From meditation to conversation: Maintaining mental health through the coronavirus pandemic
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Much of the news surrounding the outbreak of a novel coronavirus has focused on people’s physical health, but maintaining one’s mental health is just as important during times of crisis.
While the global outbreak of COVID-19 has disrupted almost every facet of life, resources are still available for people experiencing mental health issues or who are worried about their friends and family.
That was the focus of a virtual town hall on Wednesday, March 18, hosted by politician Andrew Romanoff, the former chief executive officer of Mental Health Colorado. About 300 people participated in the video conference, which featured a panel of mental experts from across the state.
Spike in calls for service
As Dr. Tom Barrett, professor emeritus at the Graduate School of Professional Psychology at the University of Denver, explained, mental health needs increase during times of crisis. People feel anxious over fears of the unknown. The disconnectedness that comes with social isolation can bring feelings of depression. People dealing with substance abuse issues, he said, are particularly vulnerable in these instances.
Locally, mental health organizations and crisis support groups have fielded a spike in calls for service, according to Mindy Marriott, executive director of Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide, or REPS. She was not a part of the conference call but spoke with Steamboat Pilot & Today separately.
This time of year, the Steamboat-based nonprofit usually records an uptick in calls, she said, but in the last two weeks, callers have specifically mentioned mental health concerns arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of them voice concerns about their friends or loved ones who are distressed amid the unfolding, rapidly changing, crisis.
“The fear of the unknown is the biggest issue people are faced with,” Marriott said.
That is why the organization has tried to spread messages of hope to the community, boosting its public outreach and social media presence. Marriott wants people to know that help is available and the nonprofit is prepared to meet the needs of individuals.
“We aren’t going anywhere during this time,” she said.
People can contact REPS 24/7 by calling 970-846-8182. Callers will then be connected with mental health services in the community. The statewide Colorado Crisis Services also is available by calling 1-844-493-8255 or texting “talk” to 38255.
For those trying to maintain their mental health during these uncertain times, the panel of mental health experts offered some advice. Approaches centered around three areas: mind, body and spirit.
- Take breaks from watching, reading or listening to news stories, including 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 and avoid alcohol and drugs.
- 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.
Source: Centers for Disease Control
In the wake of this pandemic, it can be easy to become overly immersed in the bad or scary news from around the world, said Dr. Hunter Kennedy, executive director of Footprints to Recovery, an addiction center. While it is helpful to stay informed, it is important to take time away from the news and to focus on the people and activities that can ease stress. A simple phone call to a friend or family member can help immensely, Kennedy said.
Most therapists are not meeting clients face-to-face, but there are ways to meet with mental health professionals through text messages, email and video, Kennedy explained.
To further ease mental anxiety, the panel also recommended people keep a daily schedule of activities. Not only will it bring some predictability amid otherwise unpredictable circumstances, it can help people set aside time for self-care, such as yoga or reading a novel.
Physical health can contribute to mental health, the panel emphasized. Toward that end, keeping active can help calm feelings of anxiety and release endorphins that boost one’s sense of well-being.
In Steamboat Springs, recreation opportunities abound, with plenty of remote areas to allow people to exercise while maintaining a healthy distance from others. Those who are feeling sick or who may have been exposed to COVID-19 are urged to refrain from putting themselves in risky situations, as they could pose threats to first responders in the event of an emergency.
As always, eating healthy and getting plenty of sleep also contribute to one’s overall sense of well-being.
Though a less tangible form of wellness, spirituality can help one’s mental health immensely, Kennedy said. To this end, he recommends taking time to practice mindfulness exercises, such as meditation, or attending online church services, which many local congregations are offering.
Some religious groups encourage members to hold at-home gatherings while churches remain closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
These outlets, Kennedy said, help people feel more connected with themselves and one another, which have been shown to reduce anxiety and depression.
Resources for those in recovery
For people suffering from substance abuse issues, isolation can exacerbate their struggles, Kennedy explained. It does not help that groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous cannot meet face-to-face as usual. But resources are still available, and meetings continue to take place online.
An online recovery community called In the Rooms also offers virtual meetings. To set up a free account, visit intherooms.com.
The Phoenix, a local workout group, is offering virtual classes at thephoenix.org/virtual.
Perhaps most important of all is remembering that while these are difficult times, things will not stay this way forever. The light at the end of the tunnel still shines, even if it has not yet come into view.
“It is important to remember that this is a temporary situation,” Kennedy said. “It is not a permanent situation.”
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