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Mental health and well-being during difficult times

While we all focus on limiting the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus, the pandemic is affecting our friends, neighbors, co-workers and loved ones in ways that are not always easily apparent. From those who are fighting the virus on the frontlines to the people who have been asked to quarantine, young and old, we are all battling increasing stress and anxiety during these uncertain times.

Caren Cox, a licensed clinical professional counselor at Gritman Medical Center, provides some guidance below to help you maintain your mental health and well-being during the COVID-19 crisis.

Develop and stick to a routine
While there is a lot of information – and misinformation – about COVID-19 floating around, we all still have questions, and that is leading to anxiety and stress. Developing and following a routine can help. Wake up and go to sleep at reasonable times, create a schedule that is varied and includes time for work as well as self-care.

“Our brains love routines – it helps decrease anxiety and it helps prevent depression. We thrive when there are routines,” Cox said. “Following those routines of what we can control helps relieve stress and anxiety. There are so many things that are out of our control that controlling the things we can helps with the stress.”

Get outside
We are all used to moving, so being stuck inside all day can be tough. Try getting outside for some fresh air or a walk – while still following social distancing guidelines – to break up the monotony and get a change of scenery.

Communicate with others
Being isolated at home means we are being deprived of much of the daily human interaction we need. Make an effort to reach out to others. Try FaceTime, Skype, text or just make a phone call.

“So much of our lives involves others and interaction with others, and self-isolating can lead to bouts of depression and sometimes thoughts of suicide,” Cox said. “Connecting with others can help provide that grounding for people that we are all going to make it through this together.”

Pay attention to what you are eating
Many of us are comfort eaters – when we get stressed or our lives are interrupted, we eat. Others eat when they get bored. Be mindful of what you are eating and make an effort to grab healthy snacks.

Be mindful of your children
All of us, including children, are facing major upheavals in our lives.

“There has been a huge break in their routines as well, and that is causing them a huge amount of anxiety,” Cox said. “When kids are anxious, they act out behaviorally, and so kids are going to be on edge, they are going to be more snappy, they are going to be more defiant, they are going to be angry at times and on edge. Those behaviors are normal for all the changes they are going through, and we need to remember to be patient with them, which is hard because we are feeling stressed.”

Reinforce to them that everyone is working to keep them and their loved ones safe. Set time aside for fun games, crafts and other activities.

It is also important to be careful what you say around kids. Don’t lie, but avoid death statistics, blaming others and showing anger. Try to focus on the positives.

“You don’t want to hide the information from them, because there have been changes for them too – this is scary for them too,” Cox said.

Remember your kids miss their friends too. Try to find ways to help them connect – think FaceTime and other similar apps.

Be nice
Being cooped up can bring out the worst in people. And people are scared. Remember we are all in this together.

“Everyone is feeling so much fear right now because we don’t know the answers – we don’t know how long this is going to last,” Cox said. “We don’t know what it is going to look like on the other side of this. We don’t know if there are people who we love who are not going to make it. Because of that, there’s this fear response. It is important to stay calm and treat others with kindness. Just remember they are struggling too – have empathy toward other people.”

Limit social media and COVID-19 conversation
Consider limiting your time on social media and news consumption. Be careful to not expose children to alarming news and conversations that would frighten them – and remember they see and hear much more than we realize.

“People are spending a lot of time on social media, and that is not helping,” Cox said.

Notice the good
Take time to recognize all the kindness that is happening in the world.

“You are seeing people come together,” Cox said. “There’s still so much good in the world, and there are a lot of people working so hard to try to get us through this as quickly as we can. This community has been fantastic about doing that – I have been so impressed by the overwhelming support for the people who are still out there working and doing good.”

Find ways to keep busy
Learn to play a new instrument, pick up a new language or start painting. Use your time to better yourself.

“There are a lot of people who are at home that are going stir crazy because they are not used to this many hours being available to them,” Cox said. “So what do you want to get out of this at the end of all of it?”

Remind yourself this is temporary
“One of my favorite quotes is, “No storm will last forever,” Cox said. “Right now we are in the middle of the storm, and this will end. A lot of times that fear and panic make us feel like this is our new way of life. This will create changes to our way of life, but this is not our new way of life. It is just temporary.”

Reach out for help
Don’t be afraid to share your feelings. If you need help, schedule an appointment with a counselor, use online resources like TalkSpace or BetterHelp, or reach out to family or a friend.

“Sometimes friends can be the best therapists there are,” Cox said. “Nobody has to go through this alone.”

If you are concerned you or a loved one may be depressed, you can take this quiz: bit.ly/are_you_depressed.

For more information and additional resources, go to gritman.org/services-care-areas/psychiatry-mental-health/ or view our online clinic at bit.ly/gritman_mental_health.

Cox is still seeing patients in person and through telemedicine at Gritman’s rural clinics in Kendrick, Potlatch and Troy. She also has some availability for new patients. Schedule an appointment by calling your local clinic.

You are not alone
“Everyone is feeling the stress, but we are all just trying our best,” Cox said. “There is no correct way to navigate our way through this, there is no goal. We will get through this and be stronger and wiser for it.”

Stay up-to-date at gritman.org/coronavirus.