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How Do You Maintain Mental Health During a Crisis? An Expert Q & A

Mental Health
Author name: Lee Health

Don't Forget to Take Steps to Help Children Cope

School is out and children are home. Adults are working remotely, or have lost employment.

The stress of a pandemic is real. So Lee Health psychologists Jacqueline Hidalgo, Psy.D., and Rose Anne Illes, Ph.D., came together to answer some questions about how you and your family can cope with the fear of the unknown—now, and in the future.

Q: What are the common stress issues you see when a crisis arises and are those the same for what we are experiencing now with a pandemic?

A: Signs and symptoms associated with stress include:

  • Difficulties with sleep
  • Low energy and motivation
  • Sadness
  • Nervousness
  • Difficulties with concentration
  • Questioning one’s abilities
  • Feeling easily annoyed or irritable

These challenges can impact our ability to get along with others, work performance, activity levels and changes to the way we function.

When crisis arises, at first, we can be shocked and freeze for a little; however, most of us go into problem-solving mode once we go through the initial shock. In relation to a pandemic, we have less control in “solving the problem” or knowing exactly when it will end; therefore, we may experience feeling helplessness.

Q: What are the differences in the ways adults and children handle stress?

A: Depending on the age and personality of the child, stress can be handled differently. Children may show:

  • Defiance
  • Disrespect
  • Complaining
  • Fighting
  • Not wanting to leave your side
  • Ignoring

However, what may really be happening with your child could be: boredom, fear, worry, confusion, or inability to describe what they are feeling. A key point is to remember that even teens will not process emotions and information the same way an adult would. Be aware of your language during conversations, especially when your children are around.

Helping children cope with a crisis includes:

  • Using words to describe what they are feeling
  • Encouraging slow, deep breathing
  • Coming up with a list of fun activities to do when they are worrying or scared
  • Finding a spot/room where the child/teenager can go when they need a “calming time” and it is just theirs
  • Keeping to a routine/structure
  • Finding new fun and creative projects to do as a family but also individually

Q: What are the best ways to stay mentally healthy during times of crisis?

A: One of the best things you can do is to practice self-compassion. Be nice to yourself. Ideas for this include:

  • Remain hopeful. Find things to be grateful about. You could start a gratitude journal, or keep notes in a gratitude jar.
  • Use your phone or computer to stay connected with a balance on when to disconnect.
  • Get the facts but monitor the time you spend watching the news,
  • Eat healthy and exercise, maybe not the time to go on a strict diet or exercise regime, find a way to make small changes such as eating less of the “bad food” or going on walks.
  • Focus on what you can do to stay prepared.
  • Be fun and creative while at home (e.g., dance, listen to music, small house projects, journaling).
  • Setting a routine/structure to the day can combat boredom.
  • Do not smoke, drink alcohol or use drugs to deal with your feelings.

Q: How does mental stress affect our physical health?

A: Our emotional health paired with our physical health make us “healthy.” Stress is normal for our bodies; however, we are generally able to recover from short periods of stress. But stress that continues over a long period of time places more strain to our health.

Mental stress can impact the immune system in many different ways and increase physical illness.

Reach Out and Come Together

Both Dr. Hidalgo and Dr. Illes suggest that families should still reach out to their primary care physician or their children’s pediatrician if they are worried about stress levels becoming a problem. 

The fact that everyone is experiencing the exact same problem can offer positive benefits,

“We know we are not alone on this one,” Dr. Hidalgo said. “The challenge can be that we are all struggling in one way or another and this can impact the amount of support one can get from others.”

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