate support for people experiencing a mental health, substance use or emotional crisis 24/7, year-round. Call 1-844-493-TALK (8255) or text TALK to 38255 to speak with a professional.
Visit coloradocrisisservices.org for more information.
Mental Health Colorado
A statewide mental health advocacy organization based in Denver. Go to mentalhealthcolorado.org to find mental health resources and more information about the nonprofit.
With a global pandemic closing schools, businesses, entire communities and threatening people's livelihoods in addition to their health, it can be difficult to stifle the anxiety, stress and fear coming with the crisis.
“I think the public is very scared and I think that there's a lot of fear and anxiety because there's so much uncertainty,” said Cynthia Grant, chief clinical officer for AllHealth Network, a behavioral health nonprofit offering services throughout the Denver metro area.
Vincent Atchity, president and CEO of the statewide nonprofit Mental Health Colorado, believes a tipping point came when organizations started canceling events and closing offices in mid-March as COVID-19 concerns mounted.
“Once the school districts started going, that creates this dramatic ripple effect,” he said.
Still, there are ways to cope, manage the mental health challenges, and yes, find joy in the days and weeks ahead.
Abigail Tucker, chief clinical officer at the Westminster-based Community Reach Center, said it's important that people focus on their mental well-being in addition to their physical health while responding to the pandemic.
“People are sometimes still forgetting that health includes your mental health,” Tucker said.
What's normal, what's not?
Additional stress and anxiety at a time like this is a common and collective experience, Atchity, Grant and Tucker said. Just how much is normal will vary for each person, but clear signs emerge when someone is struggling with his or her mental health.
“Everybody reacts differently to stressful situations so normal is definitely a very wide range,” Grant said.
Being isolated and quarantined can add to the challenge.
“It can make people feel really helpless, that there's really nothing they can do," Grant said, "and I think that all of that is normal.”
For people with existing mental health conditions, times of crises can be exceptionally tough. Grant said some of their clients with mental illness were stable before the pandemic but are not any longer. People with trauma histories can experience more flashbacks, nightmares and anxiety in the stressful environment.
Tucker's center had more calls on March 16 than it had all year, she said, although the number of calls was not immediately available. Callers had a mix of needs. Some were new clients in search of service, others were rescheduling appointments and more wanted information about Telehealth appointments. Both AllHealth and Community Reach Center are seeing increased demand for services along with Telehealth, which allows people to access treatment remotely.
The pandemic "can also have a peculiar effect if somebody is used to living with bipolar disorder or depression,” Atchity said. “In collective unsettlement, they can suddenly find they are the calm ones and are more unflappable, like, `OK, now you understand my world.' ”
When in doubt, the three said, reach out to a local provider with questions about mental health. Tucker said a good way to gauge whether your reaction is healthy is to reach out to a trusted loved one and ask how he or she has perceived your response. Are they worried about you?
How to cope, offer support
Atchity urged the community to find ways to quell panic even in the midst of crisis "so that we're not defeated by our anxiety.”
There are many ways to keep spirits up and fears at bay during the pandemic, Tucker, Grant and Atchity said.
Stay busy. Cross that home improvement project off the to-do list. Bake cookies. Go outside. Appreciate the world's natural beauty. Play with the kids. Clean the house. Walk the dog. Journal. Eat a healthy diet and exercise — both can affect one's mood and stress level.
Stay up to date and keep informed, and change practices as recommended, but don't obsess over checking the news or information floating around online.
“Control your flow of information,” Atchity said.
And go ahead, watch those popular plague movies or find one of the COVID-19 playlists trending on Spotify.
“That's great. That's funny," Atchity said. "That's the beautiful, funny thing about humans.”
Socializing while social distancing
Atchity, Grant and Tucker stressed the need for people to stay connected with one another, ground themselves in their humanity and practice kindness throughout the pandemic.
“The idea of connecting with other people is something that we are very much advocating,” Grant said. “Social distancing doesn't mean you can't connect with people.”
Use all the technology available to stay in touch with loved ones. Text, phone calls, social media, Facetime, and so on. If someone isn't familiar with the high-tech tools, use the extra time at home to learn.
“Social distancing does not need to be emotional distancing,” Tucker said.
Most people depend on social interaction, which contributes to someone's sense of being supported, feeling safe and staying mentally and emotionally healthy, Atchity said.
“There are so few of us who are true hermits and thrive in total isolation,” Atchity said.
Don't be afraid to check on people if there's reason to worry about them, he said. Tucker also cautioned friends and family looking to support someone struggling with their mental health should be prepared to help them find resources.
“The way we really turn this disruption to our advantage as a community is to take some of this down time and really put it toward one another with human connection,” Atchity said.
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