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Susquehanna Life

How to Maintain Good Mental Health During A Crisis

Mar 24, 2020 04:38PM ● By Erica Shames

By Anthony Ragusea, PsyD, MSCP, ABPP

So much can change in a couple of weeks! This column is being written from my home because, like many of you, my employer has asked me to work remotely for my protection and the protection for others. Psychologists like myself are starting to be concerned about the short- and long-term impacts of the COVID-19 emergency on the mental health of the country.

We know that humans are quite well-suited to handle acute stress (defined as intense stress lasting minutes or hours), but our bodies are not well-designed to handle the chronic, severe stress that comes from things like extreme isolation or unemployment, let alone fears of serious illness or death. While our leaders are right to take extreme steps to protect the country from this virus, actions that are intended to protect physical health may also impact mental health in the form of increased rates of clinical depression, anxiety, trauma, and the effects those emotional problems have on our behavior and the toll they take on our bodies.

Our leaders bear the most responsibility for mitigating these negative effects, by providing us with accurate, timely information, clear instructions, minimizing quarantine time, and giving us the resources needed to survive during the emergency.

 There are also things we all can do to try to help ourselves. Here are some tips:

 1. Everything in moderation: consume media, but not too much! Watch the news, read the paper, monitor social media, but be sure to focus on what trusted experts are saying, and limit the time you spend on this subject. 

      2. Try to keep a sense of humor. Do you know the term, “gallows humor?” There is humor to be found even in the darkest times, and humor is a very effective and sophisticated coping style. If social media is helping you laugh, great, if it’s causing you more aggravation, maybe turn it off.       3. Keep your distance—together. Make it a priority to call other people regularly or spend time outdoors with others (no touching!), if the weather permits. Isolation increases stress for most people. 

   4. Take control. There’s a lot we have no control over right now, so focus instead on the things you can control. Now’s a great time for spring cleaning, home cooking, home repair, video games, movies, art, and all the other things that may normally wait during the busyness of life. 

  5. Do healthy things. Eat healthy food. Get some light exercise. Sleep, but not too much. Alcohol is fine, in moderation. 

  6. Ask for help. If you are really struggling emotionally, reach out for assistance. Many mental health professionals are shifting to providing psychotherapy via videoconference, and insurance is more likely to cover it now. Our local emergency hotline for mental health-related issues is 1-800-222-9016. 

   7. And finally, stay hopeful! There will be suffering, but you will not be suffering alone. This, too, shall pass.

 - Anthony Ragusea, PsyD, MSCP, ABPP is a board-certified clinical psychologist and specializes in the treatment of mental illnesses. For more information, contact Psychology of Evangelical at 570-524-6766.

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