Coping with Stress of COVID-19 Pandemic: Tips to Help Yourself/Others
Monday, March 23, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic is taking a toll on people’s mental health. The tremendous disruptions to normal life and worries about catching the virus or spreading it to compromised loved ones are stress-inducing.
The mental health impact can be especially hard on individuals who live with mental illness. One in five adults in the U.S. experiences mental illness in a given year, and the rate is 1 in 6 for children, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
The nation’s growing population of seniors — about 10,000 people a day turn 65 — are at risk not only for more serious physical effects of the virus, but of isolation. Already, nearly a third of seniors live alone.
“Stress can be managed, and we all can play a role in supporting those who feel isolated in our communities,” said Michelle Borden, chief operating officer of NewBridge Services. NewBridge is a community nonprofit that provides mental health care and other services in Morris, Sussex and Passaic counties.
Signs of Stress
The following are typical indicators of stress, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- 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
Ways to Alleviate Stress
- Take slow, deep belly breaths, relaxing your shoulders with each exhale
- Maintain a daily routine and sleep schedule
- Go for a walk, run or bike ride (keeping six feet away from others), or exercise indoors
- Talk to someone about your feelings
- Limit how often you check news updates about the pandemic
- Take advantage of technology to keep in touch with friends and family
- Spend productive time taking an online course or doing a home project
- Give meditation a try (there are plenty of resources on YouTube for beginners)
- Keep up your meditation practice, if you have one
- Eat well-balanced meals
- Limit alcohol consumption
- Donate to organizations that are helping people in need
- Look for opportunities to help your community (hospitals are asking for hand-sewn face masks)
- For people with mental illness, continue taking prescribed medications and reach out to your counselor (NewBridge Services’ clients can keep appointments through tele-health sessions.)
How to Help People Who are Isolated:
- Call relatives and neighbors who live alone at least every other day
- Offer to pick up groceries and prescriptions for them when you’re shopping
- Encourage them to use their computers and smartphones to stay connected
- Write them ‘thinking of you’ notes and leave those in their mailbox
Make Your Mental Health a Priority
If you feel overcome by depression, anxiety, addiction, or other issues, contact your doctor and/or counselor. You can call NewBridge Services at 973-316-9333. NewBridge continues to hold sessions with clients over the phone rather than in person.
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:
- Ask. While it may feel awkward, ask, ‘Are you thinking about killing yourself?’
- Keep them safe. Keep them away from lethal items and places.
- Be there. Ask questions and listen to what they are thinking and feeling.
- Help them connect. Make sure they get in touch with a mental health professional or someone very close to them.
- 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.
NewBridge Services, a 501c(3) nonprofit, is a leading provider of counseling services, housing and educational programs in northern New Jersey serving nearly 8,000 adults and seniors last year alone. NewBridge treats mental illnesses and addictions; teaches skills for coping with stress, grief and challenging relationships; helps children who have been abused and neglected — and their families — heal; builds and manages affordable housing; offers school-based programs that teach children and adolescents resiliency skills for healthy emotional development; helps young adults succeed in their education and prepare for careers; and supports seniors so they can remain independent. Throughout its 57-year history, NewBridge has remained true to its mission of bringing balance to people’s lives by tracking shifts in communities’ needs and providing innovative, effective programs to meet them.