The first case of Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the United States was diagnosed in Snohomish County, Washington on January 20, 2020. The patient had recently returned to Washington after visiting family in Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the virus. Since January, the US has witnessed rapid rates of community spread throughout the country. As of July 1, 2020, the U.S. has recorded over 2 million positive cases of COVID-19 and approximately 130,000 deaths related to the virus. To be sure, our lives look drastically different now than they did just six months ago. The COVID-19 pandemic has dominated the news and nearly every aspect of daily life for the majority of 2020. And with infections rates again on the rise, there appears to be is no end in sight. Across the country, schools and many businesses have been forced to close their doors. Regardless of whether you have been infected with the virus or not, there is no doubt you have felt the presence of this invisible enemy. Experts are still trying to learn more about Coronavirus as they rush to find effective treatments or a vaccine. For those infected who recover, scientists still do not know for sure what the long-term health consequences might be. Aside from the obvious health concerns, COVID-19 is also having a dramatic impact on our stress levels and overall mental health.
Stress brought on by a Pandemic
In an effort to “flatten the curve,” national and local governments around the globe have asked their citizens to social distance, avoid public gatherings, wear facemasks, and cancel unnecessary travel. While these public health actions are intended to slow the spread of Coronavirus, they can leave people feeling stressed, isolated, and lonely. Stress takes a serious toll on our bodies and can adversely affect both our mental and physical health. High stress levels have been linked to serious conditions such as heart attacks and strokes. Stress can weaken the immune system and in the face of a viral pandemic, a strong immune system is more important than ever. Stress brought on by COVID-19 may contribute to the following:
- Fear for your health and the health of your loved ones.
- Worry over your financial situation or job security.
- Changes in sleep or eating patterns.
- Difficulty sleeping or concentrating.
- Worsening of chronic health problems.
- Worsening of mental health conditions.
- Increased alcohol consumption (online alcohol sales have increased 248%)
- Increased suicide rate
Many states across the country are working toward reopening their economy by following a phased approach; however, as some states are moving toward normalcy, they are starting to see a drastic increase in positive COVID-19 cases. As of July 1, 2020, the state of Florida was seeing as much as one in four positive COVID-19 tests. As a result of these case spikes, some states are beginning to scale back their reopening plans and some are dropping down to a lower tier in their phased reopening plans. For many Americans who had just begun to reemerge after months of isolation, the possibility of going back on lock-down could be devastating to their mental health. How you respond to Coronavirus and the subsequent changes it has made to our lives can depend on many factors, including your background, financial situation, support from friends and family, mental health history, and the community in which you live. While some people adjust easily and take things in stride, others struggle to adapt to the “new normal”. While a heightened level of stress due to COVID-19 can adversely affect anyone, stress seems to have a greater negative impact on the following groups:
- High Risk individuals (such as the elderly and those with underlying health conditions).
- People caring for family members or loved ones who may be high risk.
- Frontline workers such as health care providers and first responders.
- Essential workers who work in the food industry and retail clerks.
- Individuals who have existing mental health conditions.
- Those who use substances regularly or have a substance abuse disorder.
- People who have lost their jobs or had their hours drastically reduced.
- Individuals who have disabilities
- People who are socially isolated from others, such as those who live alone.
- People who do not have access to information in their primary language.
- Those living in underprivileged areas with less access to care
- People currently experiencing homelessness.
- Children and teens who have not been able to interact and socialize with peers.
Coping with the Stress
To adequately prepare for the possible ripple effect of a mental health crisis due to COVID-19, the World Health Organization (WHO) is encouraging countries around the world to increase their citizens’ access to mental health services. Prior to the pandemic, access to metal health services in the U.S. was underfunded, disjointed, and difficult for people to access. It therefore seems unlikely that many Americans will have access to much-needed mental health services when the pandemic is over and sadly, for some Americans, seeking help for mental illness still carries a stigma that often deters them from getting the help they need. While access to proper mental health services is critical, self-care is also more important now than it has ever been in our lifetimes. Self-care can be anything that helps you to relax and let go of the stressors of daily life. Examples of effective self-care can include:
- Being kind to yourself. Especially if you are experiencing more depression or anxiety than usual.
- Maintain a routine. Sticking to your regular sleep, school, meal, or work schedule can help you maintain a sense of normalcy.
- Participate in phone calls or video conferences with your friends and loved ones you have not been able to see.
- Practice deep breathing or meditation when you can feel your stress levels rising
- Unplug from the news outlets that are playing a non-stop stream of Coronavirus related news. Instead try watching a comedy or other genre that allows you to escape and relax.
- Make time for activities you enjoy. Any activity you that you enjoy and that takes your mind off your stressors is beneficial to your mental health.
- Go outside. Fresh air and sunshine work wonders for the body.
- Exercise. An active lifestyle will help you release anxiety, relieve stress, and manage your mood. Even if your gym is currently closed or you are not comfortable with returning, you can still get outside to bike, hike, or walk. If you prefer to remain indoors, there are countless free workout videos that can be found online. You do not need a state-of-the-art gym to have a good workout.
- Avoid self-medicating. With alcohol sales through the roof, it is important to be careful that you are not abusing alcohol or other substances to cope with anxiety or depression.
In times such as this, it is easy to become wrapped up in your own problems; however, it can be comforting to remember that we are all in this together. Food banks across the country are expressing an urgent need for more supplies, as families who may be experiencing financial hardships due to unemployment are in desperate need of food and other household items. If you are unable to help financially there is still many things you can do to be of service to others who may be struggling as much (or more) than you. Random acts of kindness, volunteering in your community, a positive outlook, or simply checking-in on your friends and loved ones not only benefits those around you but boosts your own emotional wellbeing and lowers your stress levels. Knowing you have a support group of friends and family and being there to support others in their time of need fosters a feeling of community and eases the stress of these challenging times. We are strong, we are resilient, and we will get through this…together.
C2 provides strategic HR outsourcing to clients who want to develop optimal workforce strategies and solutions to allow them to be more competitive and profitable. C2 blog posts are intended for educational and informational purposes only.