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  • Writer's picturePeggy Spear

Is There a Cure for the COVID Blues?

“Fear cannot be without some hope nor hope without some fear.” --Baruch Spinoza

Acceptance. Breathe. Acceptance. Oh, look at how cute the dog is outside. Breathe. I wonder what Dr. Fauci is doing today? Breathe. What’s for breakfast? Breathe.

Every day, during my morning meditation – which I’m not very good at – I pray for acceptance. In the last five years since I’ve been sober, I’ve had practice with acceptance. But I can’t seem to accept this damn virus.

COVID-19 heighted my anxiety, gave me panic attacks and even caused severe stomach problems. And I’m not the only one. The CDC reports that more than 45% of the population is experiencing heightened emotional and mental health issues due to the virus. And I suspect at least 54% more are lying about it.

It’s easy to see why. Firstly, people are scared of it. Secondly – and this is one of my triggers – it’s screwed up my social life and the ability to see my family. Thirdly, I see the corporate and local layoffs, and the restaurant and store closures (some of my favorites) and it breaks my heart. And then I see the parents juggling jobs and distance learning of their children and I can hardly stand it. The toll this stupid virus is taking on people, on marriages, on the psyche of young children and teens alike, is crushing.

I’m lucky. My household is well. All testing as negative as can be. But six members of my extended family contracted the virus. There were some cases that were milder than others, and all of them were 30 or younger. Yet, none of them were ninnies, partying without masks at a concert or beach party. They were all very responsible, mask-wearing kids, who caught it from coworkers, partners who were asymptomatic, and maybe the grocery store. The virus is that insidious.

But it can really be an emotional threat that’s almost as bad as the real thing. (The CDC and other health experts are just now studying the brain post-virus.) What I’m worried about is the mental health toll COVID is taking on people.

One common emotion that might not be immediately obvious: grief.

“Right now, people are feeling grief over the loss of routines, certainty, and a perception of themselves as being generally healthy and protected,” said psychiatrist Joshua Morganstein, chair of the American Psychiatric Association’s Committee on Psychiatric Dimensions of Disasters, told healthcare agency KFF.

People with mental illnesses can be especially vulnerable in a time like this. About 1 in 5 adults in the United States experience a mental illness or disorder in any given year, reported the Washington Post.

“For those with anxiety disorders, that concern [about the coronavirus] can become all-consuming,” the Post reported.

This is also challenging for anyone suffering from depression. The lack of social engagement and the disruption of routines can worsen symptoms, the Post continued. People with mental illness need to make a plan for how they can continue with treatment and therapy, including contact with support groups and ensuring that they have a supply of medication.

Medical experts said this pandemic creates a kind of “forced depression” because it disrupts plans for the future that normally give people hope.

It sure did for me. We had to give up an anniversary trip to London, Paris and Lisbon one day before the pandemic shut down everything. It actually was a smart move, or we might not be home yet. My son had to give up his official graduation from Cal Poly’s Business School, not to mention he was laid off from an internship that may have led to a job. We whisked my 92-year-old mom away from her beloved apartment in a congregate living facility and moved her in with my sister, which changed both their lifestyles quite suddenly and shakingly. Luckily, they’re both making the best of the situation. But none of us have been without stress of COVID.

According to the CDC, people who may respond more strongly to the stress of a crisis include:

• People who are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 (for example, older people, and people of any age with certain underlying medical conditions);

• Children and teens;

• People caring for family members or loved ones;

• Frontline workers such as health care providers and first responders;

• Essential workers who work in the food industry;

• People who have existing mental health conditions;

• People who use substances or have a substance use disorder;

• People who have lost their jobs, had their work hours reduced, or had other major changes to their employment;

• People who have disabilities or developmental delay;

• People who are socially isolated from others, including people who live alone, and people in rural or frontier areas;

• People in some racial and ethnic minority groups;

• People who do not have access to information in their primary language;

• People experiencing homelessness;

• People who live in congregate (group) settings.

People with mental illness –and make no mistake, depression and anxiety are mental illnesses --need help and to help themselves as much as possible. Thank you Zoom, no matter how sick and tired I am of you. You’ve come in very handy for millions of people, as have other web-based video tools. In fact, our family, who never went much for the “Family Game Night” craze, have played an entirely inappropriate online game together called Quip Lash, with players from San Francisco, the North Bay, Chico, San Diego and Texas.

But here’s some serious suggestions from medical experts on ways you can stay a bit healthier:

• Take care of your body – Try to eat healthy well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, and get plenty of sleep. Avoid alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. Learn more about for mental health.

• Connect with others – Share your concerns and how you are feeling with a friend or family member. Maintain healthy relationships, and build a strong support system.

• Take breaks – Make time to unwind and remind yourself that strong feelings will fade. Try taking in deep breaths. Try to do activities you usually enjoy.

• Stay informed – When you feel that you are missing information, you may become more stressed or nervous. Watch, listen to, or read the news for updates from officials. Be aware that there may be rumors during a crisis, especially on social media. Always check your sources and turn to reliable sources of information like your local government authorities.

• But not too informed – Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories. It can be upsetting to hear about the crisis and see images repeatedly. Try to do enjoyable activities and return to normal life as much as possible and check for updates between breaks.

• Seek help when needed – If distress impacts activities of your daily life for several days or weeks, talk to a clergy member, counselor, or doctor, or contact the SAMHSA helpline at 1-800-985-5990.

For specific issues, try this vital list:

• Call 911

• Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990 (press 2 for Spanish), or text TalkWithUs for English or Hablanos for Spanish to 66746. Spanish speakers from Puerto Rico can text Hablanos to 1-787-339-2663.

• National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for English, 1-888-628-9454 for Spanish, or Lifeline Crisis Chat

• National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 or text LOVEIS to 22522

• National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4AChild (1-800-422-4453) or text 1-800-422-4453

• National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or Online Chat

• The Eldercare Locator: 1-800-677-1116 TTY Instructions

• Veteran’s Crisis Line: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or Crisis Chat or text: 8388255

I also have some other suggestions for those suffering from anxiety and depression: Get out in nature, even if you can call the dog park nature. Cuddle your pets. Learn mindfulness meditation -- if I can do it, anyone can. Exercise. Take a day off if you need it, staying in whatever passes for your jammies and listening to a good book. (I recommend Louise Penny’s “Inspector Gamache” books.) Take care of yourself. And remember, this too shall pass.

So, wear a mask in public, social distance, wash your hands and take care of one another.

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