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Mental Health Support During Coronavirus COVID19

Taking Care Of Your Mental Health During COVID-19 (Coronavirus)

Est. reading time: 4 mins
Posted Under: For Families, Insights

Clinically Reviewed by: Amanda Fialk, PhD, LCSW, LICSW


As the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic has swept the world, it has brought with it an unprecedented level of anxiety, stress and fear of the unknown. It has also presented us all with a unique opportunity to check in with ourselves and to be even more intentional than usual about caring for our mental health and wellbeing. This personal work not only serves us but others. By taking care of our mental health, we are better able to weather these challenges together and help to support our greater community when it needs it most.

Below, Dr. Amanda Fialk, Partner and Chief of Clinical Services at The Dorm shares advice for young adults and families seeking to take care of their mental health during these difficult and significant times.

First, why is the fast-evolving news about the coronavirus so difficult for those who struggle with mental health issues and anxiety?

Dr. Fialk: Estimates indicate that 1 in 5 individuals in the United States struggle with mental health and for those individuals with any kind of preexisting mental health condition, situations like a healthcare crisis make them particularly vulnerable. The coronavirus has brought with lots of challenging emotions including fear, anxiety, uncertainty and wide-scale panic.

What are some signs that contemporary news may be taking a toll on someone’s mental health?

Dr. Fialk: For the young adults we care for at The Dorm, we look out for any progression or worsening symptoms like changes in sleep or eating patterns, deteriorating physical chronic health problems (headaches, body pains, stomach problems), an increase in substance use issues, maladaptive behaviors like self-harm or eating disorders, fixations and “catastrophizing” tendencies or impulses to block out events completely and avoid precautionary measures.

What can young people do to help care for their mental health during this time?

Dr. Fialk: It’s important to negotiate staying safe in this current climate and simultaneously making sure that fear doesn’t develop into an obsessive or compulsive behavior or full-blown panic. Fear is a normal human response and is ultimately there to help keep us safe. Vigilance and precautionary measures are essential. But psychological distress and widespread panic do not have to be part of this experience. Some advice we have been giving to young adults here at The Dorm include:

  • Help manage stress by taking control of what you have control over. If you feel like you’re taking reasonable steps to protect yourself, that can help give you a sense of control and help manage your stress and anxiety. These can be simple things like following CDC guidelines around protecting yourself.
  • Be mindful about how you’re absorbing media: it’s important to be smart about obsessive media coverage which can heighten anxiety (take breaks, go for a walk in the fresh air or call a friend). And when it comes to what you do absorb, make sure it’s a reliable source that is accurate and rooted in facts. Misinformation and uncertainty can heighten anxiety.
  • Maintain (or adapt!) any normal routines that you can. While staying safe and following guidelines and proper precautions are paramount, it is also important to maintain a semblance of a regular routine. Do you love to exercise in the morning? Try adapting your workouts so you can do them safely indoors.
  • Social distancing does not mean social isolation. More than ever, draw on those healthy personal relationships that can help elevate your mood and establish perspective, even if that means digital connection for now!
  • Take care of yourself. As with any other wellness measures, now is a good time to do the things that modulate any fight or flight responses like walking outside, purposeful breathing, stretching, meditating and yoga. Don’t let practical self-care go out the window – remember to get sleep, exercise and eat nutritious meals.

What about advice for parents who want to help a young person coping with heightened anxiety and stress?

Do you or a loved one need help with mental health?

The Dorm is here.

Dr. Fialk:

  1. Young people react, in part, to what they see from the adults around them. When parents and caregivers deal with COVID-19 calmly and confidently, young people will feel safe and reassured. 
  2. Talk! Take time to talk with your child about the COVID-19 outbreak. Answer questions and share accurate facts about COVID-19.
  3. Validate: Let them know if it is ok to feel upset while at the same time reassure them they are safe. Share with them how you deal with your own stress so that they can learn how to cope with you.
  4. Limit family exposure to media coverage of the event. Take advantage of more technology-free time as a family. 
  5. Be a role model; take breaks, get plenty of sleep, exercise, and eat well. Connect with your friends and family members in a safe way and rely on your social support system.
  6. Connect: remember that in times of crisis, there is an opportunity to strengthen and deepen our bonds. This is a time when we can all connect, have conversations and be together in a new and different way.

Any recommendations for coping for those who are self-isolating or in quarantine?

Dr. Fialk: For people that are in self-isolation or are in quarantine, this may seem scary, overwhelming and daunting. But what’s most important is to follow guidelines from your local department of health and do what you can to take care of yourself. Here are some tips:

  • Perspective – while you didn’t choose this, it does not have to be “bad” – it will require a different rhythm, but remember, it will be temporary!
  • Communication – Again, having to self-isolate does not mean social isolation. Take this opportunity to be in touch with others in a different manner than usual like Facetime, Skype, Zoom or Google hangout. We are so lucky to have so many choices for staying in touch remotely! It may help to try to view this as a unique period of time or chapter in your life when you can talk on the phone over texting and try out different mediums for staying in touch. Connect with people you have not spoken to in some time. Try to view this as an opportunity!
  • Create a daily routine – create a daily routine that prioritizes looking after yourself. Have a daily schedule and set wake and bedtimes. Try reading more or watching movies, having an exercise routine, trying new relaxation techniques, or finding new knowledge on the internet. Research new and exciting hobbies. Try and rest and view this as a new, if unusual, experience that might have its benefits.
  • Make sure your wider health needs are being looked after such as having enough prescription medicines available to you and making healthy food choices and taking supplements as you normally would.
  • Have a plan to speak regularly with your mental health providers – daily touchpoints are recommended.

Last but not least, know that this too shall pass. We don’t yet know when but we know that by sticking together as a community, we will be stronger for it.

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