Maintaining your mental health during COVID-19

Apr 6, 2020

A quarantine may pose an additional challenge in successfully maintaining one's mental health. WBFO's Nick Lippa spoke with Jill Dunstan--  Program Director of OnTrack, which is a behavioral health clinic with BestSelf, on what to keep in mind while self-isolating.  


Nick Lippa: COVID-19 has caused a lot of stress and anxiety. This is uncharted territory for a lot of people. How do you go about mentally preparing or keeping yourself healthy during a pandemic?

JD: The main thing that I think that we have to remember is a lot of what's happening in the community is here to keep us safe. It's very normal and natural to feel anxious, to feel maybe scared, feel like you don't know what's going on. So fear of the unknown. Those things are very normal experiences when something like this on such a big large scale is happening, and we're hearing about it. I think it's important to remember that what we're feeling as a community is very normal. I think it's important to remember that if you are somebody who has an anxiety disorder or a mental health issue, you may notice some increase of symptoms happening. So you may notice that your anxiety or your panic might be increasing. Maybe you're feeling more isolated, more depressed, really worried. There might be a whole host of symptoms when it comes to your mental health capacity and your wellness that might change because of the things that we're hearing about on the news. And then just the differences that we're having to handle that we may have not had to handle before. So changes in our routine changes and maybe how we do our shopping or how we're budgeting, how we're managing our health. Things like medication and where we're going. So even leaving our homes, (working), all those routines are shifted. I think one of the main things is for everyone to understand that it is normal. It's okay to recognize those or it's important to recognize those symptoms, and then to reach out and to talk to people that are in your support circle, about some of the things you're feeling.

I'd imagine it is important for anyone to keep in mind their own mental health considering it can play a large factor on your physical well being.

JD: Absolutely. So I'm in the mental health profession and in most of the mental health experiences that I have running this clinic and working for BestSelf is-- really our mind and our body are connected. So if we are worried if our mental health is really being affected by this crisis that's happening around us, biologically and physically, we're really having a hard time, your body's going to react in that way. So we know when we're stressed our bodies and our physical self is impacted negatively. We're more maybe susceptible to sickness or maybe we're stressed more. So our body's kind of releasing that cortisol and we're feeling our body might be feeling more tired, our energy might be impacted. Our mood is certainly impacted which is could affect the way we feel about maybe our appetites are being affected, maybe our sleep is being affected. All of our mind and body work together very closely. And I think when folks and community members and people, especially age groups that could be really impacted by the corona virus, the elderly, young children, there are folks that have a lot of questions about this. And those folks are also the people who are most susceptible physically and emotionally to be dealing with some of this stuff. So some suggestions that I have been looking and talking with the folks that I see are really just making sure that you're maintaining as much as your routine as possible. So if you are making sure you're getting three healthy meals a day. Making sure that you're drinking water, taking care of your body. If you exercise, exercising, trying to keep that your physical self really healthy, obviously Hand washing, everybody's talking about not touching your face, limiting your contact with touching public things. Those are things to keep our body healthy. But we also need to make sure that we're keeping our emotional health safe, healthy as well. Some of those things are limiting what we're watching on TV, getting the information that we need, but now watching endless amounts of news coverage, and not, researching or hearing, there's a lot of myths out there. So it's really important to stick to the facts when it comes to those things. Get your information from reliable sources. So the World Health Organization, the CDC, those are things that are reliable websites that are reliable resources that are here to give us information that maybe are going to help us kind of put things into perspective and not catastrophize you know, worst case scenario, what could potentially happen with how this illness is going to hit our communities in our nation.

When we talk about healthily handling self-isolation, what should we be thinking about?

JB: There are things within everyone's home that feel comfortable and natural and could help manage some of that anxiety about not being able to leave. I do think when people feel they can't leave that can feel very claustrophobic. It can feel very anxiety provoking. It could be simply making sure that the things that you need are within your house and making sure that you have activities to do with your family. If you are alone, making sure that you have have access to a charged phone or a landline or ways that you're going to plan now to communicate with family members in the event of an emergency or just you need to talk because you're not having visitors. So there are obviously outlets to potentially use social media or other ways to communicate with folks that maybe we can't have physical contact with. And then I think preparing as much as we can, within our home structures for our children. Making sure that, you know, we're checking on high risk groups in a different way. 

Depression must be especially challenging to manage during these times, given isolation can sometimes play a large role in that.

JB: For my program, a lot of our individuals are young adults, adolescents. Their biggest complaint and an issue with the fact that they feel so alone obviously induces their depression. So they feel hopeless, helpless, no one's there for them. They don't feel supported. So something that we do is try to get them into the community. We try to get them to socialize with friends, make connections with other people, and now we're reverting back to, 'No, you have to stay by yourself. No, you we really want to see you healthy. Remain in your house.' And that really is going to change a lot of things for for people. So I think some of those things are there are a lot of resources. There's more lines that people can call through Crisis Services, people who are being treated for depression can call their providers and say, 'What can I do if these symptoms start coming up and I have to stay in my house and I don't have my normal resources and support system within the communities?' Maybe they were going to AA meetings, NA meetings, social clubs, all things that were built within Western New York, even things like food pantries, all of these discussions, I think need to be happening now. I think of things even such as church, that's a huge thing for our folks. Being able to have kind of some spiritual guidance and going to church routinely on Sundays is important. So again, we have to look at kind of unique ways we can use technology, or at least plan fully, let maybe our elderly know who maybe don't know how to use electronic platforms. What that will look like. Where can they get the support if we're not able to provide it to them as a family member or as a friend.

What's something you'd like everyone to keep in mind?

JB: I think it's important for all of us to understand what the community is doing and what our government is doing and the state officials making decisions around us. They're doing this for our safety. They're doing this for our protection. They're trying to be as planful as possible. But there's no script for this. So this is something in our nation's history we haven't dealt with (before). Schools closing to this capacity or events being canceled or sporting events. All of the people that are making these decisions are making it really for the first time trying to figure this out. I think it's important to be patient with one another to be respectful of things not seeming, being planful or prepared. I think the goal is to keep all of us safe. I think it's really important for us to provide that safety and talk to one another. So your friends, your family, talk to people about what they're feeling, just asking, 'Hey, you know, are you really scared about this?' Or giving people the language and the the platform to talk about it. Just checking in with folks. I think we don't ask each other enough about it specifically, although it's the buzzword right now and we're hearing it all on the news about what's happening or what's being cancelled and all of that. I think it's really important to take it down to the basics of how are you managing this? Is there anything I can help with or I need help with this and really just treating this as a kind of a way to connect with people and doing some mental health check ins for the people we care about.