Who has been watching wayyyy too much of the Bravo Housewives, looking to find some sort of comfort in the predictability of the places and personalities? Who has been eating ALL the things (ME!)? Have any of you been judging yourselves about the amount of time you are doing (or not doing) positive and evolved activities, to better yourself during this huge worldwide pandemic? It’s fairly likely some of us are choosing “all of the above”. I’m definitely addicted to ordering Brick Walk Tavern takeout (sometimes more than once a week), I’m reading the book Untamed by Glennon Doyle (super interesting), and going back and forth between hard core workouts and eating Haagen Dazs Carmel Cone ice cream. It’s a toss-up.
That being said, it’s interesting to be a therapist during this time. There’s so much uncertainty and fear – and I feel like I should have some sort of answers, to offer some sort of comfort and relief to those experiencing fear and anxiety. The truth is, in terms of knowing the outcome of this situation – that is unknown. It’s a good time for us all to rely on what we do know, and on coping skills that have already been seen to be effective in reducing stress and anxiety.
As you may know, disease outbreaks, as well as other public health events, can cause emotional distress and anxiety, these feelings can occur even if you are not at high risk of getting sick. These feelings of emotional distress and anxiety in this case are universal – it’s happening worldwide. It’s happening to us, our children, our spouses and partners, our families, our co-workers, and our loved ones across the board. This is an unprecedented time that puts a good majority of us in the same boat; one that increases the visibility and access to our humanity. What is important is that we stay present and maintain awareness around the signs of emotional distress for ourselves and our loved ones.
Signs of emotional distress can include but are not limited to:
- A change in your energy and activity levels
- Increased use of drugs or alcohol
- Mood swings
- Trouble sleeping or relaxing
- Changes in appetite
- Frequent headaches, stomach aches, or body pains
- Heightened worry or anxiety
- Inability to feel pleasure
The good news is that there are things you can do and actions you can take to help support yourselves and others. You can:
- Set a limit on media consumption, including social media (!), local or national news.
- Stay active. Make sure to get enough sleep, rest, and fresh air. I will say, we are super lucky to be in CT right now, with grass, trees, and yards, where we can get outside as we please. I see my friends and colleagues in the city and feel that there is a specific challenge of enduring this pandemic within 400 square feet of cramped space.
- Stay hydrated and avoid excessive amounts of caffeine or alcohol.
- Connect with loved ones. Talk about your feelings and enjoy conversations both related and unrelated to the outbreak.
- Get accurate health information from reputable sources.
- If you are experiencing emotional distress related to COVID-19, you can call the Disaster Distress Helpline, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK), The Trevor Lifeline (for at-risk LGBTQ folks) 1-866-488-7386, or your local crisis line.
This quarantine time is especially hard because the isolation and loneliness can exacerbate internal struggles that may be already happening. These conditions can be aggravated by new stressors. Common stressors we are seeing during this time include: job loss and finances; concerns and potential grief about loved ones that may be becoming ill; and relationship conflicts at home that are difficult to escape from. The additional challenge of accessing proper mental health care supports or medication can further exacerbate mental health conditions.
Having worked a good amount of my career in LGBTQ and at-risk youth suicide prevention, it’s also important to notice that COVID-19 has serious implications for the mental health of LGBTQ youth. LGBTQ youth are found to be at increased risk for depression, anxiety, and suicidality – so it makes sense that they may be particularly vulnerable to negative mental health impacts of COVID-19. There is a potential loss of social connections that are a protective factor for LGBTQ young people. As a result of the school closings, queer youth may lose access to resources and positive connections they find from the school staff and student groups. Extra efforts must be made to ensure they know they are not alone and to seek support.
Among unemployment concerns, increased housing instability, and struggles about the future, the lockdown may have increased unintended negative consequences for LGBTQ young people related to being confined at home to an environment that may be unsupportive of their sexual orientation or gender identity, or abusive. We can offer positive social support to help them maintain their own safety while providing an outlet to be their authentic selves (reach out to The Trevor Project for 24/7 suicide prevention and crisis intervention for LGBTQ youth: https://www.thetrevorproject.org/get-help-now/).
(Link to larger article about the Implications of COVID-19 for LGBTQ Mental Health and Suicide Prevention: https://www.thetrevorproject.org/2020/04/03/implications-of-covid-19-for-lgbtq-youth-mental-health-and-suicide-prevention/).
While it’s important to be present and notice the signs from folks at risk, it’s also important to know that physical distancing does not necessarily result in an increase in suicidality across the board. Suicide rates do not typically increase immediately after a disaster, though that sometimes shifts as progression through the stages of disaster occurs.
If you are concerned about a loved one who you think might be at risk for suicide, keep an eye out for some of the common warning signs. Warning signs include:
- Talk about wanting to die
- Looking for means to kill themselves
- Talking about feeling hopeless, trapped, or in unbearable pain
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs
- Major changes in mood or behavior, such as increased recklessness, sleeping too little or too much, withdrawing, or extreme mood swings
People often ask what they can do; how they can help. Often you think, “I’m just one person, how could I possibly help with such an overwhelming problem”? You can help a loved one by being there for them. I’ve worked for many years in youth suicide prevention and it’s been found that ONE supportive person can decrease a youth’s risk for suicide by 30%.
You can be there, listening to them without judgement and connecting them to other sources of therapeutic support. Asking someone if they are thinking about suicide does NOT put the idea of suicide in their head. Asking directly and compassionately can reduce suicides because it starts a conversation in a safer space that a loved one may be too afraid to start themselves.
If you yourself are struggling, feeling lonely or distressed during this time, let people that you trust know you are struggling and let them know what would help you – whether that’s checking in regularly or something else that grounds and supports you. Reach out to a recommended therapist or crisis line for telehealth options and support.
In closing, something helpful I found on Instagram following @selfcareisforeveryone was a checklist to check in with yourself and as a way to practice self-care (by @heyamberrae):
Overwhelmed? A Helpful Checklist
- Relax shoulders
- Take a break
- Three breaths
- Do a body scan
- Go for a walk
- Adjust Schedule
- List top 3 priorities
- Ask for help
& remember you can handle this!
Ashby Dodge, LCSW