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Mental health experts offer advice for coping with COVID-19 related stress

COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)

Mental health experts are warning about the mental health effects of coronavirus-related stress and isolation.

Many residents are forced to work remotely and to avoid any social gatherings after officials in Columbia and Boone County issued a month-long, stay-at-home order Tuesday,

Dr. Laine Young-Walker, a psychiatrist at University of Missouri Health Care, said the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic can stoke damaging stress and pose serious mental health risks.

"As human beings, we like structure," Young-Walker said. "And so when it's not certain what will happen next or how things will be handled next, it raises a lot of anxiety."

On top of fear from the global pandemic, Young-Walker said the restrictions people have to follow, such as social distancing, add another layer of stress and sadness.

"We're used to talking to that person that's always at the coffee shop, or going to work and always stopping to say hi to a certain person, we like to engage with people," Young-Walker said. "So it's challenging, it's much different to what they are used to, and it does sometimes create that feeling of being alone."

As individuals and families move toward working and studying at home, Young-Walker said the most important thing to ease feelings of anxiety is keeping a routine.

"Families need to get up at the same time every morning, have a routine and structure and order to their day," Young-Walker said.

She suggested planning out when children will do their online school work and keeping it consistent day-to-day. The same goes for adults who are asked to work from home.

Many businesses and industries are suffering, forcing them to cut back on employees' hours or even lay people off. Young-Walker said these uncontrollable realities can be hard for individuals to handle.

She said there are several resources for individuals that may be experiencing financial instability, and that asking for help is important to relieving anxiety.

Physical well-being is also important when it comes to mental health. With gyms and other facilities closed, health officials encourage people to go on walks or run around the neighborhood or local trails, while staying away from shared equipment and large groups of people.

"Stay active with the limitations we have," Dr. Young-Walker said. "And then think about other things you can do in addition to staying active to relieve stress."

Young-Walker said staying informed about the latest health and safety protocols can help to put one's minds at ease.

"I think the first thing is for people to think this will end," Young-Walker said. "I know it feels like it won't but there will be an end in sight. We don't know when that will be but it will happen."

Mental health providers, such as MU Health Care, are moving toward online visits with therapists.

Jared Torbet, the owner of the Anxiety and Depression Clinic of Columbia, has moved to telehealth to continue to provide sessions for clients amid the outbreak.

"This change is helping to launch health care, including mental health care, into this kind of new way of doing things," Torbet said. "We're sort of being forced into it if you will, but we're learning."

Torbet said there are pros and cons to counseling over the phone or internet, as counselors are trained to read body language

"It takes a while, doing multiple sessions, every session it gets more comfortable," Torbet said.

Torbet said from what he has heard from his clients, COVID-19 is causing fear and boredom. He said it's essential to stay in touch with friends and family in a "life-like" way, using phone or video calls.

"There's a difference between posting on social media versus having an audio-video session with a family member or a friend over coffee," Torbet said. "If we can mimic socialization through the technology we have at hand then it would be a big benefit."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an infectious disease outbreak can cause fear or worry about your health, changes in sleep or eating habits, insomnia, trouble concentrating and increased use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.

The CDC offered recommendations on methods for coping with increased stress and anxiety amid the pandemic:

  • Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media.
  • Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch or meditate. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep and avoid alcohol and drugs.
  • Make time to unwind through activities you enjoy.
  • Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.

More CDC information on how to reduce stress can be downloaded through this link.

Boone / Columbia / Education / Health / News / Top Stories / University of Missouri

Connor Hirsch

Connor Hirsch reports for the weekday night shows, as well as Sunday nights.

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Joe McLean

Joe reports stories all across mid-Missouri, including our WasteBusters series of reports, and co-anchors ABC 17 News at 9 a.m. with Zara Barker.

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