With the COVID-19 pandemic prompting indefinite closures, job layoffs and social distancing, people may have increased stress, uncertainty and anxiety.
Many people are working from home if possible, reducing their trips out in public and generally following recommendations from health and government officials, but that can lead to social isolation.
It can also affect someone’s mental health.
There are several ways to cope and adapt throughout this time, local professionals said.
“Isolation tends to increase depression and anxiety,” said Pam Owen, of Four Rivers Behavioral Health. “And being left to your own thoughts and things like that also increases your depression and anxiety, so reaching out to others really helps to help you feel like you’re not alone.”
Owen, who is a licensed clinical social worker and clinical practitioner for adult services, suggested for people to pick up the phone and call their friends, family members or maybe even co-workers they typically speak to every day.
She advised people to detach from constant media updates and to try to keep busy if they have to stay at home, with projects around the home, reading and meditation.
“Of course, they need to watch the news to find out what’s going on and what they need to be doing, but don’t watch the news excessively because that can make them worry too much,” Owen said.
Four Rivers Behavioral Health is still available for services, and it has a 24/7 crisis line at 1-800-592-3980 for anyone who needs immediate help.
Dr. Laurie Ballew, a Paducah psychiatrist at Holistic Psychiatry & Healthcare, advised people take each day at a time. She likewise suggested cutting back on news.
“I recommend people do what they can on that day,” she said. “It’s easy to tell people to stay calm, but it’s not always easy to be calm.
“Some of the activities that people can do to help remain calm is — No. 1 — not be watching the news constantly, because it’s on 24/7 about the coronavirus. That doesn’t mean that the coronavirus isn’t dangerous. It is dangerous, but we need to realize what we can do.”
What people can do, Ballew said, is practice health precautions, such as social distancing, good personal hygiene and hand-washing — things people have control over.
“The other thing that we can do is try to do some things that have always been comforting to you — that you can do in your house, or you can do in your apartment or maybe on your back porch,” she added. “You can read. You can play a word game. This is a good time, if you have family, to get out the old board games and play.”
Mental health is also affected by physical health and exercise and, right now, gyms are temporarily closed in Kentucky due to the pandemic. It’s left some gym users to find alternative methods to exercise.
Paducah fitness professionals Marty Grubbs and Eric Romanak shared their advice this week for being active during the outbreak.
Grubbs, a personal trainer who uses the gym at Genesis Strength and Fitness, recommended walking around the neighborhood or going to the park if possible and if it’s nice outside. While inside, he said people can use small weights, do body weight squats and lunges, jog in place or do jumping jacks with their children.
He encouraged people to stay active and reiterated its significance for mental health, especially if someone is used to being active and releasing those endorphins related to exercise.
“It’s really important to find something to do active because when everything slows down for people like us, when it slows down, you will get depressed because you’re (keeping) it all in and the worst thing to do is sit in front of the TV and look at all the bad news,” Grubbs said.
Romanak, who owns Seva Fitness Academy, described exercise as creating the environment in your mind that’s more conducive to happiness, such as developing mood booster chemicals like serotonin and norepinephrine. It also gives people a “sense of agency.”
Since people may not have exercise equipment or access to a gym at the moment, Romanak said there are many great online resources that are both live and catalogued exercises for people to use.
“Obviously there’s equipment issues with a lot of routines that people are used to using at the gym, but body weight exercises are fantastic for getting the heart rate up, but also just learning how to use your body more effectively,” he said.
Romanak called yoga a “fantastic” exercise method that can get the heart rate up and create a sense of relaxation, which can help with people’s anxiety.
“Being sedentary in your body means your emotions start to become sedentary as well,” he added. “It becomes stagnant. Movement not only generates vitality in the body, but it also lets those emotions not get so sticky, that anxiety doesn’t just get so heavy on you, so movement has wonderful and tremendous benefits not only for physical health, but mental health as well.
“That’s the big idea. Stand up, do some shoulder shrugs, go for a walk, do some yoga online — anything you can do to stay moving throughout this process, instead of just becoming more sedentary, is going to be the key to having a more positive experience throughout these upcoming times.”