Feeling mentally overwhelmed during the pandemic? Help is available

By Jessica Vaughn
Posted 4/9/21

A year of living in a pandemic is a long time.

In March 2020, the COVID-19 shutdown came to our community. At that time, no one knew what the effects would be.

In those months many have felt …

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Feeling mentally overwhelmed during the pandemic? Help is available

Posted

A year of living in a pandemic is a long time.

In March 2020, the COVID-19 shutdown came to our community. At that time, no one knew what the effects would be.

In those months many have felt stressed and overwhelmed due to job loss, cut work hour, mask mandates, and separation from friends and loved ones.

“In Baldwin County, we are such a highly resilient community because we are accustomed to handling disasters, such as hurricanes and oil spills,” said Robin Riggins, LICSW, Marketing Executive, Primary Care BayView Professional Associates. “This pandemic is very different than anything we’ve faced before. It’s something that has affected everyone, everywhere. People are experiencing stress in these unusual circumstances.”

Even as the vaccine rolls out, places begin reopening, and mandates begin to lessen, Riggins says people need to be prepared. As people begin to relax and lower their guard, she says a phenomenon can happen where clinical symptoms of depression and anxiety surface. Even those who have yet to experience those symptoms during the pandemic may find themselves experiencing them as the world once more shifts, now in a post-pandemic direction.

So what can you do if you are already experiencing symptoms, begin to experience these symptoms or find yourself in need of someone to talk to?

AL Apart Together COVID Crisis Counseling

AL Apart Together, a COVID crisis counseling program, was made available through a federal grant from Alabama Department of Mental Health and FEMA. The service is free, and puts people in contact with trained counselors who provide emotional support and identify community resources.

“This is available to anybody overwhelmed by stress or experiencing anxiety or depression,” said Riggins, Project Lead for the Crisis Counseling program. “The program is confidential, but you can also remain anonymous when talking to a counselor. Some are unaccustomed to reaching out for help, and remaining anonymous may be more comfortable for them.”

When beginning the program, people will first speak with someone who will discuss their concerns, what they’re looking for and what area they’re from. The caller will then be connected with a crisis counselor in their specific area who is familiar with resources available.

“Right now, we have a lot of people looking for resources,” Riggins said. “They all say the same thing: they’re happy to know that this service is available. Sometimes just letting people know what’s available makes them feel better. Still, we do hear from people in need of emotional support, and we’re seeing more people who have never had to reach out for mental health services, who have never experienced this level of anxiety before, reaching out. It’s nice to see and hear people reach out, because that’s a form of resiliency too, knowing when you need help.”

Counseling is available via phone (anonymously if desired), virtually, and eventually, in person. To speak with a counselor, call 1-866-752-3418 Monday - Friday from 8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m., or visit AltaPointe.org.

Moving forward

“This is a seismic event, no doubt, and it’s going to continue to impact lives,” Riggins said. “Moving forward, normal will be different. That’s the mindset you have to adjust with: normal will be different. It’s important to emphasize that it’s okay to take it slow when adjusting, it’s okay to acknowledge it will be a process. We’re accustomed to bouncing back so quickly, and it’s frustrating because we’re not always able to do that with this pandemic. But it really is okay to take it slow when adjusting.”

Instead of dwelling on the events of the last year, Riggins says it can instead be an opportunity to let your struggle be the reason to make positive adjustments in your lifestyle. She said to ask yourself what you would like to incorporate into your post-pandemic life from your life during quarantine.

“There’s lots of negatives I hear from the past year, but there’s got to be something that you can make into a positive,” she said. “Spending time with your family is important, and it’s something we can carry forward with us. It’s so easy to get caught up in schedules and routines. You can make sense of your struggles and incorporate what you think will be beneficial into your life moving forward. Making a positive out of what we’ve been through can ease that path for us.”

Maintaining mental health

So what can you do on a daily basis to help maintain your mental health? Riggins suggested a few tips and practices that anyone can follow as they go through their day.

“Instead of making a ‘To Do List,’ how about a ‘To Done List?’ It’s good because you can see what you’ve accomplished in the day,” she said. “It can be overwhelming when you’re looking at a large ‘To Do List’ and constantly thinking about what you need to do. We can easily forget to count the small victories, or we’ll dismiss something we’ve completed as insignificant compared to what’s left on our lists, but they’re all important.”

Another practice Riggins says is vital as the world reopens and events are scheduled is to remember that feelings of uncertainty and anxiety are common. These are feelings many will experience as they exit quarantine and realize they’re out of practice in a social environment.

“Getting together socially is something people have always done prior to COVID, but now you’ve got to get used to getting back out there and talking to people face to face again. It can be awkward for some people,” said Riggins. “It’s normal to be anxious and uncertain, so don’t put pressure on yourself if you experience those feelings.”

According to Riggins, she’s heard a number of people say they have felt peer pressure related to people’s differing opinions on masks and social distancing. When reentering society, she says it’s important to value your personal belief system while respecting the differing beliefs of those around you. As mask mandates are lifted, she said individuals should look at their risk factors and make their choice on when to shed their masks.

“When things start opening up and mandates disappear, respect other people’s preference; they have their reasons,” she said.

One of the most important things going forward is to remain positive, without minimizing the past year and the impacts the pandemic has had on your life. Riggins says to take time and listen to yourself and how you speak to others, and to practice turning negatives into positives.

“Listen to your statements about what you’ve been through. If you hear yourself saying a negative component, make it a game to turn that same statement into a positive in your head, no one has to even know what you’re doing,” said Riggins. “Pay attention to what your words sound like, and remember the things you say do affect other people as well as yourself. Taking a minute to think of something negative you’ve said and finding a positive in it really helps teach you to think things through and leads you in a positive direction.”

Finally, a tip we’ve all heard is to exercise regularly to improve our physical and mental wellbeing. Riggins says while exercise is important, sometimes people are either stretched thin on time, or they simply don’t enjoy it.

“If you can’t exercise, then just remember to keep your body moving,” she said. “If you work at a computer all day, then stand up and stretch every 30 minutes and take five deep breaths. It can really make a difference, helping you take a short pause so you don’t overstress yourself while reenergizing your mind.”

To learn more, visit https://altapointe.org/ and follow AltaPointe on Facebook, @AltaPointe.