Mental Health Strategies for Dealing with COVID-19

As the COVID-19 stay-at-home order marches on into April, so does our sense of isolation and for many, the experience of depression and anxiety. Many of the patients that I have been seeing through tele-mental health have been reporting feelings of loneliness, frustration, restlessness, fear, and difficulty getting motivated or getting along with others in their home. Therefore, I wanted to share with you some of the suggestions that my patients and I have been discussing.

First, if you are able, make an effort to go outside and get fresh air and sunshine. Exercise, walk, ride a bicycle if you can, limit time you spend listening to, reading, and watching updates on your digital devices. Limit alcohol use as it has been reported to decrease your immune system functioning as well as your ability to make appropriate decisions. Alcohol is also considered a depressant and as a result will make you more depressed.

Try other methods of improving your mood and decreasing your anxiety and nervous symptoms. The easiest technique to calm your mind and your soul is taking a big deep breath followed by several normal breaths. There are several websites that give good tips on the techniques of deep breathing or diaphramatic breathing. However, many of these sites instruct readers to take several breaths at a time and in my practice individuals report that when following these guidelines, they become dizzy and often hyperventilate which is very uncomfortable. Therefore, I recommend that you take one deep breath at a time and then breathe normally for 15-20 seconds and then take another deep breath.

After you have practiced deep breathing, try meditation. There are several websites that provide applications for guided meditation including Headspace; Virtual Hope, and Calm that also has guided meditations for children. Include your children in your practice of being calm with apps like Breath, Think, Do with Sesame- for kids. Once you have reached a more calm state, try visualization techniques. Using your “mind’s eye” travel to a favorite calm and happy place by using your virtual “4 senses” of sight, sound, smell and touch. Picture yourself in that calm place and remain there as long as you can. Visit this place to calm, decrease anxiety and even fall asleep. Finally, take it “one day at a time”, and practice these techniques daily. This can help you stay mentally and physically healthy.

Survey Finds Constantly Checking Electronic Devices Linked to Significant Stress

Put down your mobile devices and smell the roses.
Over the last decade, I have encountered an increase in patients who are reporting higher levels of stress. According to the American Psychological Association (APA) many Americans have admitted to having an increased level of stress as a result of the significant amount of time spent on their mobile devices. The APA conducted a survey and concluded that Americans admit to constantly checking their social media, texts and email and thus have formed an unhealthy attachment to their devices. Parents also report their struggle in limiting their children’s screen time. Further inquiry into their screen time habits reveals their difficulty balancing addictions, their neglect of others, or their own personal self-care.

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Marriage Maintenance: Help Your Relationship Thrive and Prepare for the Empty Nest

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal “The Nest is Empty So Why Aren’t We Having Fun Yet”?  highlighted the importance of what I call “Marriage Maintenance”.  With patients who report having difficulty in their marriage, about the importance of maintaining their relationship, I often ask, “Do you maintain your house, paint it, or fix it when there are any problems such as plumbing or roofing?”  “Of course”, says the patient sitting across from me, “It’s important to maintain my house”.  Well, a marriage is the same.   Often, once the honeymoon period is over and kids come into the picture, the time and energy and effort spent keeping the marriage fresh, happy, and maintained decreases exponentially.  Date nights no longer occur.  Instead, they are replaced by childcare, work or other activities that leave the couple stressed or exhausted or both.  The WSJ article quoted a sobering statistic that 1 in 4 people ages 50 and over get divorced and most of this is caused by withdrawal of at least one member of the couple.

One patient a few years ago told me that he takes his wife out on a date rain or shine, “every Friday night”.  He explained that this is a standing date and nothing gets in the way.  Not surprising, he had no issues or complaints about his wife or their relationship.

Balance is the key to a good relationship.  It is important to make time for activities on your own as individuals with your friends and also time together as a couple. Communication is also important.  When your partner turns to you and says they want more time with you, don’t ignore this request or take it lightly.  Connecting emotionally is important for the lifetime of the relationship and allows for healthy sex life and life after the kids have moved out.  The nest will be happy as well as its inhabitants.

Seasonal Affective Disorder – How Weather Can Effect Your Mood

For many, especially in the Northern part of the US, this is the time of year when the weather keeps us indoors and less active.  The cold weather and the lack of sunlight can often lead to depressive symptoms for many.  Just a few days without the usual sunny weather either due to rain or just overcast skies and many find themselves feeling “the blah’s”.   For some, this depressive mood remains for several weeks without a break.  This can be very difficult and cause a variety of problems.  For other’s it is temporary and often subsides when the weather turns nice and they are able to experience their usual activities with positive results.  The American Psychological Association has a very good article that explains this as Seasonal Affective Disorder.  It highlights the myths and realities of this real disorder and gives information on what researchers have found and implemented to help those who suffer from this seasonal affliction.


Headaches and stomach aches as a stress signal

Do you experience headaches, muscle tension or stomach aches due to a demanding work/ life schedule?  This is an issue I see all too often in my practice.  Over the years, various patients have complained of these physical symptoms that tended to make their work and home lives less productive and frustrating.

One patient expressed his guilt over being unable to participate in sports activities with his young son because of his tension headaches and severe jaw pain.  In addition, he admitted that he experienced a great amount of pressure from work to fulfill a quota and that his wife was recently laid off from her job.  Financial stressors as well as life and work demands had increased and he was “holding it all in.”  The physical symptoms he was experiencing were directly related to his emotional stress and how he was dealing with it.

We began to explore the ways that he could incorporate relaxation and exercise in his life.  He admitted that he used to ride his bike and work out regularly. However, the responsibilities at home and at his job increased and he was “unable” to find the time to return to these healthy stress relieving habits.  By the end of the session, he realized that it was imperative that he change the way he thought about his stressors and that he needed to make the time to practice self care.  After several sessions of exploring and fine tuning the tools to cope more effectively, he found that his headaches and jaw pain significantly subsided. He was finally able to participate and enjoy playing sports with his son.  He also found he was more productive at work and was able to receive the bonus that helped his family pay their mounting bills at home.  Please do not ignore the physical signs of stress.  They are your warning indicator lights telling you that you have to make changes in your life. l;/