FARGO — Maintaining a sense of calm during a worldwide medical crisis can be difficult for most anyone.
People dealing with anxiety, depression or any other mental health condition might see their struggles magnify during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Experts in the field say there are strategies they can use, however, to help themselves at this time.
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Renae Reinardy, a licensed psychologist and director of Lakeside Center for Behavioral Change in Fargo, said patients should keep working on the goals set with their therapist, even if they're not meeting with them right now.
For those who haven’t worked with a therapist, good resources are available online.
Dr. Andrew McLean, clinical professor and chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences, said most people who’ve had therapy can revisit tools they used when their anxiety was worse.
He also suggests smartphone apps that can help with relaxation and mindfulness.
McLean said approximately half of the mental health professionals in North Dakota have been providing virtual care through telebehavioral health for a while now.
Regulations are in place as to who can be seen that way, and where, but government waivers are making that kind of delivery easier during the pandemic, he said.
Unfortunately, some people don’t have the technology at home needed to see a provider through telehealth.
“People affected the most are the people with the least amount of resources,” McLean said.
The encouragement to quarantine and practice social distancing, while important to prevent the spread of coronavirus, can make people feel more isolated. McLean prefers the term “physical distancing.”
“We don’t want you to be distancing from others emotionally,” he said.
The segregation and disruption of life is new territory for many of us.
McLean said older generations went through events, including the Great Depression and WWII, and know the sacrifices that were made, enmasse.
“The current generation hasn’t experienced anything like that,” McLean said.
Made it worse 87% Made it better 4% No change 9%
“If you’ve been diagnosed with anxiety or depression, how has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your condition?”
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Reinardy offers these tips to try to stay mentally healthy during these uncertain times.
Practice good self-care, like exercising and eating healthy meals.
Don’t rely on unhealthy or maladaptive behaviors to cope, such as using alcohol or drugs.
“They get really slippery around times like this, when people are under stress,” she said.
Try to get back to a routine of getting up at the same time each day, Reinardy said, and get ready as you normally would.
“It’s going to take a little time, but keep shaping that behavior,” she said.
Here are additional tips from McLean for different age groups:
For preschool and early grades: They will be worried about grandma and grandpa. Reassure them that you’re doing your best to keep them safe. No need to give them too much information. Regressive behavior, including bed-wetting and sleep difficulty, is a normal response to an abnormal situation.
For adolescents to young adults: Remind children that by being socially isolated, they’re actually being helpful to the community. With their savviness for social media, try to monitor where they’re finding information. There’s a lot of misinformation out there.
For parents: We’re going to make mistakes, we’re going to be a bit more irritable. Know that we’re doing our best.
For senior citizens: While they’re more at risk from a physical standpoint, they’re also at risk for isolation. Do virtual visits when possible. Also, remember there is wisdom to be gained from them, because they’ve gone through times of significant challenge.