Reading the paper or watching the news can be stressful for anyone these days. But those with chronic medical or mental health conditions in particular may run the risk of becoming anxious or depressed.
That includes the millions of Americans living with movement disorders such as Parkinson’s, Huntington’s or essential tremor, who often face mental health symptoms on top of their physical ailments. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention point out, older people and people with chronic diseases who are at higher risk for COVID-19 may respond more strongly to the stress of a crisis.
Other vulnerable groups, according to the CDC, include children and teens; doctors, nurses and first responders helping coronavirus patients; and people with mental health or substance abuse issues. In short, as Americans practice social distancing, rigorous hand-washing, and other protective measures, they need to safeguard mental health too.
The CDC has published advice on managing anxiety and stress. It recommends:
- Taking breaks from watching, reading or listening to news stories, including social media.
- Practicing self-care. Taking deep breaths, stretching, or meditating can help. So can eating healthy, well-balanced meals, exercising regularly, getting plenty of sleep, and avoiding alcohol and drugs.
- Making time to unwind. People should try to do some other activities they enjoy.
- Connecting with others. Talking with trusted friends and family about concerns and feelings can reduce anxiety.
The CDC also urges people to contact their health care provider if stress gets in the way of normal activities for several days in a row.
A number of other groups also have offered resources for maintaining mental health during the stress of a national health crisis:
- The Movement Disorders Policy Coalition offers an online repository of resources on managing mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Mental Health America has posted information and resources regarding mental health and COVID-19.
- The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance has provided access to a podcast on how to stay well during this public health crisis, an online support group, and a Wellness Toolbox featuring education and resources.
- The National Institute of Mental Health has shared coronavirus advice for people who struggle with mental health issues.
Social distancing, or even isolation for people testing positive for the virus, does not mean solitary confinement. All people, no matter their age or predisposition to mental health challenges, can stay in touch with friends, family and other support networks. And they can contact a mental health care professional if needed.
Until the COVID-19 outbreak subsides, people must focus on commonsense steps to keep themselves and their loved ones well – physically and mentally.