The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on daily life as we know it. Schools are online, jobs and the economy are down and over 177,1777 deaths and counting in the U.S. are associated with COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control or CDC. All these factors and more can cause mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.
COVID-19 is a new coronavirus or a ‘novel’ coronavirus, with this strain being discovered in 2019. Information about COVID-19 is evolving and new information is revealed as research is being done currently. That is why information about the virus changes, because scientists, doctors and researchers find new information through studies. The uncertainty of this disease and the times we’re living in can cause anxiety, especially for people who are already prone to anxiety.
The CDC has a list of symptoms associated with pandemic stress that include but are not limited to: fear and worry about your health and the health of your loved ones, your financial situation or job, or loss of support services you rely on, changes in sleep or eating patterns, difficulty sleeping or concentrating, worsening of chronic health problems, worsening of mental health conditions, an increased use of tobacco and/or alcohol and other substances, according to the CDC website. These symptoms can often go unnoticed at first but can progress to a point that may be harmful. Some people are also at a higher risk of developing these issues. Individuals with underlying medical conditions, health care providers and first responders and those caring for family members or loved one’s may be more prone to experiencing pandemic stress.
Information about COVID-19 on the internet can be overwhelming and some of it is scientifically false. Knowledge is power and knowing the facts about the virus can ease some uncertainties. Basic facts and guidelines can be found on The World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control, The Alaska COVID-19 Hub, and the UAA COVID-19 Information Website. The CDC has a step-by-step guide on what to do if someone suspects they are sick. There are testing sites around Anchorage and testing are also available through UAA Student Health and Counseling Services and there is an at-home test available from Pixel Labs that can be paid either out of pocket, by insurance, or through federal funds for COVID-19 if available and the tester qualifies.
The CDC also has a guide to taking care of mental health during this difficult time. They suggest connecting with others as the pandemic fosters an isolating environment for many. Social contact is beneficial in many ways. It is positive for the mind and the body. In a report by the Journal of Health and Social Behavior in 2010, it was stated that “consistent and compelling evidence linking a low quantity or quality of social ties with a host of conditions, including the development and worsening of cardiovascular disease, repeat heart attacks, autoimmune disorders, high blood pressure, cancer and slowed wound healing,” according to the study. Socializing during a pandemic can be problematic and some solutions will not satiate the need for a huge party or a simple dinner out with loved ones but may ease loneliness.
Zoom is ever-present these days and meeting overload can be common among students and those that work from home. This video conference platform can also be used for activities that are more fun than hour-long lectures about math. Zoom can be used for the family to get together and have virtual reunions when traveling is not an option. There are also Netflix Zoom parties, where friends will all watch the same movie or show while having Zoom on and comment, laugh and enjoy a program together virtually.
Getting outside and meeting people in person is also possible. It has been noted that COVID-19 transmission outdoors is much less likely to occur than indoors, where there is less air circulation if COVID-19 preventative measures are enacted. Nature walks, taking a bike ride with friends or even outdoor dining are options to break the confinement of social distancing. As winter approaches, skiing, snowboarding, and snowball fights with friends become options as well. The point is that any social interaction, even if it is virtual, will help with overall health.
If anxiety and depression have gotten to a point where it is unmanageable, there are also many avenues for help. UAA Health and Counseling services offer mental health services with counselors. There are also online resources available through UAA. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration also has a toll-free national helpline at 800-662-HELP (4357) that can provide guidance. Mental Health America also has numerous and specific information about situations where mental health may be impacted, from LGBTQ+ issues during COVID-19, financial help, domestic violence and many more.
Over-exposure to news can cause more anxiety. COVID-19 is a topic that is widely discussed because of its magnitude and ever-evolving information. News agencies always have numbers of deaths and cases to present, which can cause stress. Yale Medicine says that too much news all the time may not be helpful.
“It may be impossible to avoid some negative news every day, but you can restrict your sources to objective news outlets that don’t sensationalize what’s happening,” according to Yale Medicine in an article published in August 2020.
They also have other suggestions that are simple and anyone can do at home. Some of these include keeping a journal, which can be an outlet for strong emotions and anxiety, getting enough sleep and making sure enjoyable activities are done regularly. Keeping a schedule can also be helpful, as being at home most of the time can make time seem muddled and day after day seem like the one before.
To talk to a counselor about mental health or get COVID-19 testing, call the UAA Student Center for Health and Mental Services at 907-786-4050. For resources for a variety of COVID-19 related issues, contact Mental Health America.