4 Good Thoughts to Remember During Stressful Times

Manage your mental health during a global pandemic.

Your mind matters. Staying spiritually and emotionally healthy is just as important as your physical health. But for many Americans, the balance between mental wellness and everyday life was difficult to maintain, even before the coronavirus outbreak.

Last year, the American Psychological Association (APA) reported more than 75% of adults experienced a physical or emotional symptom of stress, such as fatigue or headache. Almost half said their stress levels kept them awake at night, and almost 3 in 5 stated they wished they had more emotional support. During 2020, the numbers climbed higher. Another APA survey reported most adults during the pandemic reported an average stress level of approximately 6 out of 10, with 1 being “little or no stress” and 10 being “a great deal of stress.” Last year, the number was 4.9.

“Even the word ‘pandemic’ can put our minds in an unhealthy place,” says Hayley Willetts, RN, MPH, Nurse Manager at HSHS Inpatient Behavioral Health. “Learning about a new disease that is easily transferable can cause panic and fear, and when you look at the measures we’ve had to take as a society to prevent its spread—physically distancing ourselves from friends and family—it can make people feel lonely.”

“We’re going on 10 months adjusting to ‘the new normal,’ and it’s been challenging,” says Olympia Smith, CAPSW, MSW, Behavioral Health Social Worker at HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital. “And now, in Wisconsin, winter means people aren’t able to go outside as often. It doesn’t help with the feelings of isolation, especially during the holidays when people usually come together.”

If you feel stressed, lonely or sad, remind yourself of these four important facts:

  1. You matter.
  2. You are not alone.
  3. You are supported. Your loved ones are there to offer encouragement and hope, and we have community resources available for those in need.
  4. You are not helpless. There are things you can do to improve your mental health.

What You Can Do

Maintaining your mental health during a pandemic can be difficult but make an effort to connect with those you love. If you cannot get together safely in person, consider visiting over the phone, on a video call or even through an old-fashioned letter.

“I recommend limiting social media usage,” Smith says. “It’s a great tool to connect with others, but it helps to take breaks every once in a while.”

Regular physical activity can do wonders for your mental health because it provides a healthy distraction.

“If you’re staying home more often, find the good in it,” Willetts says. “Watch movies and make homemade popcorn, teach yourself a new skill or hobby, or start that home improvement project you’ve been putting off.”

Staying aware of your mental state involves noticing changes in your stress levels, behavior, or mood. Learn what is normal for you and your loved ones, and when it’s time to seek help.

“Stress and worry will affect each person differently, but we can typically notice a difference in our own sleeping or eating patterns,” Willetts says. “I also recommend monitoring alcohol use and noticing if any chronic health conditions worsen.”

“I would also look for changes in routine or mood, as well,” Smith adds. “And if a friend or family member says they’ve seen a change in you, take note of that, too.”

“Be kind to yourself and everyone in your household,” Willetts says. “Everyone copes differently and everyone is struggling in their own ways.”

“And know that it’s OK to seek help,” Smith says. “Let others know if you’re struggling. You don’t have to go through it alone.”

“The most important thing I want people to know is that we’re all feeling the changes in the world right now. No one is alone.” —Olympia Smith, CAPSW, MSW, Behavioral Health Social Worker at HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that occurs during fall and winter months. The shorter days and lower levels of sunlight prompt a chemical imbalance in your brain. Sunlight affects your vitamin D levels, which in turn affects your serotonin levels. Less sunlight means less serotonin, which leads to feelings of depression. Researchers also believe the change to circadian rhythms can cause people with SAD to feel out-of-sync with their body’s internal clock.

Approximately 5% of Americans experience SAD, and most don’t show symptoms until they are at least 20 years of age. While SAD in kids and teenagers is less common, it is still possible.

What to Look For

“The symptoms for adults and children are similar,” says Olympia Smith, CAPSW, MSW, Behavioral Health Social Worker at Sacred Heart Hospital. “For kids and teenagers, however, they may not have the vocabulary to explain the way they’re feeling.”

“Adults may feel sadness and have feelings of hopelessness or irritability,” says Hayley Willetts, RN, MPH, Nurse Manager at HSHS Inpatient Behavioral Health. “Children may also have those feelings but act out because of them.”

Be alert to these three symptoms of SAD in children:

1. Changes in sleeping or eating habits.

2. Difficulty concentrating.

3. Lack of interest in things that your child once enjoyed.

If you think your child might experience SAD, ask your child’s pediatrician about treatment options. Light therapy, which simulates natural sunlight, has been a form of treatment since the 1980s.

“It may feel like the world has turned upside-down, but it won’t last forever. There are resources that can help you right now.”—Hayley Willetts, RN, MPH, Nurse Manager at HSHS Inpatient Behavioral Health

Helpful Resources

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