Learn how to RESTORE your mental health
Mental Health Awareness Month, the third phase of mental health: restore.
To restore means to bring back or return to a former condition. We are reminded on a daily basis that the effects of COVID-19 on our mental health are far reaching and vary greatly from person to person.
And while life may not return to the “normal” we once knew, we can certainly work toward restoring things that previously brought us happiness, stability and joy.
How Should I Expect to Feel During and After COVID-19?
One of the main, and often overlooked, areas of trauma after a disaster is mental health.
“It’s very normal for people to experience symptoms of acute stress after any disaster,” says Dr. Kira Mauseth, Co-Lead for the Behavioral Health Strike Team at the Washington State Department of Health.
Dr. Mauseth shares that common symptoms may include anxiety, sleep disturbances including nightmares, feelings of loss, being more irritable or crying, and trouble focusing. Coping with these symptoms can be challenging and isolating, but all ranges of symptoms are natural and there are many helpful resources for support and reliable information.
For most people, the behavioral and thought changes associated with acute stress will subside after the event. In the case of the pandemic, that may be after some normal activities and routines are reestablished during the recovery phase. For others, symptoms may worsen to the point of interfering with daily tasks and responsibilities.
How Do I Know if My Stress Is Normal?
Sometimes, it can be hard to tell if you’re experiencing a typical stress reaction or something that requires help. Some people with acute stress may have symptoms that worsen over time.
You may hear the term Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is pretty rare when it comes to an event like COVID-19, since it is commonly associated with immediate life-threatening events (versus events that take place over a long period of time).
Regardless, PTSD affects millions of people around the world. Typically, people who experience PTSD have been directly involved with trauma. In the case of COVID-19, they may have lost a loved one, or got very sick themselves. PTSD can also depend on someone’s trauma history, socioeconomic background, race, gender and any number of combining factors.
Dr. Mauseth recommends seeking professional help if you believe you’re experiencing symptoms beyond acute stress. Signs of this may include an inability to perform normal or every-day tasks, such as:
- caring for your basic needs
- completing work
- caring for children or loved ones effectively every day for more than a week or two
- feeling anxious or depressed more days than not
She explains the best first step is to make an appointment with your primary care physician. They’ll be able to refer you to additional support and mental health specialists. If you don’t have a primary care doctor, call 1–800–525–0127 or text 211–211.
How Can I Best Cope?
There are many ways to address acute stress and PTSD. Therapy and other types of professional counseling are highly recommended and can be very beneficial.
“Effective trauma therapy can help someone separate the emotional experience from the event itself, which is crucial for healing,” says Dr. Mauseth.
If therapy isn’t immediately available to you, there are many other helpful tips. If you need someone to talk to about stress due to COVID-19, call Washington Listens at 1–833–681–0211 for support. You can also find other resources by looking here.
Dr. Mauseth explains that it’s critical to give yourself time to adjust. And to be kind to yourself in the process. It has been over a year of significant changes in how we conduct our daily lives; we can’t expect that getting back to “normal” will happen overnight. Making small adjustments on a daily or weekly basis will make a big difference over time.
It’s common to feel overwhelmed with the amount of changes you’re facing. Dr. Mauseth suggests making a list of things and activities that make you feel better and posting it to your fridge. Do this while you’re feeling good; it’s tough to recall what makes you happy when you’re dealing with heightened emotions in the moment.
“This list could include anything from listening [or dancing] to your favorite song, to taking a hot shower or walking the dog. It should be personalized, thoughtful and contain movement-based activities,” says Dr. Mauseth. She says to resist things that include consuming substances like alcohol, cannabis or other drugs (which can worsen stress, anxiety and depression), and even some foods (particularly those high in sugar).
As the world works collectively to restore itself and heal from the pandemic, there’s one small thing that you can do to help. The single, best thing you can do for yourself, and your family, is to make sure that you take care of your mental health!
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Check the state’s COVID-19 website for up-to-date and reliable info at coronavirus.wa.gov.
The COVID-19 vaccine is now available to everyone 12 and older. For more information about the vaccine, visit CovidVaccineWA.org and use the vaccine locator tool to find an appointment. The COVID-19 vaccine is provided at no cost to you.
Answers to your questions or concerns about COVID-19 in Washington state may be found at our website. You can also contact the Department of Health call center at 1–800–525–0127 and press # from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday, and 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday — Sunday and observed state holidays.
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