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Dr. Rachel Pope, Psychiatrist
Dr. Rachel Pope, Psychiatrist

Wed, Apr 22, 2020 at 12:00 PM

Tips for staying mentally sound during, bouncing back after pandemic

If your nerves are rattled from watching too much news, or if you’re feeling stir crazy from being stuck inside the house or if you feel depressed over the state of the world, remember one thing: you are not alone.

Tips for staying mentally sound during, bouncing back after pandemic

Psychiatrist urges those overwhelmed to get help, anxiety very common now

By Rose Myers

Marshall Medical Centers

If your nerves are rattled from watching too much news, or if you’re feeling stir crazy from being stuck inside the house or if you feel depressed over the state of the world, remember one thing: you are not alone.

The natural reaction to a serious threat to our well-being – such as a pandemic – is increased anxiety. Living in uncertain circumstances where our normal routine has disappeared puts people on high alert and generates fear.

Doctors say those feelings are completely normal. If they become overwhelming, don’t be ashamed to reach out for help.   

“The entire world is anxious right now,” said Dr. Rachel Pope, a psychiatrist with Medical Centers Behavioral Health Clinic. “The biggest thing causing the anxiety is the unknown. No one has been through this before so you don’t know how to feel.”

Dr. Pope’s patient load has seen an uptick recently and she considers that a healthy sign.

“More people are having trouble right now,” she said. “There’s no stigma and you’re not alone. Many are having to reach out for help because nobody’s ever been through anything like this so it’s hard to even know how to cope. It’s very scary.”

 Even the simplest things like getting groceries can be a fearful experience.

“The anxiety of getting out of the house – your safety net – creates more of those feelings because you’re having to worry about what you’re touching, who you’re around, keeping a safe distance,” she said. “There are so many questions we’ve never had to think about before.”

The worst side effect may be the isolation caused by staying inside and working at home – especially for those who live alone. Without our typical ways of interacting with people – going to church, going to the gym, family gatherings – we have to be creative to satisfy the craving for interactions with people.

Dr. Pope suggests using simple coping skills to distract us from the crisis and to focus our minds on a healthy activity.

  • Stay in touch with people in ways that are still available, such as dropping a card in the mail and using technology.  Phone calls, emails and Facetime can go a long way toward helping us feel that we are not completely cut off from the world. Call to check on those who have no one.
  • Get outside. Go in your backyard or sit on the porch. Get sunlight on pretty days.
  • Do hobbies you may not have had time for in the past – artwork, home improvement projects, cooking, reading. Spend time with your children. Do something you actually have time for now.

“Having something to do that you enjoy gives you a reason to get up in the morning.”

  • Maintain a regular schedule. Try to get up at the normal time, shower and get dressed.

“Do the things you typically do in the morning to make sure you stay on a regular schedule and maintain normalcy.”

  • Get some exercise. Take a walk or find an online workout program such as a YouTube video.
  • When you’re inside open the blinds and try to get as much natural light as you can. Turn on lights. Brighten up your home as much as possible.

Dr. Pope also advises managing the amount of news you’re getting. Too much can be detrimental.

“Although it’s good to stay informed with what’s going on, don’t become obsessed with watching the news because the negative you see on TV ends up creating more depression and anxiety,” she said. “If you find you’re getting obsessed with keeping up with it that might be a good opportunity to try a new hobby.”

If despite your best efforts, the anxiety does become overwhelming and your coping skills are not working then you need to speak to your doctor, she suggests.

Physicians’ offices are using technology to communicate with patients without them actually having to go into the office and meet face to face. Call to find out if your healthcare provider offers video conferencing or phone consultations. Those means can help alleviate anxiety in people who try to avoid healthcare because they’re afraid of getting sick.

The bottom line is if you find yourself becoming overwhelmed by the whole situation, don’t wait to get help.

“If you feel hopeless or suicidal, go to the ER because that is an emergency,” Dr. Pope warns. “You need to get checked out. You should contact your doctor before you get to that point. There is nothing wrong with seeking help.”

Remember that you are not the only one who is feeling like you are feeling. Trying to put on a good front is not necessary in an extreme situation like this one.

“Many patients say they’re surprised to hear that others are feeling increased anxiety and depression like they are feeling. It’s encouraging to them to hear they’re not alone and are not the only one feeling like that.”

A final suggestion for good mental health through a pandemic is to have something to look forward to when it’s over. Plan to return to normal activities like volunteering, travel and church. Don’t stay isolated. Think about how much you enjoyed those activities before and look forward to rejoining in the future. Make plans with family members to get together.

“Make sure you have a plan and things to look forward to when things are more like normal and we are able to get together.”

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