The continuous media coverage about COVID-19 (coronavirus) and its classification as a global pandemic has triggered anxiety and fear in many people, especially those with mental health challenges. While people react to stressful situations in different ways, individuals who already struggle with anxiety disorders or other forms of mental illness may find their symptoms intensifying when hearing daily stories about this new virus and the many unknowns surrounding it.
Mental illness affects as many as one in five adults in the United States, and as many as one in 25 Americans experience serious mental illness. Approximately three in 10 adults with mental illness experienced a co-occurring substance abuse disorder in 2018, according to the Substances and Mental Health Services Administration. Symptoms of mental illness or substance abuse can greatly intensify during times of stress.
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Symptoms to Watch For
It’s important for those affected by mental illness to pay attention to indications that news about COVID-19 and changes to daily routine are triggering worsening symptoms. Some things to look out for include:
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Changes in appetite
- Difficulty concentrating
- Increased mood swings
- Increased misuse of substances
Symptoms of certain mental illnesses that have previously been brought under control can resurface during stressful times. An individual with obsessive-compulsive disorder who has been working on not obsessively washing their hands may find symptoms triggered by repeated statements of the importance of handwashing. The loss of a sense of control can cause an individual with posttraumatic stress disorder to experience vivid dreams or angry outbursts.
Coping Methods for Reducing Anxiety
Those with mental health challenges and their loved ones should watch for possible worsening of symptoms of mental illness. Current treatment plans should be continued as closely as possible during stressful times and help from a mental health professional should be sought if needed.
Some ways of coping with the anxiety triggered by COVID-19 include:
- Limit the amount of time spent paying attention to news updates. Check for updates no more than once or twice a day from a reliable source such as the World Health Organization.
- Practice self-care habits such as exercising, getting enough sleep and choosing healthy foods.
- Practice deep breathing or meditation as a method of relaxation.
- Participate in relaxing or enjoyable activities such as listening to music, reading or handicrafts.
- Limit caffeine, which can trigger feelings of anxiousness.
Avoid turning to alcohol or drugs to calm turbulent feelings. Keep in mind that some of the media reports are exaggerations of things that may never happen. Seek out humorous movies or videos as well as positive stories. Focus on the future and what there is to look forward to after the crisis has passed.
Coping with Forced Isolation
Efforts to reduce the spread of this virus locally or nationally may result in periods of forced isolation. Some things to do if this happens include:
- Stay connected with others through email, social media, telephone or video calls.
- Share feelings with trusted loved ones.
- Write in a journal.
- Stick with familiar routines as much as possible including time to wake up, time to sleep, and mealtimes.
- Stay physically active.
- Offer support to friends and family.
- Avoid watching or listening the news when it’s causing increased feelings of anxiety or depression, and gather information only from reliable sources.
COVID-19 can affect both men and women, people of all ages and people of many different cultures. It shouldn’t be associated with people of just one nationality, and those who have it shouldn’t be stigmatized. Seek out positive stories and positive experiences and avoid panicking or blowing things out of proportion. Anyone with mental health challenges should stay connected with supportive people and pay attention to their feelings. If stress reactions interfere with day-to-day activities, contact a healthcare provider.
If you or a loved one are struggling with anxiety, depression, or another mental health concern, please call us at (310) 455-5258 or submit the form below to learn more about our treatment programs in Los Angeles.