How COVID-19 Harms Our Mental Well-Being – And What to Do About It

It’s been months since America first learned of the potentially deadly virus we’ve come to know as COVID-19 or coronavirus. After months of stringent lockdown mandates and emerging in public once again only to have the coronavirus reappear in hotspots across the country as mask wearing and social distancing practices waned, it’s not looking good for a complete reopening of our nation.

Indeed, in numerous (and growing numbers of) states, lockdown requirements and other restrictions are again being ordered. As the mental health toll to our collective well-being mounts, medical experts urge everyone to take proactive measures to cope. 

One-Third of American Adults Report Symptoms of Anxiety

A Kaiser Foundation poll found that more than 30 percent of adults in America say they’ve experienced symptoms that are consistent with a mental health disorder, such as anxiety or depression. The foundation’s polling during the COVID-19 pandemic shows further that Americans are suffering negative effects on their mental health due to stress and worry related to the coronavirus. States with the highest percentage of adults reporting anxiety or depressive disorder symptoms include: 

  • Louisiana (42.9%)
  • Florida (41.5%)
  • Oregon (41.3%)
  • Nevada (30.9%)
  • Oklahoma (39.0%)

Five states with the lowest percentage of adults saying they had anxiety or depressive disorder symptoms are:

  • Wisconsin (27.2%)
  • Minnesota (30.5%)
  • Nebraska (30.6%)
  • North Dakota (30.9%)
  • South Dakota (31.0%)

Older Americans Appear to Cope Better During the Pandemic

Research from the University of Georgia that looked at the effects of loneliness during the COVID-19 pandemic found that older adults (those aged 71 and older) say “they’ve been through worse,” although they are feeling the effects of stress associated with the pandemic. Researchers looked at two subgroups, those aged 60 to 70 and those who are 70 and older. Interestingly, about 40 percent of the younger subgroup indicated they felt “moderately or very stressed,” as well as feeling “out of control” of their lives. Their behaviors reflected the increased stress, including eating and drinking more and exercising less. In contrast, the oldest subgroup did surprisingly better, with 74% saying they felt “little to no stress,” even saying that these times are comparable and “no more stressful than living through past war times.” Communications across groups increased during the pandemic, utilizing social media, smart devices, and video calls (more than 50% said they did daily video calls).

Older Adults More Emotionally Resilient

Another study, this one from the University of British Columbia, compared how well adults aged 60 and up fared emotionally during the pandemic with younger adults (aged 18-39) and adults of middle age (aged 40-59). Researchers said their findings indicated that the older adults fared better and that they are “emotionally resilient despite public discourse often portraying their vulnerability.” 

Younger adults, and those of middle age, said the researchers, face family and work-related stressors, including homeschooling their kids, working from home, and unemployment. They are also more likely than the older adults to have different stressors not related to the pandemic, such as interpersonal discord and conflicts.

While the older adults did face stress associated with higher rates of contracting coronavirus, greater complications, and risk of dying from it, they also are better able to cope with it, “being older and wiser.”

High Prevalence of Depression, Anxiety and Insomnia Among Healthcare Workers

A study published in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity found that healthcare workers had a high prevalence of depression, anxiety and insomnia during the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, about one in five working in the healthcare profession had reported symptoms of anxiety and depression. Insomnia and sleeping problems were reported by almost four in 10 healthcare workers. Female workers in healthcare and nursing staff had higher rates of anxiety and depression.

Tips for Coping with COVID-19

A number of studies mentioned coping techniques that appear effective in dealing with the continuing coronavirus pandemic. Not surprisingly, many of them involve social connections.

  • Increase remote positive interactions. The University of British Columbia study found that 75 percent of the older and middle-age adults in their surveys said that remote positive interactions helped boost positive emotions.
  • Attend to self-care. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America stresses the importance of tending to self-care to help cope with re-entry anxiety during and after COVID-19.
  • Enjoy your guilty pleasures. The University at Buffalo’s associate professor of psychology, Shira Gabriel, urges people to indulge in some of their so-called guilty pleasures to help protect against anxiety and depression social isolation may cause during the COVID-19 pandemic. Gabriel says to eat comfort foods with the family, take part in new types of rituals in the community (singing from balconies, drive-by birthday and other celebrations, writing on sidewalks), utilize social media to post moments of peace and share what you’re doing, engage others in chat on video platforms like Zoom. 
  • Work on a project. Keeping busy and productive can take the form of working on a home project, perhaps one that’s been put off for some time due to hectic work or school schedules.
  • Keep a journal. While it’s normal to feel stressed and anxious when dealing with certain issues and concerns associated with COVID-19, there is relief readily available through journaling. Writing what bothers you, what emotions you’re feeling now is a powerful therapeutic that helps dampen anxious or depressive thoughts.
  • Write 5-10 things you’re grateful for. A lot may be off during these uncertain times, yet there’s also much to be thankful for. Take a minute and jot down what you are grateful for, such as this unexpected blessing of time to be with the family.
  • Exercise daily. Take a walk with the family to get outside and do something healthy. The kids can bike beside you, which may make the family outing a bit more palatable, especially to younger children. The endorphin release that comes from even a short walk boosts mood. Also, being out in the sunshine releases serotonin, a mood enhancer that helps with maintaining focus and calm. 

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