As COVID-19 continues to spread and availability of a safe and effective vaccine is still in question, we need to accept that this “new normal” is here to stay for the foreseeable future. For those who have had COVID-19 or get it in the future, we still have much to learn about lingering and long term health effects. Everyone, whether you’ve had the virus or not, is susceptible to the effects of COVID-19 on mental health – both short term and long term.
The Effects of COVID-19 on Mental Health Vary
The CDC reported recently on how fear and anxiety associated with a pandemic can be stressful, and in some cases, overwhelming in adults and children. Social distancing, reduced social interactions and even working from home can make people feel isolated and lonely, increasing stress and anxiety. Pandemic stress can cause:
- Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones, your financial situation or job.
- Changes in sleep or eating patterns.
- Difficulty sleeping or concentrating.
- Worsening of chronic health problems.
- Worsening of mental health conditions.
- Increased use of tobacco, and/or alcohol and other substances.
What’s more, there may be longer term, more serious mental health effects from COVID-19 as well. A recent study with COVID patients from Wuhan, China as reported in Psychological Medicine explored the question of whether surviving a life-threatening illness such as COVID-19 put people at a greater risk for acute stress reactions and longer term for PTSD. Early research from the Wuhan study indicates it may and is consistent with earlier findings about the SARS pandemic.
Everyone Reacts Differently to Stress
The CDC report points out that everyone responds to this stress in different ways. How you respond to stress during the COVID-19 pandemic can depend on your background, your social support from family or friends, your financial situation, your health and emotional background, the community you live in, and many other factors. People who may respond more strongly to the stress of a crisis include:
- People who are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 (for example, older people, and people of any age with certain underlying medical conditions.
- Children and teens.
- People caring for family members or loved ones.
- Frontline workers such as health care providers and first responders,
- Essential workers who work in the food industry.
- People who have existing mental health conditions.
- People who use substances or have a substance use disorder.
- People who have lost their jobs, had their work hours reduced, or had other major changes to their employment.
- People who have disabilities or developmental delay.
- People who are socially isolated from others, including people who live alone, and people in rural or frontier areas.
- Racial and ethnic minority groups. See our blog post on Discrimination and Health
- Those who do not have access to information in their primary language.
- People experiencing homelessness.
- People who live in congregate (group) settings.
Healthy ways to cope with stress
Here’s the CDC’s advice on how to cope with pandemic induced stress.
- Know what to do if you are sick and are concerned about COVID-19. Contact a health professional before you start any self-treatment for COVID-19.
- Know where and how to get treatment and other support services and resources, including counseling or therapy (in person or through telehealth services). To this point we would add, contact your company’s EAP or Human Resources department.
- Take care of your emotional health. Taking care of your emotional health will help you think clearly and react to the urgent needs to protect yourself and your family.
- Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including those on social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.
- Take care of your body.
- Take deep breaths, stretch or meditate
- Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals
- Exercise regularly
- Get plenty of sleep
- Avoid excessive alcohol and drug use
- Take deep breaths, stretch or meditate
- Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
- Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.
- Connect with your community- or faith-based organizations. While social distancing measures are in place, consider connecting online, through social media, or by phone or mail.
For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized coaching solutions help employers reduce healthcare costs by identifying and engaging at-risk employees and addressing their mental health issues before they develop into more expensive, long-term healthcare situations. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.