How to Get the Mental Health Care You Need During COVID-19

Man sitting and staring into the distance thoughtfullyAs the outbreak of the novel coronavirus progresses, the number of new cases aren’t the only thing increasing. As medical experts continue to emphasize the severity of the virus, people around the world face rising levels of fear and anxiety about COVID-19’s potential health and economic impact.

It’s normal to experience emotional turmoil in uncertain times. Even if you’ve never experienced more than mild levels of anxiety and stress, you might be starting to notice that daily COVID-19 updates are beginning to take a toll on your mental health.

Existing mental health issues—depression, anxiety, or obsessions and compulsions, to name a few—often worsen in times of stress or tension. If you live with these concerns, facing the reality of a global pandemic could easily trigger symptoms you’re usually able to manage. To complicate matters further, finding a therapist, or making an appointment with your current therapist, may present more of a challenge than it typically would.

How to Find a Therapist During Social Distancing

As people across the country begin to appreciate just how serious this virus is, governing officials are beginning to set restrictions around gathering and meeting in enclosed spaces.

While group counseling sessions may have been suspended, individual therapy only involves two people. It’s also a type of health care, so no matter which state you live in, therapy is considered an essential service. In other words, you’re allowed to leave your house to see your therapist.

But what happens if you, your therapist, or someone in one of your households begins to show symptoms of COVID-19? If you need to quarantine or self-isolate, in-person therapy is no longer possible. You, or your therapist, may also want to avoid venturing out, even if your state hasn’t yet issued an order preventing you from doing so.

Many therapists have already taken their practices digital as a precautionary measure. Telemental health, or online therapy, can be perfectly secure and private, as long as your therapist takes steps to find a HIPAA-compliant platform to provide therapy.

If you don’t already have a therapist, beginning your search sooner rather than later may be a wise option. Some therapists may have busier-than-usual schedules as more people find themselves in need of professional support. You can begin your search at GoodTherapy’s therapist directory, where you may find a number of therapists who provide teletherapy. More therapists may be turning to this format as COVID-19 continues to spread.

Online therapy services also connect you to a licensed provider for counseling that takes place through secure video software. While your insurance provider may not cover virtual therapy services, online therapy may cost less than in-person therapy, something you may find particularly important if you’re experiencing financial uncertainty.

While some experts believe in-person therapy may be a preferred mode of treatment in many cases, when accessing in-person treatment becomes difficult, online therapy can still offer significant benefits. Even if you’d prefer to meet with a therapist in person, distance counseling could help you manage serious symptoms for the duration of the pandemic.

Managing Difficult Mental Health Symptoms Through COVID-19

Along with worrying you (or your loved ones) might contract the virus, you might also be worrying about the future of your job, wondering when the outbreak will subside, and beginning to feel the burden of prolonged isolation, if you’re social distancing alone.

These pieces snap together to form a not-so-pretty picture. And that’s if you don’t already have existing physical or mental health concerns.

People who already struggle with symptoms may be having an even more difficult time. If you have OCD or health anxiety, constant reminders of the potential for exposure and the need for frequent handwashing may make your symptoms worse, even if you’ve already worked on these symptoms with your therapist’s help.

Thoughts of depression can become more intense when you face isolation and loneliness, especially if you aren’t able to follow your typical coping routines, like spending time with friends, visiting your favorite parks, or getting in a good workout at the gym.

If you live with anxiety or experience panic attacks, you might also notice more severe symptoms, since it’s not uncommon for symptoms to worsen when you face more stress than usual. You might feel trapped, hopeless, and have trouble sleeping (or more trouble than usual).

If you’re feeling miserable right now, you might wonder how you can manage your symptoms. But it’s absolutely possible to take care of your mental health, even during a pandemic.

Talk to your therapist

First, it’s essential to work with your therapist to determine how to stick to your typical treatment routine. If therapy-as-usual isn’t possible, your therapist may have some suggestions that can serve as a stand-in for now.

If you take medication, call your pharmacy to learn more about your options for getting your prescription if you can’t go out. You may be able to get some medication refills early. Some pharmacies have also started offering free delivery to people who can’t pick up their medication. Continue to follow the guidelines from your doctor regarding medication use.

Stick to a routine

Following a routine can help provide a sense of normalcy. Sure, you don’t have to go anywhere or do anything. But waking up around the same time each day, getting dressed, and eating regular meals can help you avoid falling into patterns that may have even more of a negative impact on your well-being—skipping meals, sleeping all day, or avoiding essential chores like cleaning and laundry.

Take care of your physical health

It’s important to sleep and eat as well as possible. Anxiety can disrupt your sleep, and insufficient sleep can make anxiety worse. This cycle can cause problems even in ordinary times. Right now? It’s probably the last thing you want to deal with. Make sure to turn off devices as it gets closer to bedtime, and try to engage in a relaxing activity before bed. Warm baths, relaxing music, or reading a favorite book are all great ways to relax.

You may not have all of the foods you’re used to eating. If you haven’t been able to get fresh groceries, your meals might be limited to what you have on hand. This can make nutritious eating tough, but try to add as many whole foods and fresh produce into your meals as possible. So-called “good mood foods” can have a lot of benefit on your emotional health. If you can’t “eat healthy” for the moment, don’t worry. But do try to avoid skipping meals, since that won’t help your well-being any.

Practice self-care

Some of your typical coping methods, like spending time with friends, visiting a zoo or museum, or going to the library, may be inaccessible for the time being. This can be hard to deal with, and it could even increase feelings of hopelessness.

Finding a similar replacement activity can help, however. For example:

  • Visit your local zoo’s (or any zoo’s) website for live streams of animals
  • Access audiobooks or e-books through your local library’s website
  • Connect with loved ones through social media and video chat
  • Check out cultural resources like online museum tours, or live opera streams, and other performances.

If possible, enjoy any mood-boosting hobbies you have that you can do at home. You may also want to use your time at home to try new hobbies, such as baking, gardening, making art, learning a new language, or writing.

Keep active

If you usually go to a gym or work out in a group, you might find your usual exercise routine temporarily at a standstill. This can be distressing enough, but many people use exercise to help manage emotional distress.

However, you still have options for exercise, even while social distancing. If you have space to exercise at home, many fitness websites and streaming services are temporarily offering free workouts to people who are stuck at home. You can always find videos on YouTube, and your favorite health and wellness website might also have some articles on the subject.

If you can’t engage in much physical activity, find a quiet spot outside where you can enjoy the change of scene and fresh air. Remember, you’re still encouraged to go outside. Just be sure to keep your distance from others.

Have a plan

Developing a crisis plan can be an important measure to help you navigate thoughts of suicide or self-harm. This plan might include:

  • names of loved ones to contact for support
  • a few coping methods that regularly work for you, like watching funny videos, journaling, or putting on soothing music
  • numbers for your therapist and a crisis helpline
  • unhelpful triggers you want to avoid, like news or social media updates

When you experience significant distress in between therapy appointments, keep in mind you can always seek support from a crisis helpline. Call 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741 at any time of day or night for confidential support.

 

References:

  1. Brewer, K. (2020, March 16). Coronavirus: How to protect your mental health. BBC. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/health-51873799
  2. Gordon, J. (2020, March 16). Coping with coronavirus: Managing stress, fear, and anxiety. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/about/director/messages/2020/coping-with-coronavirus-managing-stress-fear-and-anxiety.shtml
  3. Ponte, K. (2020, March 20). Coronavirus: Mental health coping strategies. National Alliance on Mental Illness. Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/March-2020/Coronavirus-Mental-Health-Coping-Strategies
  4. Stress and coping. (2020, March 30). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/managing-stress-anxiety.html

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