One word that’s been frequently brought up during the coronavirus pandemic is “uncertainty.”
According to John Hopkins University, the virus has globally infected more than 1 million people and caused more than 54,000 deaths.
It’s unclear how long it will take the virus to run its course, but local medical officials said they believe the situation will peak in the Manhattan area in late April or early May.
However, not only is the coronavirus taking its toll on peoples’ physical health, it’s also impacting mental health as they deal with new restrictions throughout their lives.
More than 10 million Americans filed for unemployment last month, and events or places people normally would frequent for leisure have been canceled or closed indefinitely in the name of social distancing. State and local orders to stay home to slow and stop the spread of the virus have people confined for the most part, except to handle essential errands or go to work.
A recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on healthcare issues, showed 45% of adults reported the pandemic has caused worry or stress and affected their mental health. Nineteen percent said it’s had a “major impact.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported those 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; first responders and health care providers; and people who have mental health conditions including problems with substance use.
Cristine Glendening, a licensed clinical therapist with K-State’s Counseling Services, says the pandemic has induced an increased sense of anxiety in many people as they adjust to a new normal.
“What surrounds a lot of what people are struggling with is loss related to the pandemic,” Glendening said. “(It could be) feeling like they’re losing their sense of autonomy by having to stay home, lost wages, or just these future anticipatory losses like loss of graduation, being able to move and start a new job, weddings that were planned in the near future, loss of friends because maybe (students) had to move back home, things like that.”
Glendening said one of the most important things for people to remember is that just because they can’t physically see friends and family, it doesn’t mean they can’t remain connected with them.
“If before one of your coping strategies was to meet up with friends and go out to dinner, well you might just have to take those coping strategies and alter them a little bit, so maybe now you have virtual dinners with friends,” she said. “Maybe before you would call and text your friends, you can still do that. If you’re not someone big into technology, connect with friends by maybe going back to writing letters.”
People also should be mindful of how much and what media they’re consuming right now, she said, especially when it comes to taking in constant developments with the coronavirus situation, because it can reinforce feelings of anxiety and fear.
“It is important to stay informed, especially at the local level, but I think there needs to be some boundaries around that and limiting your exposure to it,” Glendening said. “Like maybe once a day to check in about what’s going on. Also in terms of what media you’re choosing to engage with, make sure that if you are especially looking into what’s going on with the coronavirus, choose reliable resources such as your local health department, the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
Glendening advised people to maintain a flexible daily routine and incorporate some physical activity in that plan by going on walks or runs and doing at-home workouts.
Lastly, Glendening said it is normal to feel worried about the ongoing situation, but “now is a time more than ever to be kind to yourself.”
“Validate yourself,” she said. “Validate any emotions that are coming up during this time because it would be normal to experience some level of anxiety, especially when things are uncertain. Normalize that and do things for yourself to help manage any anxiety. Maybe that’s working in the garden, doing meditation or reengaging in hobbies that you can do on your own like reading.”
However, if someone feels like they can not cope with emotions on their own, Glendening said that could be an indication to reach out to others for help.
“If it’s getting to the point where you’re having distressing thoughts that you otherwise would not be having — suicidal thoughts, things of that nature — that would be indication that maybe it’s time to look into getting some help or reaching out for additional resources.”
Many area therapy offices, including K-State Counseling services, are now offering, or starting to offer, widely available tele-therapy services.
Crisis hotlines include Pawnee Mental Health’s 24/7 crisis line, 1-800-609-2002; the National crisis text line, text HOME to 741741; and the national suicide hotline, 1-800-273-8255.
“Now is the time to be more intentional about what we do with our time, but I also think people are really resilient,” Glendening said. “People have these natural ways that they’ve coped with other adversities and struggles within their life, so be intentional about taking what’s worked in the past and maybe alter it given the limitations we’re faced with now.”