WORTHINGTON ― While obeying the governor’s stay-at-home order is vital for slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus through the community, staying indoors and isolated can take a toll on individual and collective mental health.
Dr. Heather Bajema, a psychologist at Southwest Mental Health Center, said SMHC is as busy as ever, but people’s reasons for seeking care have shifted slightly over the last few weeks.
Bajema emphasized that SMHC is considered an essential business and is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, plus later on Wednesday evenings. If someone is in crisis (in danger of hurting him or herself or others), She provided 24-hour resources for help. The 24-hour crisis hotline can be reached at 1-800-642-1525, and a crisis text line is available by texting “MN” to 741-741.
Whether a person’s stress becomes a crisis or not, it’s important to take care of personal mental health. Bajema listed a few things everyone can do to take care of themselves as they manage the psychological effects of social distancing.
Maintain a structure. A familiar routine is important to have a sense of normality, Bajema said. Folks who are working from home should still keep as normal a schedule as they can. People currently out of work need to get up and go to sleep at their usual times.
Limit focus on news. While it’s necessary to stay informed, especially about coronavirus developments, excessive fixation on the news can increase feelings of stress or anxiety. Bajema recommends choosing one or two times during the day to check the news, and otherwise devoting mental energy elsewhere.
Eat balanced meals. “Be conscientious about why you’re eating,” Bajema said. People should eat if they’re actually hungry, not just because they’re bored. While everyone is at home, she added, it’s common for people to be snacking more than usual. In this case, snack on healthier options.
Exercise. Even though gyms are closed, everyone still needs to exercise at home.
Get enough sleep. In addition to maintaining a regular sleep schedule, it’s important to get enough sleep to recharge the mind.
Reach out to people virtually. Everyone needs social support, and social distancing doesn’t have to mean emotional distancing. Maintain connections with family and friends using the phone or video chat.
Remind yourself what you can control. Nobody can control how the virus will spread, or how long social distancing will be necessary.. But each person can control their attitude and can choose habits that will help them feel as good as they can.
Do more activities and less screen time. There are lots of things people can still do while social distancing. Green space and trails in Worthington are open for use. Home projects are a popular activity. Lots of folks have been trying new recipes, sewing cloth masks or writing cards to loved ones.
It’s normal to feel a little bit more irritable than usual, Bajema said, but everyone should also be paying attention for signs of greater distress in themselves and their children.
For example, when kids are overwhelmed, it’s common for their behavior to regress. This can look like not wanting to sleep by themselves, having consistent bad dreams or wetting the bed after having been potty trained. In older children, sneaking out at night or breaking house rules can be signs of emotional distress.
Physical symptoms like unexplained headaches or body aches may also have their root in emotional need, Bajema noted.
If anyone needs mental health care but doesn’t want to go the the SMHC office, telehealth and phone appointments are available, Bajema said. Language doesn’t have to be a barrier, either ― SMHC has access to interpreters for a number of languages.
Most importantly, Bajema said, it’s key to “focus on the fact that this is temporary, and we’re going to get through this.” Social distancing will not last forever, and there are resources to help in the meantime.
In District 518, school counselors are finding creative ways to serve students while they can’t meet in person.
“It is difficult to not be with our students during this time,” said Jami Wahl, school counselor for the Learning Center and the VIBE program. However, she is using tools like Google Voice, Schoology and Zoom to stay connected with her students. Having multiple avenues of communication is helpful in reaching students in need, she said.
For the duration of the stay-at-home order, students may have additional demands placed on them as they balance schoolwork, jobs and family responsibilities. District counselors are available to help students with their mental health needs.