Outbreak affects mental health: COVID-19 leads to high stress for many

CODY — With the onslaught of media coverage the COVID-19 pandemic has been garnering the last few weeks, it’s easy to become mentally distraught if not at least fatigued. Mental health experts say finding an escape from the informational barrage is critical to maintaining a healthy state.

Yellowstone Behavioral Health and Cody Regional Health have some suggestions on ways to keep your head above water during this turbulent state.

One of the most impactful steps people can take is limiting their social media consumption. Although there are many useful resources on Facebook such as CRH, Park County Public Health, and Love Thy Neighbor pages, too much stressful information causes problems.

“Misinformation and sometimes traumatizing information is easily accessible and leads to a stress response in the body,” wrote Becky Ransom, chief financial officer for YBHC and clinical director Dr. Shaun Balch.

Reading too much or consuming too much of this information can negatively affect an individual’s judgment and demeanor.

In 2018, researcher Dr. Sally Chan investigated the perceptions of the Zika Virus in the U.S. Chan found that as more people read on social media, their perception of risks increased. But when the volume of information about Zika on traditional forms of media increased, people were more likely to take effective protective measures.

The Centers for Disease Control reports that signs of stress during an infectious disease include high levels of fear and anxiety, changes in eating or sleeping patterns, difficulty concentrating, worsening of chronic health problems, increased use of alcohol or other substances.

Traditional forms of socializing such as talking on the phone or seeing friends and family in person create a sense of connectedness and community. In times of crisis like this it’s easy to fall into a pit of despair, and without a reassuring hand, that pit can feel overwhelming.

It’s important to be open and talk appropriately with children about the pandemic. Keeping as normal a routine as possible can benefit you and the mental health of your children.

“Children look to adults for their emotional and behavioral cues,” Ransom and Balch wrote. “If you are not managing your mental health, consider the heightened responses your children will have.”

Some signs of stress to look for from children include:

•Excessive crying or irritation in younger children

•Returning to behaviors they have outgrown (eg: toilet accidents or bedwetting)

•Excessive worry or sadness

•Poor school performance or avoiding school (even on-line school)

•Difficulty with attention and concentration

•Avoidance of activities enjoyed in the past

•Unexplained headaches or body pain

Children with physical or mental special needs may have an especially strong reaction to COVID-19.

“They might have more intense distress, worry or anger than children without special needs because they have less control over day-to-day well-being than other people,” Balch and Ransom wrote.

The best way to approach this topic with any child is to communicate as calmly as possible to them about what is going on, while taking their age into consideration. Encourage them to talk about what they’re feeling and educate them on how you will care for them during these trying times.

Older people and those with preexisting conditions may also react strongly to the crisis, according to the CDC.

Although it may be hard to stay active with as many businesses and resources closed as there are, staying physically healthy is one of the best ways to keep in mental shape. Going on a walk, taking a hike, or performing aerobics at home can make a positive effect. Luckily, in Wyoming, there are countless locations where people can pursue these activities while maintaining six-foot social distancing.

“Just hang in there and remember this is a great time to spend with your families,” CRH’s Dr. Adam Peters said.“Play some board games, watch some movies together, just love each other, making some food together.”

Peters said high-stress locations like Walmart and Albertsons should also be avoided if possible.

If you don’t have time for any of those activities you can still make a positive difference, by taking deep breaths, stretching, eating healthy, getting plenty of sleep, making time to relax and avoiding alcohol or drugs.

“Take time to smile and be happy and maybe say a joke or two,” Peters said. “We’ll get through this as a nation, we’ll get through this as a community.”

If feeling suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or text WYO to 741-741.