Taking care of your emotional wellness during this pandemic

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone finds themselves confronting new situations and unfamiliar circumstances which most often result in an increase to stress levels and an overall decline of our emotional and mental health. So many of us are either unable to go to work, working remotely or dealing with abrupt changes to our schedules while being subjected to a host of new challenges. These circumstances are unprecedented and warrant our highest regard for the mental health of ourselves, our friends and family members.

Recently, we sat down with Bobbie Taylor, DNP, associate professor in the School of Nursing, to gain insight into her recommendations for students, alumni and friends to maintain the highest possible levels of emotional and mental wellness, given the current state of the world as we confront this pandemic.

Q: Bobbie, thanks for making time to share with our alumni and friends today. What is your assessment of the public response to the COVID-19 pandemic?

A:  Thanks for having me. I think when this first started we saw people at opposite ends of the spectrum. We had people who were very scared and then we had others who felt the COVID-19 virus was being exaggerated. As more information is being learned and shared with the public, I think more people are taking the warnings a little more serious.

Q: In your opinion, what do you believe are the greatest threats to our emotional and mental health when facing a situation like we are in now with COVID-19?

A:  I think we all have the fear of the unknown.  Fear of the virus, fear of death, fear of the economy, and fear of what the future holds. Many students I have talked with have fear of moving classes to an online format. They have fear of finding a job and paying student loans. I feel this fear will lead to heightened levels of anxiety and stress, which ultimately can lead to depression. 

Q: What specific recommendations would you make to ensure our readers are best positioned to maintain the highest possible levels of emotional and mental health?

A:  The old educational short that was on Saturday mornings, School House Rock, would always end the same way.  “Knowledge is power.” I feel that holds true with COVID-19. I think we need to learn as much as we can about this virus. I would urge people to use reliable sources, such as the CDC to get their information. I would encourage them to listen and abide in local government recommendations. 

I also think that people need to remain connected. We live in a time with amazing technology. Utilizing Facetime and Zoom and great ways to contact with others, while maintaining a safe social distance. Make a point to call and check on others to make sure they are doing okay. We are in this together, so looking out for others can help us remain connected.

I would also recommend the folks remain active. Go for a walk if possible. There are many online exercise videos people can utilize. Nothing extreme, and if they have an underlying medical condition, they should check with their doctor before they begin. They can use the time to get caught up on things they haven’t been able to do because our lives are so busy.  Read a book, watch a movie, or just take the time to have an uninterrupted conversation with someone.

I also would suggest keeping a routine. It is very easy to stay up late and sleep in. Try to keep a sense of normalcy. Try to eat 3 meals a day. This may help with all day snacking and possible unwanted weight gain. Try to avoid naps. When we nap longer than 15 minutes, our brain goes into Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. If you are in this deep sleep during the day, it will disrupt the normal sleep/wake process, and then we find ourselves up in the middle of the night and sleeping most of the day.  Research shows us we need about seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep to help restore the body and brain. 

Q: For those who feel as though they need a little something extra beyond what you have already recommended, what additional tips and resources are available?

A:  If you feel like anxiety or depression is worsening, you should contact your doctor. Do you find yourself having little interest in doing things you used to enjoy? Do you feel hopeless? Are you sleeping more or less? If you experience concentration issues or any thoughts of hurting yourself, you need to call your provider. These are all signs of depression.

Signs of anxiety include feeling anxious or on edge, worrying about different things, becoming easily annoyed or irritated.  If you are unable to stop these feelings, I recommend contacting your doctor. 

Many healthcare providers are practicing telehealth. This will allow someone to talk with their provider from the safety of their own home. There are medications that can be provided to help someone through this time.

Check with your provider about therapy or counseling. Talking openly about fears and concerns can be tremendously therapeutic. There are many websites that offer this service. Conduct your own research prior to using an online counseling site. Referring to trusted sites like the American Psychological Association to help locate a counselor that could be utilized for telehealth would help to ensure you are finding a quality provider.

For students at Marshall, the counseling center is utilizing telehealth to provide services for mental health needs. We can be reached by calling (304) 696-3111.

Q: Are there certain websites, podcasts or social media channels that could be of assistance?

A :I think many people are looking toward their faith at this time. Many churches are utilizing an online format. Utilizing Facebook or looking at church websites allows people to remain connected to their church families. Many churches are also posting activities for children and teens.

If  you are feeling a bit isolated, reach out to friends, family and colleagues utilizing social media. As a nursing faculty, I have found a group of nursing faculty online who are problem solving together ways we can continue learning for our students. Sometimes we feel overwhelmed with the abrupt change brought on by the arrival of this virus. Finding a group with similar interests or hobbies can be a great way to remain connected. 

I would stress that if someone is looking to find information on COVID-19, to utilize trusted sites such as the CDC.

Q: Are there any daily best practices for emotional and mental health that come to mind?

A:  Like I talked about earlier, make every effort to maintain a routine. This will help us when we do get back to “normal,” and decrease anxiety levels in the process. 

We need to protect our physical health while maintaining our mental and emotional health. We have all been instructed to wash our hands for 20 seconds after visiting the grocery store, before eating and remember to trap sneezes and coughs with the bend of your arm near the elbow. Adhere to the 6 foot social distancing guidelines if you must go out in public and limit your exposure to others in the community.

Q: Let’s look ahead to a time, hopefully soon, when this pandemic is behind us. As we move forward, what effect(s) do you see this situation having on our long-term health and wellness?

A:   Anxiety and depression can be a chronic illness, no different than hypertension and diabetes. Anxiety and depression can also be situational. Once the situation resolves, the symptoms go away. Hopefully everyone will recover quickly as we move beyond this pandemic. Unfortunately, mental health can still be stigmatized.   

If a provider decides to treat an individual with a medication for anxiety and depression, I want to stress, whether that be short-term or a long-term agent, it is ok. Anxiety and depression are no different than any other chronic disease and should be treated as such.

Q: If our readers have any questions, what are some websites and resources you would recommend for them to research?

A: I would suggest utilizing the CDC for information regarding the COVID-19 virus. Look to their state government websites for suggestions and new guidelines for residents. The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) also have trusted information about COVID-19 testing, new drug treatments being studied and utilized and the creation of a possible vaccine. For students, I would monitor the Marshall University website, as the university has keep up-to-date information for our students. The faculty and administration are striving to keep our students in the forefront during these uncertain times. 

This is great information, Bobbie, and on behalf of the office of alumni relations we thank you again for sharing your expertise with us in this Q&A session.

We hope you found this information to be most timely and useful as together we navigate the days and weeks ahead. Learn more about the School of Nursing at Marshall University by visiting www.marshall.edu.

If this was helpful to you, please “like” and “share” on your favorite social platforms and help those around you to promote the highest levels of mental and emotional health possible.

Be watching for future Q&A sessions in the weeks ahead. Follow us on social media and check www.HerdAlum.com for relevant updates from campus. Until next time, be well, be safe and GO HERD!!