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Maintaining Mental Health After a Crisis: Part 2 of Our Expert Q&A

Mental Health


Read Part 1 of our expert Q&A here

Remember the “old days” when we never went anywhere without our cell phones? Now, we wouldn’t dare leave the house without face masks and hand sanitizers, too.

COVID-19 has changed our lives. The pandemic, like most significant life events, is stressing us out. And the stress it's causing us doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, anytime soon.

We asked two psychologists with Lee Physician Group — Jacqueline Hidalgo, Psy.D., and Rose Anne Illes, Ph.D. — for some answers about how to handle the ongoing stress of living with COVID-19:

Q: Is it normal for me to keep feeling stressed after a crisis has ended, or at least appears to be ending or diminishing in threat, like with COVID-19?

A: Well, let’s define stress first. The National Institutes of Health defines it as a physical and emotional reaction we experience when encountering changes in life. Stress is a normal feeling.

In most typical life events, such as getting married or starting a new job, the stress associated with these changes tends to be situational. After the incident ends, like after we get married, or becomes normalized, like after we’re in the new job awhile, the stress lessens or goes away, eventually. Keep in mind that different people respond differently to stress.

Outbreaks like COVID-19 may be stressful for people, absolutely. This stress may linger after the threat from the outbreak lessens. There may be different reasons why this happens such as uncertainty of the future, threat to sense of security from the virus (e.g. losing employment, recovering financially, health concerns, family discordance etc.).

Fear and anxiety about a disease can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in adults and children. How you respond to the outbreak can depend on your background, the things that make you different from other people, and the community you live in.

Q: What can I do to maintain a positive attitude and move past a stressful event?

A: If you practice being in the present and growing awareness, your thoughts will become more positive. Treat them like a new health habit by purposefully changing negative to positive thoughts and you will help ensure a better mind-set.

There are many things that can be done to keep positive. What works for one person may not work for the next but there are some things that can help everyone. Practicing gratitude can also lift your spirits.

What is going right in your life, at this moment? Are your kids healthy, for example? Are you thankful for a roof over your family’s head? Do you have running hot and cold water in your home? Do you have access to food? Being grateful for simple and basic things can change a person. 

Also, be kind to yourself. We can be awfully hard on ourselves. If you’re having a bad day, give yourself a break. Practicing self-compassion can get rid of negative feelings.

Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, too. And avoid alcohol and drugs. We hear these messages all the time but if our bodies feel good so will our emotions.

One way to eliminate negative feelings is to identify what is stressing you out. Stress can educate us and help us with getting things done. Maybe it is a challenge you have not dealt with and the time has come to work on it.

Q: When should I consider seeing a mental health professional about my stress?

A: The decision to see a mental health provider differs for each person. Is your current stress level affecting your health? Is it diminishing your ability to handle your daily activities of living?

Stress that doesn’t go away (chronic, or long-term, stress) may contribute to or worsen health problems such as digestive disorders, headaches, sleep disorders, and other symptoms. It can also make a person’s asthma worse and has been linked to depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses.

It’s important that you share with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.

If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, call a mental health professional with Lee Physician Group at 239-343-3831.

Jacqueline Hidalgo, Psy.D., is a psychologist in Family Medicine with Lee Physician Group. Her clinical interests include integrating behavioral and primary care; behavioral medicine for underserved populations; and providing behavioral interventions to patients with chronic illnesses. She speaks English and Spanish.

Rose Anne Illes, Ph.D., is a psychologist in Family Medicine with Lee Physician Group. Her clinical interests include lifestyle medicine, maternal mental health, and behavioral interventions to patients with chronic illnesses. She speaks English and Spanish.

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