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For Better Mental Health, Build Resiliency Into Your Routine

Friday, May 07, 2021

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month

Even as hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 drop significantly and vaccinations become widespread, the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on mental health. During National Mental Health Awareness Month, NewBridge Services encourages individuals to tend to their mental well-being by developing healthy routines and getting professional help when needed.

“The pandemic has had a cumulative effect on our psyche over the past 14-plus months, and its consequences in terms of loss, isolation, and insecurity persist for many people,” NewBridge CEO Michelle Borden said. 

Pandemic’s Impact on Mental Health

According to a Kaiser Family Foundation study, four in 10 adults in the U.S. reported symptoms of an anxiety or depressive disorder during the pandemic — up from one in 10 pre-pandemic. Between August and December 2020, the percentages of adults reporting anxiety and depression symptoms increased significantly, according to a Centers for Disease and Control report.

“This is a time to take simple actions to foster resiliency, such as calling a friend, going for a 20-minute walk, and sitting quietly for five minutes or more,” said Borden, a licensed clinical social worker and disaster response crisis counselor.

“It will take intention on the part of individuals and the support of community resources to reverse the psychological impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Borden said. “As I’ve said throughout this crisis, the goal is for each of us to find balance in the midst of the imbalance.”

Returning to pre-pandemic routines will in and of itself be stress-inducing for some people. As conditions improve and restrictions relax, many people may need to ease slowly back in, while others are ready to take the plunge.

In a recent New York Times op-ed, psychiatrist Richard A. Friedman wrote that while people exposed to stress and trauma may experience anxiety and sadness, most don’t develop clinical depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. Most often, anxiety and sadness lift “soon after stress abates,” wrote Friedman, an expert in the neurobiology and treatment of mood and anxiety disorders.

A Daily Self-Care Routine

Creating a daily self-care routine can go a long way toward managing stress and anxiety. Here are strategies that can help:

  • Accept that you cannot control everything
  • Make an effort to replace negative thoughts with positive ones
  • Take short timeouts to inhale deeply and exhale slowly
  • Reach out to a friend or family member daily
  • Move your body and get your blood flowing
  • Choose healthy meals and snacks most of the time
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine
  • Establish a regular sleep routine of 7-9 hours a night
  • Relax the half hour before you head to bed
  • Try meditation, yoga or other relaxation techniques
  • Get professional help if stress and anxiety persist

NewBridge Services’ licensed clinicians are available in-person or through telehealth sessions. Call (973) 316-9333 to schedule an appointment. (NewBridge accepts most insurances.) Visit NewBridge’s repository of information and advice for maintaining wellbeing during the pandemic, including guided meditations.

How to Recognize Mental Illness

Mental illnesses can affect thinking, mood and behavior. They include: anxiety disorders like phobias; mood disorders like depression and bipolar disorder; behavioral disorders like ADHD; personality disorders, psychotic disorders like schizophrenia; and trauma- and stress-related disorders.

The severity of mental illness can be reduced through early intervention. Warning signs of mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, include:

  • Anger, irritability or aggressiveness
  • Noticeable changes in mood, energy level, or appetite
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Difficulty concentrating, feeling restless, or on edge
  • Increased worry or feeling stressed
  • A need for alcohol or drugs
  • Sadness or hopelessness
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Feeling flat or having trouble feeling positive emotions
  • Engaging in high-risk activities
  • Ongoing headaches, digestive issues, or pain
  • Obsessive thinking or compulsive behavior
  • Thoughts or behaviors that interfere with work, family, or social life
  • Unusual thinking or behaviors that concern other people

Mental Health America offers free online mental health screening tools to help people determine if they have symptoms of mental illness.

Preventing Suicide: Five Action Steps

If you suspect someone is having suicidal thoughts, talk to them. The National Institute of Mental Health recommends these five action steps:

  1. Ask. While it may feel awkward, ask, ‘Are you thinking about killing yourself?’
  2. Keep them safe. Keep them away from lethal items and places.
  3. Be there. Ask questions and listen to what they are thinking and feeling.
  4. Help them connect. Make sure they get in touch with a mental health professional or someone very close to them.
  5. Stay Connected. Follow up with the individual afterward because that can reduce the risk of a subsequent crisis. 

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1–800–273–TALK (8255), or New Jersey’s round-the-clock suicide prevention hotline at NJ HOPELINE, 1-855-654-6735. Crisis chat is accessible through the website.

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