Since the COVID-19 emergency began, we’ve been dealing with an incredible amount of prolonged stress. Fear of getting sick and adapting to new realities such as helping kids with remote learning, working from home, and job loss are leading to depleted reserves.
We’re in a contentious election season that has many on edge. The realities of inequality have some groups examining their privilege while others are exhausted from years of trying to be seen. As if that’s not enough, we’re also heading into the holiday season that is unlikely to be the usual time of celebration, togetherness, and abundance.
Mental health professionals report a 300% increase in anxiety and depression, a 30% increase in people with substance use disorder who have relapses, and an increase in thoughts of suicide, said David Johnson, CEO of Navos, a part of the MultiCare Behavioral Health Network.
The encouraging news is that calming techniques and professional help can help you feel better. Premera Blue Cross is sponsoring a special The Way Forward: Mental Health and Wellbeing where experts around the state discuss mental health and give hope for overcoming challenges. Watch Thursday. October 1 at 11 a.m. on KING, noon on KONG or 7 p.m. on KREM in Spokane.
Taking care of yourself
If you’re struggling, the first step is to show yourself some compassion, said therapist and Premera Blue Cross case manager Hollie Gonzalez. Take time to practice self-care, whatever that looks like for you. Could be going for a walk, listening to an uplifting podcast, or ordering dinner.
Acknowledge to yourself that this is a difficult time.
“Be kind to yourself and give yourself some grace,” Gonzalez said. “We don’t have to be perfect. We’re all in this new normal. If we cultivate this in ourselves, it’ll bubble out to our children, their friends, the community …”
Find someone you can talk to about how you’re feeling and keep having the conversations, she added. Talking about the shared experience brings visibility to the struggles and assures everyone that we’re not alone.
Including time in your day for mindfulness and relaxation can help decrease stress. These activities bring your intention back to the present so you’re not ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. You can use these with children, too.
Take time to pause and breathe deeply. You can put your hands on your belly and feel it moving in and out. This helps move out of fight or flight mode and into the higher brain that helps us make sense of things and move forward.
Deep breathing helps calm the nervous system and can help you feel better almost immediately. You can also add tapping to release stored emotions associated with depression, anxiety and stress.
Caring for children
It’s important for parents and caregivers to be proactive and ask kids about their concerns. Children are experiencing uncertainty right now, too, and they don’t express it the same as adults
Gonzalez recommends that parents listen and let kids describe what they’re feeling. You can say things like, “it makes sense that you’d feel that way with everything going on.” The goal is to help normalize their feelings without minimizing them or jumping into problem-solving or planning mode.
“When we say what we’re feeling out loud, it promotes a more balanced, calming effect, and helps us regulate strong emotions,” Gonzalez said.
Reassure kids that feelings aren’t permanent. Reframing the statement to “I feel scared” as opposed to “I am scared” helps to convey the temporary status rather than making it part of their identity.
Also know that kids are very resilient. Sometimes that comes as a surprise to adults.
Resources for parents and kids
Dr. Dan Siegel offers resources and courses on mindfulness (including parenting videos and print-outs).
MindUp provides mindfulness practices for children and tools for parents.
Mindful contains free mindfulness activities for kids and adults.
This difficult period has helped destigmatize getting mental healthcare, Johnson said. The fact is that most people will need mental health care at some point in their lives, so seek it out. Your employers want you to. Your loved ones want you to.
Care is also available in many ways. It could come in the traditional in-person, one-on-one format, group sessions, virtual sessions, or even from a trained avatar.
Whatever format works for can help with feelings of stress, sadness, and difficulty with sleeping, problem solving, concentration, or relationships.
“Treatment can and does help,” Johnson said.
Your Premera health plan offers flexible, in-network options for mental health and substance use care.
Johnson also encourages talking about it. If you’re feeling sad, talk about it. It you’re concerned about a loved one, reach out.
“Acknowledge what you’re observing to them and do so in a supportive—not critical way,” Johnson said.
He encourages asking loved ones if they’ve had thoughts of suicide. If they have, ask if they are thinking vaguely, or if they have actual plans. If they have plans, take away the means of carrying out the action—so take away the car keys, firearms, or pills. Johnson said it is usually a matter of 10 minutes from deciding to commit suicide to doing it.
“When you ask, you aren’t planting the (suicidal) thought,” Johnson said. “You’re making it safe to talk about it. People want to talk about it, and they will feel relief in sharing, if you’re not critical.”
To get over any uncomfortable feelings about asking about suicidal thoughts, Johnson recommends practicing.
“Ask all your friends if they’ve had suicidal thoughts and get some practice asking the difficult question.”