Submitted by Terry Lee (M.D.), Director of Behavioral Health, Community Health Plan of Washington.
Between 2 and 3 million Washingtonians will experience negative mental health impacts due to coronavirus-related stress, according to the Washington State Department of Health. Given the expected surge in stress and mental health impacts, people across the state can try a few activities and best practices to take care of their wellbeing.
Consider the following suggestions:
1. Stay Connected and Ask for Help
Connecting with others increases happiness, reduces stress, lowers anxiety and depression, and improves physical health. While gatherings in WA are limited to small groups of 5 or less in phase 2 counties and 50 or less in phase 3 counties, more time at home or six feet apart from others in smaller groups provides additional possibilities for reconnecting with friends and family you haven’t had time to stay in touch with and connecting with people you want to get to know better.
It’s also important to reach out to your existing support network—friends, family, co-workers—and let them know how you’re feeling. Sharing your thoughts and receiving the support of another is therapeutic. If you want to go outside your usual supports, COVID-19 has also led to the explosion of online and video peer support and recovery groups, such as Quality Peer Support (led by trained facilitators) or Recovery Oriented Meetings. You may also seek more formal help, such as therapy or counseling. Community Health Plan of Washington (CHPW) can help connect you with local mental health services via its resource center.
2. Stay Active and Take Care of Your Other Physical Health Needs
The mind and body are fundamentally connected. A brisk walk can clear your mind, reduce stress, and improve your mood. Get started by trying different activities like walking, running, biking, or dancing. When you find something you like, put it into your routine. If you already exercise, keep it up. If there are others at home, like kids, get them involved and stay fit.
Also, take this time at home to care for your other physical health needs. Most health care professionals are now physically seeing patients and many also offer telehealth visits. If you have a problem that’s not going away or there’s been a significant change in the way you feel, get checked out. If there’s something wrong, you want it treated now, not after it gets worse. You don’t want the added stress later on.
3. Keep a Routine but Infuse Some Fun
Maintaining daily rhythms furthers wellness by providing structure and regularity. Familiarity and predictability reduce stress by helping daily body cycles—like sleep, hormone levels, body temperature, digestion, and alertness—fall into recurrent patterns. Keep some of these habits as you physically return to work.
However, while routine is good, too much sameness coupled with maintaining physical distance with friends and family can wear on anyone. Be sure to inject a dose of novelty to enhance your brain health. This is a good time to try new activities, such as singing, baking, yoga, or juggling. If you’re home with others, get everyone to play a new game or make up a play. Or go back to old hobbies. You’ll stimulate new areas of the brain and reawaken others.
While you may see fewer people during this time or be more physically distant, remember you are not alone, and many are experiencing similar feelings. We are in this together, Washington! For more tips and information, visit CHPW’s free public Mental Health Resource Center: www.chpw.org/for-members/mental-health-resources.