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Social worker: COVID-19 pandemic increasing mental health concerns

Kim Foster
Kim Foster

MORRIS – As the stay-at-home order continues, some are experiencing feelings of anxiety, depression and other altered mental states. Leaving home to work or shop for necessities can also induce worries and concerns, even among those who don’t normally experience these feelings.

All of these feelings can be overwhelming, said Kimberly Foster, a licensed clinical social worker for Morris Hospital & Healthcare Centers. Foster says she is seeing signs of increased generalized anxiety and depression during the coronavirus crisis.

“When your mind makes that switch from living to survival,” Foster said, “it can put you in a crisis mode. You’re worried, you’re obsessed about the safety of yourself and your family, you’re concerned about financial security … and those apprehensions can become triggers for mental health issues.”

Symptoms of anxiety can include the presence of distress, restlessness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, being on edge, the mind going blank, and difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.

Depression can include some of the same symptoms, plus persistent feelings of sadness, an increase in chronic pain, digestive problems, loss of energy, and a loss of interest in activities normally enjoyed. Those experiencing feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness that lead to suicidal thoughts should seek immediate medical care, Foster said.

Foster said striving to maintain a sense of self-control is a good way to counteract anxiety and depression.

“You want to have some sense of predictability and consistency every day,” she said. “When we lose that sense of predictability, we begin to focus on the unknown, and that can become overwhelming and paralyzing.”

For parents and children, she recommends having a schedule, but not going overboard.

“Make allowances with your children now and then. Know that there may be behavioral difficulties with children, and remember to be gentle with them and with others.”

Foster also recommends finding ways to do things you enjoy, even if you have to modify them a little. And if your home is no longer feeling like your sanctuary, she has this advice:

“Get up and out of the situation you are in,” she said. “That might mean changing rooms or going outside. Distraction is a coping skill. You’ll usually come back more relaxed, less irritated, and can reengage in what’s important to you.”

Foster also advised limiting exposure to news. Identify one or two specific times each day to watch or read the news, and hold yourself accountable to that. Also, reconsider how you use social media. Don’t follow accounts that make you sad or angry.

Keep your positive technology going, though, like connecting with family.

“Engaging in conversation with people is so crucial,” Foster said. “The screen of faces is becoming a norm. Really challenge yourself on this. Ask yourself how you can use technology more positively.”

She also advised against using alcohol, smoking or drugs to relieve of boredom or attempt to feel better.

“Don’t pick up a self-sabotaging habit for a temporary fix,” Foster said.

Foster said the feelings many are experiencing today can be thought of as a type of grief.

“We’re experiencing grief because the world as we know it has changed,” she said. “Our sense of normalcy has changed, and there is a loss of consistency. However, things will eventually get better, and that’s something to look forward to.”

Those needing help for changes in their mental health state are encouraged to contact their primary care physician. Information is also available at www.morrishospital.org/covid19 under the “Take Care of Yourself” section.