The last fourteen months have been a roller coaster of experiences and emotions for most of us. In industries considered essential during the pandemic and where work did not miss a beat, the list of circumstances that could contribute to stress and anxiety was quite long. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that over half of all essential workers experienced mental health issues in the last few months; that is 25 percent higher than the general population.
After such a tumultuous year, most people are eager to return to life as they knew it before COVID-19 turned our world upside down. Fortunately, it looks like we are headed in that direction. Half of all adults in the U.S. have received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine. We are starting to see signs of pre-pandemic behaviors in the U.S., and Canada is also working to determine what a safe reopening will look like once more citizens are vaccinated.
As exciting as this is, we need to be prepared to experience some new or unexpected stressors and possibly anxiety around reintegrating previous behaviors back into our daily lives. This could be caused by a continued fear of infection in public settings, social anxiety after having limited in-person contact with people outside our “COVID-19 bubble,” or even just a basic adjustment to activities we have been told to avoid or limit. It’s possible you’ll face old stressors you haven’t had to deal with in over a year. You may feel like you’ve only recently gotten comfortable with your new routines during the pandemic (some of which you may even like) and now those are about to change.
Steps to Managing Our COVID-19-Related Stress
Fortunately, there are steps we can take to help mitigate and manage these emotions as we begin the next phase of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Go at your own pace: Try one thing at a time you haven’t done or experienced in a while instead of jumping into everything at once.
- Focus on sleep: Getting enough sleep is a critical component to good health. Not getting enough sleep can affect concentration, energy levels and mood.
- Make healthy food choices: Eating food with little to no nutritional value can have a negative impact on your mood and how you feel.
- Exercise: Virtually any form of exercise can act as a stress reliever and you don’t need to be an athlete or already in shape to get started.
- Engage in breathing exercises: Breath work can be a powerful tool to ease stress and make you feel less anxious.
- Talk to someone you trust: Sharing what’s bothering you can help prevent pent-up tensions or feelings from bursting out in a way that’s embarrassing or inappropriate.
- Limit alcohol: Although it may seem like a good stress management tool, alcohol takes a psychological and physiological toll on the body and may actually compound the effects of stress.
- Limit screen time: Increased screen time can contribute to depression and anxiety.
- Focus on mindfulness: Mindfulness is a technique to reduce stress through being aware of what you’re sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment
Online Screening Tool
May is Mental Health Awareness Month – a time to raise awareness of those living with mental or behavioral health issues and to help reduce the stigma often associated with mental health. The past year has been tough, but we’re in this together, and we will come out stronger. Let’s make our mental health a priority!
If trying one or more of the remedies suggested above doesn’t bring relief, or if you find your stress increasing and getting in the way of moving forward with daily life, there may be a bigger concern. Taking a mental health screening can help you determine whether you’re experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition.
An online screening is one of the quickest and easiest ways to determine whether this applies to you. Mental Health America offers various quick and free online screenings for different types of mental health conditions. You can take the screening(s) you believe best applies at https://screening.mhanational.org/screening-tools.
After the screening, you will be provided with information, resources and tools to help you understand and improve your mental health. Mental health conditions like depression and anxiety are real, common and treatable and recovery is possible.
Anxiety & Depression Association of America Support Groups – https://adaa.org/
The ADAA offers anonymous online support groups in English and Spanish. These groups are free, friendly, safe and supportive places for individuals and their families to share information and their experiences.
Therapy in Color – www.therapyincolor.org
This online mental health directory helps Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) find a therapist or mental health provider that identifies as a BIPOC therapist, life coach or mental health provider.
SAMHSA’s National Helpline – 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service in English and Spanish for individuals and families facing mental health and substance use disorders.
You may also have access to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or Member Assistance Program (MAP) through your LIUNA health and welfare fund. These programs provide assistance with mental health, emotional issues and other factors contributing to stress.
[Jamie Becker is the LHSFNA’s Director of Health Promotion.]