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COVID-19 stress: It’s Ok to ask for help

COVID-19 will forever be remembered for quarantining, working from home and generally isolating from the world. Today, many of us sit in our homes, at our computers, with children to be educated, pets to be soothed and chaos to be tolerated. The workplace never looked so good.

It’s a stressful time. Further, it’s the kind of stress that the vast majority of the population has never experienced. In a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly half of American adults report that COVID-19 has affected their mental health. With May as Mental Health Awareness Month, coupled with a public health emergency, there is no time like the present to address our mental health and to seek help if needed.

You don’t have to suffer through it

Perhaps to date you’ve been able to cope with whatever challenges life has thrown at you, so the psychological stress associated with COVID-19 feels very unfamiliar. Indeed, COVID-19 is something uniquely different, and you might be finding it more and more difficult to cope.

The first step is self-care, which includes seeking help. You can start with a friend or family member, but you may need professional mental health services. The earlier you seek help, the better your results will be. Have you noticed a troubling change in your mood, sleep patterns, work habits, gambling, drinking, or relationships? Have you thought about suicide? If so, then you should ask for professional help.

Understanding therapy

Not all therapy is created equally. For example, if you seek help from your employee assistance program (EAP), that kind of therapy doesn’t necessarily probe into childhood traumas and inner thoughts. It’s more like a short series of problem-solving sessions, focused on certain behaviors or thought patterns, and learning techniques to change them. It’s a back-and-forth between you and the therapist to figure out the best outcome for you. This kind of therapy may work well for many people who feel temporarily on edge due to COVID-19 or other personal issue.

Oftentimes a stressful situation, such as a pandemic, will exacerbate known existing mental health conditions or bring to light underlying ones. For more serious mental health challenges, such as crippling depression or anxiety, it is preferable to seek services from a therapist with whom you can develop an ongoing, long-term relationship. During these sessions, the therapist will work with you to better understand what is contributing to a mental health issue. For example, you may find that a past trauma, such as childhood abuse or neglect, is exacerbating COVID-related stress.

Research indicates that early identification and intervention can improve mental health, and conversely, that longer periods of abnormal thoughts can limit the potential for recovery.

Don’t wait to get help

Just as with physical health ailments, the sooner you get help, the better. Research indicates that early identification and intervention can improve mental health, and conversely, that longer periods of abnormal thoughts can limit the potential for recovery.1 People with mental health challenges do get better and can discover a new sense of normalcy when they get the right support and care.

For some, seeking professional mental health services is hard to do. In addition to the unnecessary stigma sometimes associated with seeking help, many people don’t seek services due to fear. They are sometimes afraid of their own feelings and what might happen if they admit them; if they ever start crying, they won’t stop or that expressing their anger will do more damage than good.

Another fear is more practical. It involves privacy issues, especially in regards to employment. Please remember that employees are protected by laws, concerning both privacy and discrimination. If your company offers an EAP, you can talk privately with a professional who can help you sort through your concerns and direct you to the right support.

Take heart that collectively we will get through COVID-19. In the meantime, seeking help by talking to another person about your mental health challenge — whether COVID-related or not — is the first step to solving it and moving toward a healthier you.

1American Mental Health Counselors Association Emerging Clinical Practice Brief. The Need for Early Mental Health Screening and Intervention Across the Lifespan

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