As we find ourselves in a disturbing, irregular situation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is essential that we follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations to shelter in place. Although this is key to help mitigate the spread of the virus, it can take a toll on our mental health. Jennifer Quine, counselor at Kilgore College, shares her insight and tips on how to cope with common mental illnesses such as anxiety, stress and depression in these times of quarantining.
“Quarantining does affect everyone differently. The change in routine does affect our mental health because we are creatures of habit. We like to do the same thing over and over and know what we are doing from day to day, and we don’t in this situation,” Quine said. “We don’t have the routine, the everyday this-is-how-it’s-supposed-to-be, and then you throw in the President, the governor, and the mayor, and waiting to see what they’re going to say next is very anxiety-provoking.”
According to her, reports of increased cases and levels of anxiety, stress, and depression are to be expected. She believes it’s important for those practicing shelter-in-place to be able to identify the symptoms that give away their mental health is being compromised in the process.
“The main symptoms to look out for that indicate a person is being affected by being quarantined include excessive eating, and the flipside—those who don’t eat when they’re anxious, worried, depressed, or scared. Also, disruptive sleep—not being able to go to sleep and stay asleep because your mind is racing, worrying, and thinking,” Quine said. “Irritability is also common. If you’re fearful or anxious in any way, it is typical to get too worked up and then have an anger outburst or a mental breakdown and cry.”
Quine believes social media and news consumption can contribute to excessive, unhealthy amounts of fear and stress, for which she recommends people consume it wisely.
“When it comes to social media, the fear, the dread, and the uncertainty are constant. Although we can use social media to our advantage and stay connected and support each other, I strongly recommend we limit our social media and news consumption to what’s essential,” she said. “It is good to get news from accurate places such as the CDC, but having [the news-alert] popping up every time, reading how somebody makes some comment about COVID-19 is going to overwhelm and stress you. So I recommend you get your news from reliable sources, and then turn it off and live in the moment.”
As we understand what kinds of behavior often lead to unwanted chemical responses in the brain and are better avoided, Quine shares some tips on how to endure social distancing.
“Routine is the best coping mechanism in this case. Make sure you have a routine. You are pretty much in charge of that if you’re at home quarantined. Maybe you do start your workday at 8 a.m., or maybe you’re not a morning person and you allow yourself to start at 9 a.m. Do allow yourself some flexibility, but it is important that you have some things scheduled out that don’t involve technology, electronics, TV, or social media so you’re not stimulated all the time,” Quine said. “Also, get outside. Vitamin D sunshine is great for both your mental and physical health, as well as your mood. Quarantining does not mean you’re locked in your home. You just have to stay away from people, so go play Frisbee and catch in the backyard, or have lunch outside with your family. Get out of the four walls, but rotate that. Come back in, do some work, have a scheduled lunch break, and a schedule bedtime. Make sure you are getting enough sleep; lack of sleep is another thing that’s adding to people being depressed and anxious, not necessarily because they’re stressed, but sometimes because they spend all night on Netflix.”
Quine elaborates on how we can take advantage of the leisure time we have in our hands, as well as the technological resources available.
“It’s a great time to catch up on groups and organizations you haven’t been able to get back with, for example. Our technology offers ways to make up for the social contact that we are now missing, and teachers, instructors, and people in our area are taking advantage of this,” she said. “Try to find normalcy, but also try to find purpose. Maybe there’s a craft or a hobby you’ve wanted to pick up, or a project you’ve wanted to finish. Find a meaning. Find a purpose and something to do other than worrying about COVID-19 and its implications.”
For those with pre-existing mental health conditions, as well as those suffering from extreme levels of anxiety, stress, and/or depression, Quine recommends making use of the available resources offered online.
“For those who have doctors and therapists in place and are struggling with their mental health, those services are still considered essential, which means they’re more than likely still open. If not, they’ve revamped—Zoom meetings, Google hangouts—and are using the technology to maintain regularity,” Quine said. “I recommend those struggling with their mental health to maintain the habits they already know work on them. Don’t skip medicines, and don’t let medicines relapse; pharmacies are open and with some of them, you don’t even have to go in the store. Some pharmacies deliver for no fees. It’s also important they don’t isolate. Isolation is a big trigger for anxiety and depression sufferers, so make sure you stay connected to someone using technology.”
“For the KC community, as a licensed professional counselor, I can do Zoom, phone calls, or whatever the student is comfortable with, while not encouraging people to come to campus,” she said. “There are also other available resources such as the Suicide Hotline, the Crisis Text Line, the COVID-19 Mental Health Support Line, and the National Parent Helpline; they’re legitimate, national crisis lines you can call and text. ”
Note: Find the contact information for the crisis lines previously mentioned below.
Quine also addresses those who are suffering not only from mental, but also from physical abuse in their homes.
“In these cases, and it sounds terrible, I have to advise them to find a way to adapt and adjust. You won’t change the person you’re with. You cannot change the abuser. Unfortunately, in this case, whether it’s emotional or physical abuse, all you can do is change how you react to it,” Quine said. “Right now, you can’t always call 911, and you can’t always move out, so you have to adapt, whether this means isolating, picking your battles and/or playing along, and knowing ‘this too shall pass.’ Prisoners of war are taught to endure what they can and make the most of the situation for self-preservation. So maybe go take a walk instead of having that conversation that you know will lead to a fight, and cool down.”
Lastly, she believes that for us as a society to endure and successfully get through this challenge, staying connected is key.
“Check on each other, care about each other, be gentle with each other in your own home and stay connected. That’s going to be what keeps us all going—the fact that we are still connected. We are all going through similar things. So care and love on each other. We will get through this,” Quine said.
List of Crisis Lines:
-National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
-Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741. Special keyword for students of color – Text STEVE to 741741.
-COVID-19 Mental Health Support Line: 833-251-7544
-National Parent Helpline: Open to parents and caregivers of children and youth of all ages. Contact: 1-855-427-2736
Special to the Flare
By Adriana Cisneros Emerson, Feature Writer