• Hayoung (Talia) Cho & Kilin Tang

Mental Health During a Pandemic (Part IIl)

#MentalHealthMatters





Hotline Shortlist*:


National Suicide Prevention Hotline (NSPH): Call: 1-800-273-8255 

En Español: 1-888-628-9454 

For those who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have hearing loss: Lifeline via TTY at 1-800-799-4889

Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): 1-(800)-950-6264 or text NAMI to 741741

Veterans Crisis Line: Call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1, text 838255, or use the online chat feature

For those who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have hearing loss: 1-800-799-4889.

Disaster Distress Helpline: Call: 1-800-985-5990 or text “TalkWithUs” to 66746 


*More information about these hotlines can be found in our previous post.


Introduction


During this unprecedented time stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, one may feel stressed and pressured from the sudden changes occurring in one’s daily life. Adhering to social distancing guidelines of staying six feet apart from friends, co-workers, and communities important to us has inextricably isolated ourselves from those we love and cherish, contributing to increased feelings of loneliness—a struggle that more and more Americans are facing every year. In addition, the interruption of COVID-19 has taken a toll on our economy. With 21 million Americans currently unemployed, an increasing number of low-income families are struggling to pay the bills, leading to rising levels of stress and anxiety. Finally, the grief and suffering that one may feel from losing a loved one from COVID-19 (which has killed over 125,000 Americans) only serves to escalate the current mental health crisis.


For the next two weeks, we will focus on mental health and how it has impacted the Greater Charlotte Area. The first week will be centered around the different mental health disorders, how mental health has influenced communities, and ways to access professional support. The second week will emphasize methods to increase awareness and approaches to cope with stress at home. We hope that our blogs will inform the communities in the Greater Charlotte Area, among many others, about the importance of mental health and how to mitigate some of the stress interrupting one’s daily lives. 


Mindful Meditation: Methods to Combat Stress


As a nation, we are becoming increasingly stressed out—even before the pandemic hit, a Gallup Poll in 2019 finds that 55% of people experienced stress “a lot of the day,” with the American Psychological Association corroborating that nearly 7 in 10 of Americans find health care and mass shootings to be “a significant source of stress.” The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated such trends; the COVID Response Tracking Study conducted by the University of Chicago found that only 14% of Americans are “very happy,” down by 31% from just two years ago. 


Fortunately, there are ways to relieve ourselves from being overwhelmed from the anxiety and stress plaguing the majority of Americans today: mindful meditation. Meditation is a simple yet powerful tool to calm the body and destress by focusing on the present moment. The exercise can be done in the comfort of your home, and one of the most popular ways to meditate is to close your eyes and focus on your breathing. You’ll find that your mind will likely wander (without you even noticing!): plans for the weekend, chores you still need to do, or that work call you missed earlier today. By patiently redirecting your mind back to your breathing, you train your mind to recognize when you’ve been distracted and focus it on the present (and not dawdling the past nor the future). 


The benefits of meditation as a tool to improve one’s mental health has become increasingly documented in recent years. A study published by the JAMA Internal Medicine found moderate evidence that meditating helped those suffering from stress, anxiety, depression, and pain. In addition, given that 25% of Americans struggle with insomnia each year, the National Library of Medicine concludes that consistently practicing meditation will improve your sleep cycle.


If you’ve never meditated before, here’s a simple step-by-step beginner guide!


Mental Wellness


As the pandemic puts pressure on your social life, financial obligations, and personal challenges, you may realize your mental health becoming strained. Time spent in isolation may counter your productivity, and the loss of a routine may cause stress, depression, loneliness, and fear. Our third blog post from the Mental Health During a Pandemic blog series will focus on how to practice self-care during this tumultuous time.


Establish a Routine


1. Adhere to your sleeping schedule. The CDC recommends teenagers to sleep for 8-10 hours a day, and adults (18+) to sleep for seven hours (or more) a day. Read more about age group sleep recommendations. We encourage you to determine the optimal amount of sleep you need to be healthy and function efficiently, given that too much and too little sleep will impact your health. Although it is easy to lose track of time during quarantine since we are isolated in our homes all day, try to be strict with your sleeping schedule. If you have trouble waking up or sleeping, try listening to music (check out this podcast from Spotify), set an alarm to one of your favorite songs, put a glass of water near your bed, or solve KenKen puzzles.


2. Limit your screen time. As we dwell in self-isolation, many of us tend to find comfort in our devices, aside from doing work. In particular, even before the pandemic, children of ages 8-18 spent on average 7 hours a day on their screens. Across all devices, we would encourage you to separate your essential apps from the non-essential apps. For example, prioritize checking your email or texts over scrolling through social media. Use screen time monitoring features such as Screen Time on your Mac


3. Set meal times and monitor your diet. Limit your intake of take-out foods, caffeine, and salt/sugar. Read about suggested servings from each food group. With your increased free time, try your hand with cooking: create home-made meals and experiment with new recipes. Read more


4. Regularly exercise. Sitting or laying down all day will cause high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and increase fat levels around your abdomen. Moreover, sitting 8 hours a day with no physical activity poses a similar threat to death as smoking or having obesity. If you are interested in participating in your own customized exercise routine, check out this health & fitness guide for more details. 


5. Go Outside. According to The New York Times, patients during the 1918 Spanish Flu who went out to receive sunlight during their recovery period had a lower death rate than those left indoors. Sunlight benefits your immune system, increases serotonin levels, and much more. If you are able to, go outside—play frisbee, walk the dog, or go hiking. Be sure to wear a facemask and socially distance!


6. Create daily to-do lists. Before going to bed, write down a to-do list for the next day. Remember what you should do for each member of your household and keep your list simple. Writing to-do lists make you organized and help you memorize tasks that you would otherwise have forgotten or pushed back


Additional Recommendations


1. Avoid tobacco, alcohol and drugs. According to the Washington Post, overdoses have increased by 18% from March 29th to April and up to 42% in May. With traditional drug supplies decreasing due to the pandemic, people are increasingly using synthetic drugs and less common substances, some of which increasing the risk of overdosing and death. 


2. Limit exposure to news media. Intense media exposure of COVID-19 has been seen to increase adrenaline levels similar to the 9/11 incident and ebola outbreak. There were great numbers of reported PTSD and physical health problems with those feeling fear, sadness, and stress. The American Psychological Association suggests you restrict what and how long you watch the news, only enough to get updates from reputable sources like the CDC and WHO. 


3. Stay busy. Spend your time doing things that you could not have done as much in the past. Read books, solve puzzles like KenKen, sudoku, and crossword puzzles, play chess, take free courses from edx, and so much more. Clickhere to get more ideas. 


4. Color, draw, or paint. There are many benefits to art: increasing memory, relieving stress, improved fine motor coordination, and so much more. You don’t have to buy supplies to do this! There are plenty of free coloring websites such as Online-Coloring.com, thecolor.com, and much more from Free Coloring Pages for Seniors. In addition, there are other platforms such as sketch.io and pixilart, among many others, that are free and accessible to everyone. 


Stay safe out there, and know that you are not alone!




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