Published October 13, 2020
Managing stress is difficult at the best of times. It is even trickier during a worldwide pandemic. COVID-19 has impacted everyone, and its ramifications will be felt for years to come. The mental health of children and adults is one notable example.
University at Buffalo researcher Yu-Ping Chang, PhD, RN, FGSA, FAAN, FIAAN, has recognized the importance of self-care and proper coping mechanisms during this topsy-turvy time. Chang is the Patricia H. and Richard E. Garman Endowed Professor; Associate Dean for Research & Scholarship; Department Chair — Family, Community & Health Systems Sciences; UB School of Nursing; a CTSI KL2 Mentor; and a CTSI Pilot Study Co-Principal Investigator. Her areas of interest include substance abuse and depression in older adults, as well as dementia care.
In this two-part interview, Chang explores the impacts of the pandemic on families and outlines ways to cope with the stresses associated with COVID-19.
What makes this current pandemic so impactful on our mental health/self-care?
The onset of COVID-19 caused many of us to have to make drastic and sudden changes to the way we lived our lives. The concept of social distancing suddenly became the new normal. For many, these sudden changes may not be easy to cope with, and this whole situation is likely causing us all to experience varying levels of fear, stress, anxiety, or depression.
In fact, research from the 2002 SARS pandemic (which was actually a different kind of coronavirus) showed that the experience of social isolation can result in considerable psychological stress in the form of depressive symptoms, even causing some people to develop post-traumatic stress disorder. Further, a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that nearly half of adults in the United States reported that their mental health has been negatively impacted due to worry and stress over the COVID-19 virus. This stress manifests itself physiologically, leading to increased incidence of multiple health problems which are already a concern for many populations, such as the elderly and others living in disadvantaged communities across the country.
The introduction of COVID-19 has further worsened the extreme inequality in healthcare for many communities, as well. COVID-19 is not only infecting and killing African Americans in disproportionate numbers but it is also forcing individuals to risk their health and lives as essential workers, to care for family members who become sick, to attempt to self-isolate in crowded living conditions, or to manage day-to-day life if they have lost their job. This has a deep impact on an individual’s ability to cope and is seriously affecting mental health in a negative way.
What are some recommended coping mechanisms for dealing with the stresses of COVID-19?
It is important for us all to maintain a good foundation of coping skills and stick to a series of best practices while we are social distancing in an effort to maintain positive mental health. Some tips include:
Can children use these same coping mechanisms or are there other recommendations for them?
The coping mechanisms described above can benefit everyone, regardless of age. However, especially as school-age children are returning to a very different school year, it is extra important to take steps to help alleviate their potential stress. While there is some overlap with the above, the main thing to do for children is to create healthy routines for them. Having a routine helps children of all ages, whether they are going to school in-person or virtually. Some key routines include:
One easy thing to do is to write a schedule down for children and to display it somewhere that is easy for them see. With younger children, invite them to create the schedule with you by drawing or coloring. With older children, get them their own planner or calendar to use. This is a difficult and stressful environment for children in which to receive an education, but with support and resources we can better prepare them and be there for them.
For immediate support, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or suicidepreventionlifeline.org. Help is available 24 hours a day in English and Spanish.