An "Echo Pandemic" Of Mental Illness May Follow COVID — Here's How To Prepare
As the rapid spread of the coronavirus has people everywhere concerned for their and their loved ones' physical health, we're also becoming acutely aware of the effect this pandemic is having on mental health. The stress, uncertainty, and grief of this time raise the question: Is an "echo pandemic" of mental health crises on the horizon?
Whether it be anxiety, depression, or even PTSD, some experts and research suggest there could be an influx of mental illness during and following this pandemic.
Mental health during and post-COVID-19.
More and more research is emerging on the implications this pandemic has already had on mental health around the world. Essential workers, like health care professionals on the front lines, are experiencing anxiety, depression, and insomnia. For those practicing social distancing and isolating in their homes, research shows many have experienced a loss of motivation, meaning, or self-worth. In general, roughly 40% of American adults are more concerned with their mental health than their physical health right now, with 68% saying they feel like everything is out of their control right now.
According to psychotherapist Ken Page, LCSW, this myriad of experiences everyone is having will likely result in a myriad of mental health issues, ranging from mild to extreme.
"We all have different fears. It's a grave unknown, and our nervous systems process that differently. Sometimes we don't feel it at all and then it hits us like a ton of bricks," he tells mbg. "So this is really a time to be very sensitive to how the nervous system processes this kind of chronic stress and trauma."
Not to mention, with the economy around the world in shambles and soaring unemployment, there's an increased risk for suicide, as we've learned from past recessions. One study in the British Journal of Psychiatry found suicide rates rise about 1% for every 1% increase in unemployment.
How to protect your mental health.
From a mental health perspective, we can imagine this pandemic is like bracing ourselves against the cold. "When you go outside in the cold you have to tighten up all over," Page says. "In the presence of this threat, all of us are tightening up—we kinda have to—because we're living in fear and anxiety in so many ways. There's a physical, psychological, spiritual, and emotional tightening. And we need to find ways to soothe ourselves."
1. Make sure you're rested.
The traumatic nature of this pandemic can take its toll in more ways than one, with many of us likely feeling chronically exhausted. Page stresses the importance of sleep: If we aren't rested and recharged, our bodies and minds will not be able to keep up, with a large amount of research finding overlap between sleep disorders and mental illness. Holistic psychiatrist Ellen Vora, M.D., even uses sleep prioritization as part of how to treat depression.
Even granting yourself a "10-, 15-, or 20-minute nap releases tension in an incredible way," Page says. And by catching enough zzz's every night, your mind will be better equipped for facing the coming days.
2. Mind your foundation.
Along with getting enough sleep, it's equally important to mind the other aspects of your foundation for well-being. We know that the body and mind are intrinsically connected, so from a very basic level, being sure to nourish your body with the right food and prioritize movement will help all your systems (including your nervous system) run smoothly. Mindfulness practices like breathwork and meditation are also available to help keep you grounded when things feel out of control.
3. Stay connected to your support network.
Thanks to our access to the virtual world, we don't have to isolate ourselves socially. We're all learning to "get nourishment through screens in different ways, finding that connection through Zoom or social media," Page says.
Telehealth is also experiencing a boom as doctors, therapists, and more move their practices online. If and when the need arises, taking advantage of those services and reaching out for help is crucial.
4. Try EFT, aka Tapping.
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"It's proven to dramatically reduce the cortisol in your brain," Page says. "You begin to relax, you feel more resilient, and new insights start to come to you. You can learn it really quickly, and if you can do that for 10 minutes a day, it's very transformative."
5. Get in touch with your inner mentor.
Page recommends his own technique, which he calls "The Inner Mentor Process™," whereby you tune into the best version of yourself and allow inner guidance to come forward. And you can practice it in combination with tapping.
"You picture the you that you're meant to be—the you on the other side of all your inner glass ceilings. Then you imagine you've become that best version of you. From that place, you look at the you of today, and you offer guidance to yourself." Page says this technique can help you bypass your inner critical voice, find the place within you that's not absorbed in trauma, and empower yourself from within. "When you need guidance, you start from that amazing you that's already within," he says.
There's no doubt these are frightening and stressful times, but it's clear one of the best things we can do for ourselves is slow down, check in with ourselves, and do our best to tend to our mental health as much as possible.