In a standstill world teeming with threats of sickness and unemployment, anxiety is heightened.
Those stuck at home have given up time devoted to their usual hustle and social gatherings, receiving isolation and a flow of disparaging headlines in return. One might find the noise of inner dialogue hard to escape — especially in confinement.
For the counselors and doctors at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Counseling and Psychological Services, this means their job is as important as ever. CAPS counselors are continuing to provide services for students over the phone and through Zoom to help students cope with a variety of mental health struggles, including the stressors of a pandemic.
John Goldrich, a counselor and coordinator of outreach at CAPS, said COVID-19 repercussions can cause a plethora of negative mental health symptoms experienced by both chronic sufferers and the occasionally anxious alike.
Individuals who are prone to worry, Goldrich said, are more likely to fret over discouraging news and a lack of socialization. Additionally, people who struggle with depressive tendencies may perceive the pandemic’s fallout with melancholy rather than fear.
Goldrich said patients who recently reported exacerbated issues with mental health are often wrestling more with a sudden disruption of lifestyle than the epidemic itself. It’s the decreased productivity that bothers them, Goldrich said, not the spread of COVID-19.
“A lot of people, even if they’re working from home, still haven’t found their groove in doing these things,” Goldrich said.
That isn’t to say there aren’t some who are monitoring the news with nail-biting tension and keeping their homes sterilized for good measure. Goldrich said he has his share of patients who are concerned about the virus’ impact, and Goldrich advises them to challenge their mind’s bleak messages before those negative thoughts become unhealthy habits.
“I want people to be aware of when those thoughts and worries start to take place,” Goldrich said. “You have a better chance of nipping it in the bud when it starts at the thought level than to let it process along to feelings and behaviors.”
CAPS assistant director Joey Walloch has also seen many patients who reported bothersome mental health side effects after COVID-19 spread in the U.S., but Walloch said not everyone’s anxiety and depression is worsening. Some, Walloch said, are actually feeling better despite a lack of social connectivity and tight schedules.
“Some of [the patients] are actually doing much better in an unstructured environment,” Walloch said. “Also, there’s someone who is OK being on their own and alone. So they’re not as impacted in that way as well.”
The key, Walloch said, is to know your social tendencies.
Extroverts, individuals who feel energized after spending time with people, may find it more difficult to fill their social needs than introverts, those who turn inward for recalibration. But nobody is perfectly introverted or extroverted, Walloch said. All have some level of social needs that, if neglected, can sour one’s mood.
“The more we isolate … the more negatively it affects our mood,” Walloch said. “We have to be mindful of it and when we start doing that and catch ourselves.”
In order to respect one’s mental health, Walloch recommends fighting to maintain social normalcy. Those who are used to meeting up with friends regularly still should, Walloch said, just from a distance — don’t cancel connectivity.
“If you are someone who really thrives on interacting with people … you should know that about yourself and stay mindful that if you start pulling away to note that and to re-engage,” Walloch said.
Overall, Walloch said it’s hard to speculate how each person’s mental health might be affected by the pandemic. Some might be lodged in a positive and inviting environment with a lack of structure, greatly easing their woes. Others might be craving normalcy, finding it tougher to cope.
“For some students, being home is a positive thing, and they’re doing very well because of that. Some people don’t have the privilege of coming from a family they consider to be loving,” Walloch said. “I think it’s important for all of us to not make assumptions about how people are handling things or not handling things because there are so many factors that come into play.”
But what’s to be done about those who are still fretting over headlines and contagions? They should carve out daily holidays to enjoy pleasant activities, Goldrich said.
“Decide: I’m not going to stay focused on what’s on the newspaper, what’s on the TV. Instead, I’m going to focus on something that brings me joy and pleasure,” Goldrich said. “Anything that takes my mind or distracts me from thinking about that — it’s kind of like taking a vacation in your mind.”