There are different issues that play into how COVID-19 impacts one’s mental well-being. From fear and anxiety, to isolation and family stressors, Dr. Emily Mukherji, assistant professor in Washington University’s Department of Psychiatry, highlights key factors related to coping with COVID.
1) Fear of illness
For many people there can be a lot of fear about getting sick with COVID-19 themselves or their loved ones becoming ill. This can be worse for front-line workers, who are required to go into work and potentially risk exposure to COVID-19. For some people this fear and associated anxiety symptoms may become severe, with physical symptoms of anxiety (palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, diarrhea, changes in appetite, headaches, tense muscles), rumination, racing thoughts, catastrophic thinking, and/or insomnia. It can be helpful to not fixate on the news, have a regular schedule, get exercise, eat as healthy as possible, and consider doing activities that you enjoy and are relaxing for you. Of course this is all easier said than done! Many people increase substance use (alcohol, caffeine, or other drugs) in settings of heightened anxiety and/or boredom but this can worsen symptoms. If you are having anxiety it can be helpful to call our Coping with COVID hotline at 314-286-1700.
Social distancing has led many people to be isolated from their usual support network, and especially for more extroverted people this can be a huge challenge. Remember that social distancing does not mean that all socializing must cease – it just can’t be in-person. It can help to have regular phone or virtual check-ins with loved ones and friends. We are offering regular Zoom support groups right now and you can check copingwithcovid.wustl.edu to find the schedule and sign up.
3) Financial struggles
It can be incredibly hard to cope with the stressors of financial uncertainty during this challenging time. This is top of mind for many right now. The US passed the CARES Act to provide some financial relief (emergency forbearance for student loans, stimulus payments, etc.). The Washington University and BJH EAP may be able to help with financial concerns. There are also a number of financial well-being resources, including webinars and one-one-consultations, offered through Washington University and TIAA. Being informed and learning how to manage resources can help you navigate through issues and understand how to plan and save for your future.
4) Family stress / tension
With the shelter-in-place orders in effect many are restricted to their homes with their immediate families. This can cause a large amount of stress for the family system. We are seeing that rates of child abuse and domestic abuse are rising rapidly. Washington University has the AWARE program for domestic abuse (314-362-9273) and there are also two domestic abuse hotlines in St Louis: Safe Connections at 314-531-2003 and ALIVE at 314-993-2777. Managing children and their homeschooling is also extremely challenging for many families. It can be helpful to have a regular schedule, allow for daily exercise breaks, and not set expectations too high for this time period. This time can also be a difficult time for children of all ages as they may experience sadness, fear, loss of social connection with friends, and disappointment about missed activities. Resources provided to help parents support their children during this challenging time can be found from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at https://www.aacap.org/coronavirus.
5) Racial discrimination
There are many examples of racial discrimination in this pandemic. There are cases of mistreatment of people from Asia because COVID-19 began in China. There is also evidence that it is harder for certain groups to access appropriate medical care due to discrimination, and health outcomes may be worse as a result. All of this may contribute to many individuals feeling disheartened and struggling more in the setting of this pandemic.
6) Reactivation of prior trauma-related symptoms
For people with a trauma history undergoing the trauma of a global pandemic may reactivate old feelings and sensations. It is not uncommon for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms such as nightmares, flashbacks, physical symptoms of anxiety, and avoidance to be worsened in this setting. Please remember that our Department of Psychiatry has resources available if you are struggling, please call 314-286-1700.
7) Struggles with managing other medical problems
Many people are putting off managing other medical problems at this time in order to avoid exposure to COVID-19. Many elective procedures and in-person appointments have been canceled or rescheduled. It can be helpful to continue to take your prescribed medications regularly and stay in contact with your physicians. Many offices are offering telehealth visits to allow care to continue during this pandemic.
8) Feelings of burnout
As this pandemic continues the feelings of fatigue, frustration, and even despair may worsen. Many of our front-line workers face a continuous onslaught of patients ill with COVID-19. It can be helpful to be as kind to yourself as possible in these challenging times.
Sometimes people feel like they need to put on a brave face all the time, even in the face of stressors like COVID-19. We want to emphasize that it is okay to reach out to our anonymous Coping with COVID hotline (314-286-1700) for assistance. We offer a continuum of services from brief emotional support to groups to individualized treatment. We are here for you.
For more mental health resources, visit copingwithcovid.wustl.edu.