Dr. Michael Hedgecock, Program Manager, AnMed Health Behavioral Health Center

    The famous lyrics, “Times like these we learn to live again.”, from the Foo Fighters have rang true this past year. People have experienced immense stress and anxiety.  I do not believe we have even begun to scratch the surface on the ramifications of the coronavirus on mental health issues.  We have lived in uncertain times for the past year.  Some people are understandably fearful, anxious, and stressed to the point that it starts to manifest in everyday life.  We know that 1 in 4 people are affected by mental health issues prior to the pandemic that has taken more than a half a million lives in the United States alone.  So many people have experienced loss of a family member or friend.  There has been increased unemployment, downsizing of jobs, and businesses closed causing more families than ever struggling with food insecurity.  People are isolated working from home or attending school classes virtually from home.  A sense of normalcy is gone with sporting events cancelled, weddings postponed, and graduations limited.  Anxiety has increased due to inability to see and celebrate with friends and family.  Having a family member die alone in a hospital due to COVID-19 has made the grief process more trying.  The question is what can we do to help ourselves, family members, friends, neighbors, and coworkers get through this.

    We need to be able to work together, be flexible and more collaborative than ever.  This is a time, that we need to take care of ourselves first in order to look after others.  We need to take care of basic needs such as getting enough sleep, eating healthy, and drinking plenty of water.  If you deprive yourself of any of these basic needs, you place yourself at high risk for increased anxiety and depression.  The stress will compromise your ability to function in turn leading to decompensation.  You must be mindful to take breaks during the day.  When it is possible you should do something unrelated to work or school.  Try and get outside to take a walk, read a book, listen to music, talk with a friend or family member.  By giving yourself a break, it enables you to recharge and come back to a task with renewed energy and clarity.  You should make it a point to reach out to colleagues and hear what they are doing.  We have created an environment of isolation which can create an increase of anxiety and fear.  By staying connected with colleagues you can receive support and learn from them what they are doing.

    We know that there has been varying degrees of information that has been reported to us.  It is often very helpful to stay informed with trusted sources of information.  By receiving correct data this will help you make informed choices and help to reduce your stress.  You should attend and be part of any company meeting so you can stay informed on current situations and any new changes that might be coming.  You should limit your exposure to social media.  Very often you will get mixed messages that could cause you to worry more and in turn increase your stress and anxiety. Be sure to have check ins with yourself and people important to you.  Monitor yourself over time and look for signs of increased sadness, problems sleeping, irritability, or hopelessness.  With these warning signs, it would be an ideal time to reach out to a peer, friend, supervisor or seek professional help from a mental health specialist.

    When trying to take care of mental health issues, avoid working too many hours solo without having any check in points with colleagues.  Try to limit the intake of sweets and caffeine but certainly reward yourself when needed.  Remember to take time for yourself.  Ask for space if you need it.  Seek outside professional help through your companies EAP program or an outpatient mental health professional in your community.

    This has been a tough year.  We will get through this together by fostering open and transparent communication with one another which will help reduce anxiety, fears, and stress.  We need to look at the positive, complement each other, celebrate success big or little, as well as listen to and connect with family members, friends and colleagues.

    Dr. Michael Hedgecock will be the Guest Speaker for our next TATT Chat “Maintaining Mental Health” – Register now!