Job loss, remote learning, financial strain, stress and fear of you or your family members getting sick are just some of the concerns weighing down everyone during these trying times.
“The pandemic has really brought out a new wave of stress,” said Sarah K. Coker, MD, a psychiatrist with Roper St. Francis Physician Partners Behavioral Medicine in Charleston, who says that many people are feeling like they are ‘treading water.’ “You start off strong, change up your stroke or float, and you feel like you're doing okay, but over time it gets more exhausting, and the waves might be getting bigger. What happens when the waves are so huge, and they aren’t going away?”
Whether you are starting to feel overwhelmed or already there, Dr. Coker suggests using one or more of these five ideas to help you get through the storm.
Chat with a pal
Sometimes you just need to find someone who will listen.
“You can talk it out with friends or family,” said Dr. Coker. “Usually, you are experiencing a distorted thought process, and you are catastrophizing or thinking the worst-case scenarios. You’re not able to look at the steps you need to take to work through it. If you can talk through it, you can get a better idea of what the problem is.”
Chat with a professional
If you need a good vent session, Dr. Coker said that calling a friend to get things off your chest can help. However, if you’re dwelling too much, it might be time to talk to a professional, which can be done through a virtual visit.
“You may need someone to give you a hard stop and find out why something is bothering you,” said Dr. Coker, who said that a professional could use tools such as cognitive behavioral therapy to better assess what is going on and help you to restructure or reframe your thoughts.
If your pains or feelings are so overwhelming that you have thoughts of suicide, reach out for help immediately. Tell a family member or friend or call a suicide hotline such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or IMAlive at 1-800-784-2433.
Eat right and exercise
When you are stressed, it’s common to push good habits aside to indulge in massive amounts of comfort food and long rests on the couch. If you want to feel better, Dr. Coker recommends reevaluating what you’re eating and then get up and move.
“The pandemic and depression cause what’s called psychomotor retardation, a slowing down where you just feel blah and have no desire to move,” she said. “Then the foods that you eat during stress only make you feel worse, more weighted down and more lethargic. The more natural and the cleaner you eat, the better you feel, the lighter you feel and the more energy you have. A healthy diet can really make a big difference.”
A brisk walk or other forms of exercise can also give you a much-needed feel-good boost. “Studies show that three days a week of 30 to 60 minutes of moderate exercise was more effective in treating depression than in patients just taking medicine alone,” said Dr. Coker. “Have an exercise routine or something that just gives you those natural endorphins that nothing else can replace.”
Start something new
The sourdough bread has been baked, so what other new things have you tried lately?
“Finding something new to do in the pandemic was mostly for filling extra time and not feeling like you were in a rut,” explains Dr. Coker, who suggests that finding something new to do is like hitting the reset button in your brain. “However, finding a new hobby -- like photography or drawing -- can provide you with a sense of purpose and drive.”
Have a routine
The pandemic has definitely caused a crimp in everyone’s routines and schedules. Dr. Coker advises that it’s healthy to get back to a semblance of daily structure.
“I hear patients say that they feel tired all day, but when I ask them when they get up, they are sleeping until different times each day,” she said. “That’s not going to help. You need to have a structure, get out of bed, get dressed and have a regular bedtime routine. You can deviate from it every now and then, but you’re going to feel off the next day if your body is not resetting and you're not getting adequate sleep.”
Don’t try all five things at once. Start with one suggestion and work through it. Once you start feeling a little better, you can try another of the suggestions. It all takes time, but it’s great just to start.
As the Lowcountry leader in adult healthcare, Roper St. Francis can help you with all your healthcare needs. To learn more or to schedule an appointment, call (843) 402-CARE or visit rsfh.com.