Therapist offers tips for maintaining good mental health during pandemic
The young, the old and everyone in between have been thrust into a new normal of everyday life and are learning how to cope with extreme social distancing in order to slow down the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
“During these times of uncharted territory, we are learning as we go, so to speak,” said Sharon Todd, District School Wellness Counselor with Danville Schools. “During this time and after, let us all be mindful of our mental health. It is essential for everyone to stay on top of their mental health in order to promote their best immune system.”
Being cooped up at home for weeks at a time is likely raising the stress levels of adults and children. Adults are worrying about lost jobs and continued financial responsibilities, and increased concern for loved ones’ health, Todd said. “I imagine some students are worried about their inability to participate in extracurricular activities and attend social events, such as prom and graduation.”
Todd said many people may be experiencing grief as well: “Anticipatory grief, which is feelings of uncertainty about the future, is also a likely occurrence.”
Parents can expect to see regressive behavior from younger children, Todd said, such as throwing tantrums, whining, clinginess, baby talk and even bed wetting.
Some people are more resilient than others, but the good news is “one can become more resilient. Moments of adversity and times of discomfort allow people to become more resilient and building resilience is like working out. It takes time and intentionality,” Todd said.
One way to become more emotionally stable during trying times is to “create a sense of connectedness” Todd said. She suggested reaching out to friends you haven’t spoken to for a long time or “find a sense of purpose” by volunteering with an organization and faith-based communities with missions to support those in need.
“Or, start your own mindful mission to inspire hope,” Todd said. “We also need to be mindful that vulnerable populations, such as the elderly and victims of abuse, are at more risk of having mental health issues during these uncertain times,” she said. “If someone you know begins to complain of an increased lack of energy, or develops new physical symptoms such as headaches and arthritis pains, pay attention.”
Todd said, “It is always important to keep close tabs on our loved ones who are vulnerable, but especially now.”
She suggested to help them keep their minds active by leaving goody bags full of things to do, such as puzzles, magazines, books, coloring books, photos of family, and even music that they listened to in previous years.
“See if there are people home right now who would like to help by making scheduled calls to check in. This serves two purposes — allowing one to have a sense of purpose and the other to have the needed check-in and connection,” Todd said.
If financially able, you may even order food to be delivered for those who can’t get out, she added.
To help yourself relax, Todd said, “This might seem too simple, but take a deep breath. Literally. Practice controlled breathing to calm your brain, reduce stress, regulate blood pressure, and unlock the brain’s emotional side. When the body regulates itself through deep breathing, it activates the body’s parasympathetic nervous system, which can help ward off the body’s natural ‘fight or flight’ response.”
Todd said, “I think it’s important for parents to practice these skills with their children. Don’t wait until a moment of stress to practice deep breathing. Make it part of your daily routine. My own children have reminded me to take deep breaths in recent weeks.”
Todd said to follow these instructions for controlled breathing:
- Start by sitting up straight in a comfortable position.
- Expand your diaphragm and slowly inhale through your nose for a count of 4.
- Hold your breath for another count of 7.
- Open your mouth slightly, keeping your tongue in place, and exhale for a count of 8.
- Repeat this cycle four times.
“Parents, take care of yourselves during this time,” Todd said. “Give yourself permission to ask for help when you need it. Name your feelings and experience them rather than suppress them.”
Todd added, “Be patient with others and accept the things you cannot control. Focus on things you can control.”
Todd said anyone who is experiencing mental health issues should contact their health-care provider. Mental-health counseling is still available through telemental health platforms (you can meet with a therapist online), as many local agencies have this capability.
Online sources where people can find more information about mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic include:
- National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
- Coping Skills for Dealing with the Coronavirus (COVID-19) from a Child Therapist: copingskillsforkids.com/coping-with-coronavirus
- The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN)
Parent/Caregiver Guide to Helping Families Cope with the Coronavirus Disease 2019: www.nctsn.org/print/2251
- Age Related Reactions to a Traumatic Event: nctsn.org/sites/default/files/resources//age_related_reactions_to_traumatic_event
- Simple Activities for Children and Adolescents: nctsn.org/resources/simple-activities-children-and-adolescents