COVID-19 crisis challenges mental health in addition to physical health

The Maxwell Mental Health Clinic offers strategies on how to control stress and anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. ( U.S. Air Force graphic by Senior Airman Alexa Culbert)

With every news channel serving as a constant reminder of the chaos happening around us, it can be hard to remain calm. As hospital supplies and grocery store inventories dwindle, the nation is in a state of panic. According to Forbes, 36 percent of Americans said that the pandemic has seriously impacted their mental health, while 31 percent of Americans reported sleeping less because of coronavirus-related anxiety.

“The pandemic is affecting my mental health in a negative way because I have to stay home and I can not go somewhere to release my stress, which makes me feel a little claustrophobic. I see all the articles and statistics about people dying and Stamford having the most cases in Connecticut, which makes me feel like this is going to take a long time to go away and makes me feel panicked,” Nabila Noor (’20) said.

As numbers rise, it is easy to get caught up in bad news and let our negative thoughts consume us. In a Washington PostABC News poll conducted in late March, 77 percent of American women and 61 percent of men were reporting personal stress, with 69 percent of Americans worried about the possible spread of the virus to themselves or their family. Some have even misinterpreted the symptoms of a panic attack, which include shortness of breath, for coronavirus.

The Washington Post says that the paranoia caused by the pandemic can result in sleepless nights and insomnia, explaining why many are experiencing trouble sleeping. They also claim that people have become more forgetful and confused, as they are overwhelmed by conflicting information related to coronavirus. 

Anxiety can also alter concentration and focus, adding to the disorientation felt by many who have abruptly switched to online learning and working conditions. Students as young as four years old are being deprived of the hands-on learning and social aspects of going to school. This lack of physical contact with others has increased loneliness in many people and has weakened relationships.

“Isolation has affected my mental health because not being able to see my friends and not really being able to go outside has driven me almost to a breaking point,” Bethany Welliver (’20) said.

According to newsletter MedicalNewsToday, direct face-to-face contact has a great impact on a person’s responses to anxiety. Psychologist Susan Pickler compares human contact to a vaccine, in the sense that social interaction makes a person more resilient to stress and even relieves physical pain.

In the age of a pandemic, there is increased irritability, frustration and anger as the world attempts to adjust to this new “normal.” Relationships become challenged and tensions rise between isolation partners as they spend extensive amounts of time together.

To deal with these unwanted emotions, many have turned to the internet for help. Digital therapy apps have seen a drastic increase in users, with one such app called Talkspace experiencing a 65 percent increase in customers since February, according to Forbes.

While some have utilized social media to stay connected with friends, taking advantage of Netflix Party and Zoom, others have fallen into an isolation that may have serious effects on their health. Lack of a daily routine and structure has left many with no motivation and depressive thoughts. One day blends into the next as we lose track of time and date, while other days we become restless and desperate to busy ourselves. Locked inside, many have relied on technology for entertainment and stimulation, which has a reputation of being harmful to mental health. 

“My screen time went up by a lot since we started staying home. Since we can not go outside, I am on my phone way more,” Stephanie Razzaia (’23) said.

According to healthline, excessive use of technology causes sleep problems, loss of social skills, depression, and aggressive behavior, all of which are escalated in times of panic. The conditions of the pandemic are also worsening symptoms of people with existing mental health issues, including those with OCD and PTSD. 

Being ordered by government officials to stay inside can worsen mental health and turn one’s home into a near-prison, especially for those who live in unsafe households. Domestic abuse hotlines are surging as victims are trapped with their abusers, so much so that the United Nations has called for urgent action, according to The New York Times

For the millions who have been laid off due to the virus, isolation has become a day-to-day struggle as they combat bills and fear the unforeseeable future. On the other hand, mental distress is also evident in those who are forced to work during this pandemic, including postal workers and grocery store cashiers. As healthcare workers endure longer shifts under dire and unsanitary conditions and patients are barred from seeing their family in their last hours of life, the emotional toll of this outbreak is extensive.

Despite being unable to go in public, it is important to get sunlight and exercise daily; otherwise, you may fall into a lazy and unhealthy slump. There is no knowing how or when the world will recover from this pandemic, which causes uncertainty and panic, but it is comforting to note that no one is alone in their struggle.

If you or a loved one is experiencing anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, please call 911 the National Suicide Prevention hotline, 1-800-273-8255, or the Franklin S. Dubois Center in Stamford at 1-800-586-9903.

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