May is Mental Health Awareness Month. It has been observed in the United States since 1949 and was started by the Mental Health America organization. Statistics show 1 in 5 adults in America experience a mental illness and nearly 1 in 25 adults live with a serious mental illness. Now, throw into the mix the COVID-19 crisis. According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll as reported in The Washington Post, 45% of adults in the U.S. say the pandemic has affected their mental health, and 19% say it has had a “major” impact. The rates are higher among women, Hispanic adults, and Black adults. A federal emergency hotline for people in emotional distress registered a 1,000 percent increase in April compared with the same time last year. Roughly 20,000 people texted that hotline run by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Front-line workers, health-care providers, grocery store workers, and delivery people are especially vulnerable to the coming storm of mental health problems. As the numbers of COVID-19 cases continue to climb in our country, the overall anxiety of this time we are living in is taking a toll on our mental health. What can we do to stay on track, to take care of ourselves so we can take care of others? Here are some suggestions to help avoid getting lost in the woods of this crisis.

Working from Home    No survey went out to each of us to see how we would respond to COVID-19. There was swift change and most of us had very little time to prepare for it. There was a disruption on what normal should be, and we are struggling to get back to some sense of a regular day-to-day life. So how do we balance mental health and wellness in this “new normal?” Let’s start with being kind to ourselves. Let’s not beat ourselves up over something as simple as a task you normally got right the first time, and now you’re making a mistake. Secondly, manage your news intake consumption. It’s important to stay informed but refreshing constantly for tidbits of news on the coronavirus isn’t going to prove productive. Third, allow yourself to continue to evolve and take your time. Read that book you’ve been wanting to read for months. Take an online cooking class. Learn to knit or sew. On a beautiful day sit outside and enjoy lunch. Walk around the block. You can’t get this time back so you might as well make good use of it and enjoy it. Remind yourself daily that you are doing the best you can in this situation and keep showing up!

Owning a Small Business   If you are a small business struggling with excessive stress and anxiety, look for ways to alleviate that. When you are overwhelmed and concerned, you may not feel you have time for things like self-care. But this situation is a marathon, not a sprint and it’s important to take care of yourself. Here are some factors that may be causing you worry and concern:

  • Lack of control.  In small businesses, there is already a lack of control on how your business does. Will you have customers? Will your merchandise sell? During this crisis, you may have lost even more control.
  • Many businesses are re-opening and there is a lot to learn and incorporate into your processes to ensure the safety of employees and customers. There are several different opinions on how things are going: the time frame of when it will end and re-openings. Who do you listen to?
  • Legitimate concern for yourself, family and friends, as well as employees. If masks are used and social distancing guidelines are observed, are we still safe?
  • Am I liable if I open my business back up and COVID-19 is contracted by and employee or customer?

Ways to Manage Stress and Anxiety  There are many resources on the internet for how to manage anxiety related to the coronavirus outbreak. To start, here are six things you can try to get some relief:

  • Take a 10-minute break to do some light breathing exercises or yoga. Purposeful, mindful breathing has been shown to be an effective tool against anxiety.
  • Consider limiting your coronavirus news consumption. We need to be informed but we do not need to watch or read the news 24/7.   Instead, check the CDC website for updates periodically and try to spend most of your day focused on other things.
  • Talk to your friends and family. It’s important that even though this situation leads to increased social isolation, that you stay in touch with people. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a friend for a phone call, or better yet a video chat.
  • Eat regular, well balanced meals, and avoid alcohol and drugs.
  • Exercise regularly and get plenty of sleep.
  • Turn to your faith. Talk to a church friend or your pastor to gain comfort and perspective.

When Stress Gets Over Whelming  If the stress gets overwhelming, consider these resources.

  • Call your healthcare provider if you notice you are not functioning well. They can recommend a therapist or help with medications if needed.
  • Consult websites like:
    • (National Alliance on Mental Illness)
    • (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration),
    • (Center for Disease Control and Prevention – Daily Life and Coping)
    • (Cheyenne Regional Medical Center Behavioral Health)
    • (Wyoming Department of Health – Behavioral Health Division)

If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255). Crisis Text Line also provides free, 24/7, confidential support via text message to people in crisis when they text to 741741.

Cathy Drzal for the Align Team