18 Mar Taking Care of Your Behavioral Health During the Coronavirus Pandemic
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic may cause an overwhelming sense of fear and anxiety in both adults and children. As attempts are made around the globe to curtail the spread of the virus, companies have mandated employees work at home, practice social distancing, cancel gatherings and suspend travel. This disruption in daily life, coupled with the uncertainty of the situation, may cause many to reach out for help.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 18 percent of Americans struggle with mental illness. Today, it is more important than ever for businesses to provide resources to address the behavioral health needs of employees and their families.
In addition to offering group insurance plans that include mental health coverage, most businesses have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) designed to offer medical support for their employees. The EAP can help employees learn more about treatment options and where to seek support and resources. For those with existing mental health issues, it is important to continue any treatment and to be aware of new or worsening symptoms.
Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations according to their unique personal background and characteristics. The CDC reports that individuals who may respond more strongly to the stress of a crisis include:
- Older people and people with chronic diseases who are at higher risk for COVID-19
- Children and teens
- People who are helping with the response to COVID-19, such as doctors, other health care providers and first responders
- People who have mental health conditions, including problems with substance use
Stress during an infectious disease pandemic can include:
- Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones
- Changes in sleep or eating patterns
- Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
- Worsening of chronic health problems
- Increased use of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs
For those struggling with anxiety or feelings of isolation because of coronavirus, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends people maintain their daily routines as much as possible and reach out for support and connection via email, social media, video conference and telephone. However, it is also recommended to avoid a constant stream of news reports that may cause increased anxiety and distress. Here are additional tips provided by the CDC on how you can support yourself and others:
Support for Yourself
- Take breaks from watching, reading or listening to news reports, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.
- Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch or meditate. Try to eat healthy and well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep and avoid alcohol and drugs.
- Make time to unwind and try to do activities you enjoy.
- Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.
- Call your healthcare provider if stress gets in the way of your daily activities for several days in a row.
Support for Your Children
- Take time to talk with your child or teen about the COVID-19 outbreak. Answer questions and share facts about COVID-19 in a way that your child or teen can understand.
- Reassure your child or teen that they are safe. Let them know it is okay if they feel upset. Share how you deal with your own stress so they can learn how to cope from you.
- Limit your family’s exposure to news coverage of the event, including social media. Children may misinterpret what they hear and can be frightened about something they do not understand.
- Try to keep up with regular routines. If schools are closed, create a schedule for learning activities and relaxing or fun activities.
- Be a role model. Take breaks, get plenty of sleep, exercise and eat well. Connect with your friends and family members.
Support for Responders
- Acknowledge that secondary traumatic stress reactions can impact anyone helping families after a traumatic event.
- Learn the symptoms including physical (fatigue, illness) and mental (fear, withdrawal, guilt).
- Allow time for you and your family to recover from responding to the pandemic.
- Create a menu of personal self-care activities that you enjoy, such as spending time with friends and family, exercising or reading a book.
- Take a break from media coverage of COVID-19.
- Ask for help if you feel overwhelmed or concerned that COVID-19 is affecting your ability to care for your family and patients as you did before the outbreak.
Taking care of yourself, friends and loved ones during this health crisis can help make your community stronger. Sharing accurate information about the spread and risks of COVID-19 with others can help reduce stress and increase social connectedness. For more information, please visit the CDC or World Health Organization.