Do you relate to any of the following?
Reading a book feels impossible now. Concentrating is a bust. Despite feeling bone-tired, you somehow can't fall asleep.
It's stress. It's anxiety. Even if you're relatively unscathed from COVID-19, the tendrils of the pandemic are impacting your day-to-day.
"If you are not feeling strong stress during this time you might be a robot," said Dr. Jürgen Unützer, a professor and chair of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at the University of Washington during a press conference on Thursday. Everyone is experiencing some level of "stress and anxiety... during a time like this," Unützer said.
The stress of the pandemic is rising. Chair of @UWPsychiatry tells reporters that he is seeing people show up looking much sicker, especially those with substance-abuse issues. His advice Keep a routine, reach out to loved ones, deep breathing, seek help. https://t.co/hNBQfQog85
— UW Medicine Newsroom (@uwmnewsroom) April 2, 2020
There are around one million Washingtonians living with some degree of mental illness or substance abuse disorder right now, according to Unützer.
"All of us living in the community right now is at risk," of getting anxiety, depression, or worsening substance or alcohol use. What we're experiencing are real "stressors and disruptions in our lives." That's why it's important to create healthy coping mechanisms.
Aside from chatting with mental health professionals (you can do that remotely!), Dr. Kristen P. Lindgren, a professor and licensed clinical psychologist at UW, outlined a few healthy things to do to cope:
Physical distance doesn't mean social distance. Lindgren says it's key to maintain a social network. That means checking in on your family and friends and having a support system. Maybe call your high school best friend who you haven't talked to in a long time. Now's the perfect time to reconnect, Lindgren said. Pick up the phone, baby.
Be thoughtful about basic well-being strategies. That means eating well, exercising, sleeping, and not drinking or using substances in excess.
Stop reading the news so much. Lindgren emphasized this point to a press conference full of, well, the press. As much as we love all of your eyeballs all over our work, she's right. "When I talk about limiting media exposure I’m not saying go dark," Lindgren said. "Think about it like dosing." She suggested allotting 15-minute-or-so periods to consume your news. Don't get sucked into a two-hour rabbit hole. Unützer pointed out that not being able to turn your mind off from the crisis at night can cause insomnia.
Acknowledge that stress manifests in different ways for different people. "We literally feel the stress emotionally and physically," Unützer said. "We might be more irritable, we might be shorter with people. We really have to give ourselves more latitude right now. It doesn’t bring out the best of us."
This is a weird, unprecedented time. Take care of yourself and each other.