For the foreseeable future, phrases such as social distancing and self-isolation will be part of our everyday lexicon. We may know what they are and how to observe them, but we might not know how the effects they have or how to deal with them.

            Besides “cabin fever” or feelings of loneliness and uneasiness at having our normal routine interrupted for a long period, mental health experts advise that we pay attention to how the coronavirus ordeal effects our mental well-being.

            The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration warns us to be aware of how we feel during this ordeal, and to be willing to find and use available resources to help.

            SAMHSA lists a number of effects of quarantine and isolation, such as anxiety, worry or fear related to our own health or that of our loved ones; the loss of a job, the challenges of finding the food and supplies needed to endure the ordeal; concern about being able to care for your children or others you care for; uncertainty about the length of the isolation, anger about being stuck at home; and, of course, general boredom and frustration.

            As a result, SAMHSA recommends that we keep an eye out for signs of depression during the outbreak, such as:

  • Flings of hopelessness
  • Changes in appetite
  • sleeping too little or too much.

            Another concern is post-traumatic stress disorder, which can set in after the enormity of the coronavirus sets in. Among those symptoms are:

Intrusive or distressing memories

  • Nightmares
  • Abrupt changes in mood
  • Being easily startled

Understanding the risks

            Federal health officials say that while it’s important to understand both the risks associated with COVID-19 and the current state of the pandemic, it is important to limit both your news consumption and your media consumption in general. The more news you consume, the greater your anxiety will be.

            Also, SAMHSA says to be sure to look only at credible sources of information, such as local news outlets, the Center for Disease Control, or the Virginia Department of Health. The VDH keeps a running total of COVID cases by region throughout the state at vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus.

Stay Connected

            The best way to fight the feeling of isolation is to stay in contact with friends and loved ones. The CDC and other health organizations are unanimous in their advice that checking in with those you trust via phone, text, email or social media helps to reduce anxiety, boredom, loneliness and depression.

            “We are very inventive, and the ways that people are using social media to keep in contact with others has been amazing.,”  said Lorrie Eanes-Brooks, secretary of the Association For Suicide Prevention’s Danville chapter. “Generally, we need to utilize our coping skills as we usually do, but in different ways.”

                  Those can include:

  • Talk “face to face” with others using Skype or FaceTime. Actually seeing that your loved ones and vice versa can provide a greater sense of comfort.
  • If approved by health authorities, arrange for friends and relatives to bring you newspapers, books and movies. Maintain social distance guidelines, but personal contact with those you care for at a safe distance also provides benefits in battling anxiety.
  • Maintain a healthy routine for children. Give them scheduled “blocks” of time for chores, play, school work and screen time. Watch for changes in their behavior, offer them plenty of support and reassurance, and let them know they are safe.

Practice good health habits

            Problems with our mental health affect our bodies, and vice versa. Therefore, we have to maintain both. We need to always look for ways to be good to ourselves and maintain a good health balance,” Eanes-Brooks said. “It’s important to understand that maintaining mental health is not a one-size-fits-all type of approach.”

            Both you and your family also need to find ways to keep moving during this crisis. According to the CDC, you can start by stretching, breathing deeply, or mediating.

            Eat healthy. It may be hard to get hold of healthy meal options at a time when we have to store convenience food and non-perishable items, but the CDC reminds us that whether we get fruits and vegetables fresh, from a can or frozen, every bit helps.

  • Exercise regularly. If you can’t get out, do things like yoga, pushups, situps or other indoor workouts. Local fitness clubs such as Planet Fitness, Curves and others all have home workout programs if you can’t get to the gym.
  • Get some sleep. Even if you’re working from home, schedule time for rest. At any age, kids can use a nap, and so can you. Make sure you get to bed at a consistent time, says the CDC, and get at least eight hours of sleep. Getting less than eight hours per night has dire effects on both your body and your mind.

Help is never far away

            Do you or someone you know feel overwhelmed, anxious or fearful? Contact these or any local health agency for help in an emergency.

            Disaster Distress Helpline: (800) 985-5990, or text TalkWithUs to 66746.

            National Domestic Violence Hotline: (800) 799-7233.

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