Since the COVID-19 emergency began, we’ve been dealing with
an incredible amount of prolonged stress. Fear of getting sick and adapting to
new realities such as helping kids with remote learning, working from home, and
job loss are leading to depleted reserves.
We’re in a contentious election season that has many on
edge. The realities of inequality have some groups examining their privilege
while others are exhausted from years of trying to be seen. As if that’s not
enough, we’re also heading into the holiday season that is unlikely to be the
usual time of celebration, togetherness, and abundance.
Mental health professionals report a 300% increase in
anxiety and depression, a 30% increase in people with substance use disorder
who have relapses, and an increase in thoughts of suicide, said David Johnson, CEO
of Navos, a part of the MultiCare Behavioral Health Network.
The encouraging news is that calming techniques and
professional help can help you feel better. Premera Blue Cross is sponsoring a special The Way Forward: Mental Health and Wellbeing where experts around the state discuss mental health and give hope for overcoming challenges. Watch Thursday. October 1 at 11 a.m. on KING, noon on KONG or 7 p.m. on KREM in Spokane.
Taking care of yourself
If you’re struggling, the first step is to show yourself
some compassion, said therapist and Premera Blue Cross case manager Hollie
Gonzalez. Take time to practice self-care, whatever that looks like for you. Could
be going for a walk, listening to an uplifting podcast, or ordering dinner.
Acknowledge to yourself that this is a difficult time.
“Be kind to yourself and give yourself some grace,” Gonzalez
said. “We don’t have to be perfect. We’re all in this new normal. If we
cultivate this in ourselves, it’ll bubble out to our children, their friends,
the community …”
Find someone you can talk to about how you’re feeling and
keep having the conversations, she added. Talking about the shared experience
brings visibility to the struggles and assures everyone that we’re not alone.
Including time in your day for mindfulness and relaxation
can help decrease stress. These activities bring your intention back to the
present so you’re not ruminating about the past or worrying about the future.
You can use these with children, too.
Take time to pause and breathe deeply. You can put your
hands on your belly and feel it moving in and out. This helps move out of fight
or flight mode and into the higher brain that helps us make sense of things and
Deep breathing helps calm the nervous system and can help
you feel better almost immediately. You can also add tapping
to release stored emotions associated with depression, anxiety and
Caring for children
It’s important for parents and caregivers to be proactive
and ask kids about their concerns. Children are experiencing uncertainty right
now, too, and they don’t express it the same as adults
Gonzalez recommends that parents listen and let kids describe
what they’re feeling. You can say things like, “it makes sense that you’d feel
that way with everything going on.” The goal is to help normalize their
feelings without minimizing them or jumping into problem-solving or planning
“When we say what we’re feeling out loud, it promotes a more
balanced, calming effect, and helps us regulate strong emotions,” Gonzalez
Reassure kids that feelings aren’t permanent. Reframing the
statement to “I feel scared” as opposed to “I am scared” helps to convey the
temporary status rather than making it part of their identity.
Also know that kids are very resilient. Sometimes that comes
as a surprise to adults.
Resources for parents and kids
Dr. Dan Siegel offers resources and
courses on mindfulness (including parenting videos and print-outs).
MindUp provides mindfulness
practices for children and tools for parents.
free mindfulness activities for kids and adults.
This difficult period has helped destigmatize getting mental
healthcare, Johnson said. The fact is that most people will need mental health
care at some point in their lives, so seek it out. Your employers want you to.
Your loved ones want you to.
Care is also available in many ways. It could come in the
traditional in-person, one-on-one format, group sessions, virtual sessions, or
even from a trained avatar.
Whatever format works for can help with feelings of stress,
sadness, and difficulty with sleeping, problem solving, concentration, or
“Treatment can and does help,” Johnson said.
Your Premera health plan offers flexible, in-network options for mental health and substance use care.
Johnson also encourages talking about it. If you’re feeling
sad, talk about it. It you’re concerned about a loved one, reach out.
“Acknowledge what you’re observing to them and do so in a
supportive—not critical way,” Johnson said.
He encourages asking loved ones if they’ve had thoughts of
suicide. If they have, ask if they are thinking vaguely, or if they have actual
plans. If they have plans, take away the means of carrying out the action—so
take away the car keys, firearms, or pills. Johnson said it is usually a matter
of 10 minutes from deciding to commit suicide to doing it.
“When you ask, you aren’t planting the (suicidal) thought,”
Johnson said. “You’re making it safe to talk about it. People want to talk
about it, and they will feel relief in sharing, if you’re not critical.”
To get over any uncomfortable feelings about asking about
suicidal thoughts, Johnson recommends practicing.
“Ask all your friends if they’ve had suicidal thoughts and
get some practice asking the difficult question.”