Locals chime in on virus-related coping methods for stress
by Olivia Murray
In late March, America was caught off-guard by the rapid escalation of the COVID-19 pandemic.
States began to shut down their economies, furlough workers who were deemed non-essential and implore people to quarantine in their homes until further notice.
Although government-enforced quarantine is no longer in effect for those who have not been exposed to the virus, many have not physically returned to work or class, and are choosing to remain at home to keep themselves safe.
The physical health effects of COVID-19 are ones that are constantly discussed in the media. The public knows the symptoms, the potential long-lasting effects and the mortality rate of the virus. The public knows that washing their hands, wearing their masks and staying at home in isolation are the best ways to protect themselves from COVID-19.
However, what the public may not be taking as seriously are the effects that the sudden onset pandemic and social isolation might be having on their mental health.
Houston Bennett, a West Virginia University psychology major from Calhoun County, said open discussions of mental health are important to him. While he would rank his mental state as “fair” since the beginning of the pandemic, Bennett also said, “I feel like the general sense of unrest and hopelessness has impacted me most of all.”
Bennett said frequent reports of COVID-19-related deaths and the “panic” in the media “[have] been really draining.” Additionally, Bennett said “loneliness and worry” are two emotions that have been dominating his life for the past few months.
Heidi Hudgins, a United Biosource Corp. employee from Star City, ranked her mental health since March as “poor.”
“The pandemic has certainly impacted my mental health in many negative ways,” said Hudgins. “Aside from the loneliness and isolation I mentioned, I also have always struggled with anxiety and depression, which have been greatly exacerbated by this whole situation. We’re all just trying to find our path through this, and the adjustments have been difficult to say the least.”
Audrey Lutz, a clinical therapist at the Women in Balance & Children in Balance practice in Morgantown, said the feelings expressed by Bennett and Hudgins are not uncommon during this time.
“[COVID-19] has been causing a lot of stress, anxiety, depression, a lot of panic … I think a lot of people have been experiencing a lot of grief, especially coming up [on] the holidays, thinking about what holidays are going to look like this year.”
Lutz also said disappointment, resentment and anger are common emotions among individuals right now.
Brittney Matlick, an individual and family psychotherapist at Whole Brain Solutions in Morgantown, said many people may find themselves stuck in “fight-or-flight” mode, experience loneliness due to the lack of connection with loved ones and become frustrated when trying to find resolutions to their current issues.
“I think connecting to whatever brings up a sense of normalcy [is helpful],” said Matlick. “Whether that’s connecting to friends, connecting to family members, being active in the community in whichever way feels safe or that they can do right now.” Matlick also suggested “reevaluating self-care routines” to include more focus on one’s own needs and to adjust to the current situation.
“I think just being aware of your emotions that are coming up, and honoring that everything that you’re feeling right now is normal [is helpful],” added Matlick. “This is new territory for everyone, and everyone is responding the only way that they can.”
Stacy Garcia, a licensed professional counselor and supervised play therapist with Creative Resilience Counseling, and her intern Sophia Amadol, recommended trying to prevent isolating oneself further.
“Obviously we’re seeing more screen usage and stuff right now …” Garcia said. “But too much is too much.”
Garcia suggested limiting the amount of time spent on social media and video games, because although an individual might think they are participating socially through such activities, they may end up feeling more isolated than they did before.
Garcia also suggested that parents reach out to one another for support during this time.
“We could all use the extra support,” Garcia said.
Garcia said creating a routine for oneself is “game-changing.”
“Even if you’re going nowhere the whole day, even if you don’t have school online or in-person, get up, get dressed … that kind of thing. Have some kind of routine and stick to it,” said Garcia.
Amadol said while many children and young adults have found themselves in online classes for the majority of the fall semester, it is best to avoid sitting in front of a computer or a television for the remainder of the day. “You want to have some leeway where [you’re] not just on the computer all day, because [you] were on it for school.”
The biggest recommendations made by Lutz, Matlick, Garcia and Amadol were to be accepting of one’s emotions and recognize when there isa need for additional support.
Mental health during COVID-19 is a topic that has also been addressed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC). To review tips on coping with stress suggested by these organizations, visit their websites: who.int and cdc.gov.
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidial thoughts or ideation, contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255), or dial 911 if it is an emergency.
For information on online counseling, visit betterhelp.com or search for counselors in your area.