Maintaining Mental and Emotional Wellbeing During a Pandemic

Submitted by Community Youth Services

Community Youth Services (CYS) Chief Clinical Officer, Alicia Ferris, recently offered some useful tips to help during the challenges and stress of social-distancing, closures and self isolation.  Her work at CYS oversees the Integrated Counseling Division, working with young people and their families.  “Please have a read as I hope it is helpful to you all in caring for yourself, each other and our community in the new world we find ourselves in at the moment” Ferris said. The word Pandemic sounds dramatic and scary but that is what we are experiencing at the moment. It’s shocking and certainly unnerving at the very least. For some of us, however, this experience can feel incredibly stressful. The amount of disruption to our every day life is making it necessary for us all to be in a somewhat constant state of adaptation and problem-solving through each new unanticipated challenge as we navigate a wide-spread health concern that is spanning the globe.

Take Care of Yourself

1) Self-care

Isolation and Social Distancing are necessary for public health but also a recipe for poor mental health!! As such, while we follow the required and recommended public health guidelines, we also take extra measures to address our mental health and well being. Good Self-Care can address the heightened level of stress we are prone to feeling during this time of uncertainty and cascading challenges that result from this disruption in our lives. It’s important to press pause several times a day and breath, get outside, take a bath or shower, connect with family or friends or do something relaxing like meditation, listening to the birds outside or noticing the new buds and blooms of spring. Chronic stress has a negative effect on our health and wellbeing, including our immune systems!! So take a moment to take care of your heart and mind and be present.

2) Structure

The impacts of isolation can sneak up on you but the first signs are typically a depressed mood or increased irritability. Being mindful of those and addressing it when it happens is key but prevention is even better. Given that our daily routines are likely disrupted through this, sometimes to a great extent, creating a new structure to your day through this time can be incredibly helpful. If you are telecommuting, try setting up a specific space in your home that you plan to work from. Your temporary “home office” should be inviting, peaceful, and allow you to focus on your work. Then plan to take timed breaks to step away from your work throughout the day. It may also be helpful to set up some new structure to starting and ending your day, given that you may no longer be leaving the house and coming home. Daily hygiene can be the first to go when we have the opportunity to stay in our pajamas all day, but it is not the best thing for our mental health. Try getting up, showering and getting dressed for the day, getting a bite of breakfast and making a quick daily to-do list before sitting down to start working.

Creating new routines for kids and our relationships are important as well to help everyone adapt and adjust well during this time. There may be a need to reset some expectations of each other to keep conflict in the home to a minimum when we are home together with each other all day, every day.

3) Stay Connected

While we can’t hang out in groups or give each other hugs of support right now, we can certainly connect virtually to help lessen the impact of isolation. Reach out to friends and coworkers via phone or video chat to touch base. Check in on that elderly neighbor (while maintaining 6 feet of distance).

4) Limit Screen Time and Stay Active

Screen time can dramatically impact your mental health for the worse. Studies on watching television show that after the first hour of watching TV, our mood plummets in the second hour and further each hour after that. To fill down time and get your mind off things, try a good book or jigsaw puzzle. Establishing new activities to replace canceled recreational, creative or social group activities, etc is also critical. Try starting up a new hobby or getting back into an old one like finally doing those youtube classes on playing a guitar or finishing that old scrapbook or wood project you started.

There is another dimension as well which is that although this outbreak affects everyone, it does not affect us all equally. Although we are all facing this bigger challenge together, we are not all facing the same types of challenges. So we need to exercise empathy towards each other and caution in making comparisons or broad statements.

Homeless

We hear a lot about those that are elderly or have significant medical conditions being more at risk of getting very sick or even dying from the virus. What we don’t hear as much is that those without housing are at significant risk and cannot isolate the way those that are housed can. Additionally, those that are homeless often have significantly more health concerns to begin with and have less access to facilities needed to maintain the hygiene we are hearing about everyday as a recommended precautionary measure.

Financial Insecurity

Those that have low-income, are living just at their means each day, or own a small business are at significant financial risk due to the shutdowns taking place. The impact on the economy has the potential to pull the rug out from under many people in our communities through reduced income or breaks in employment, or unanticipated expenses.

Pre-Existing Mental Health Conditions

For those of us that have significant mental health challenges such as anxiety, mood, trauma or obsessive-compulsive disorders, the events we are currently experiencing can be debilitating. This is obvious when you consider those who worry constantly, especially about germs, but even disorders like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or Major Depressive Disorder can be exacerbated by the safety threat, potential isolation and potential loss that can come from this outbreak. Additionally, those that suffer from or are in recovery from Substance Use Disorders may have difficulty maintaining sobriety through these stressors and forced alteration of lifestyle.

Counseling Tools Can Help

With an event this big, sometimes it can be difficult to decipher what is a realistic concern and what isn’t. For those of us that manage anxiety daily in our normal lives, this can make it difficult to re-establish and maintain recovery. The common methods of treatment for anxiety, such as “reality testing”, can fail us in this new world of uncertainty, unknowns, and large-scale impacts.

What we do know, is that no matter the reality outside our doors, there are tried and true evidence-based tools we can all use to stay grounded. By far the most important one is something called “Radical Acceptance”. Similar to the “Serenity Prayer” of Alcoholics Anonymous, “Radical Acceptance” is a simple but very powerful concept. It is accepting what is happening right now (instead of trying to fight it or deny it) and then focusing only on what you personally have control over and taking action in those areas. How do you know if you are trying to fight something? Generally, if the statement or thought contains the word “should”, then there is a lack of acceptance of that reality. By accepting what is and then focusing on what you can actually do about it, we empower ourselves and reduce feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and constant worry.

Virtual Care is available for Mental Health Services

There are many other tools and resources that can help right now. Most mental health counselors at the moment are working on or have started to offer their usual in-person therapy through virtual platforms instead. This is called Telehealth or Telemedicine. It does not involve FaceTiming or Skyping with your therapist as there are strict regulations concerning security and confidentially that have to be adhered to. But certain tools or versions of tools such as Zoom, American Well, Doxy.me are allowed to be used for receiving counseling. There are hundreds out there that are safe and approved for counseling services. Some are companies themselves that you access a provider through and others are just a technology solution for your own therapist to use.

Don’t forget that you are not in this alone. Please take the time to check-in with each other throughout this time. Community Youth Services is your place of employment but it is also your work family. Lets offer each other grace through this temporary challenge, wraparound each other and help each other get through this and not just survive but thrive.

Community Youth Services (CYS) is currently offering virtual behavioral services to help those young people that may be feeling the effects of this pandemic.  Staff are scheduling one-on-one counseling sessions will be available based on present staffing and availability via telemedicine.

CYS Participants

Our Behavioral Health treatment programs (Multisystemic Therapy and Transitional Age Youth Support) are both able to offer services via video (telemedicine) as of last Friday, March 13. Supported Employment is also being offered through telemedicine. For those currently in therapy elsewhere, we encourage them to check in with their providers to see if telehealth is an option. Many therapists and organizations are in the process of making the switch to offer telehealth given the current circumstances.

As of today, Community Youth Services IS accepting NEW participants that may be needing virtual care for mental health services!  If you are, or know of a youth age 15 to 24 experiencing mental health or substance use disorders, as well families of youth ages 12 to 17 with disruptive behavior needing support, we ask you please call 360-918-7860, to get more information on the services now available to you.

In addition to offering virtual services, as of Tuesday, March 17, CYS will be adjusting all other services in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. CYS recognizes that we are a critical resource for young people at-risk of or that are experiencing homelessness in our community and those needing behavioral health services.  We are making every effort to remain accessible and available to those who need our services, while also reducing contact and the likelihood of spreading COVID-19, adhering to the Governors statewide emergency proclamation.  We are committed to continuing to provide mental health services, peer support, and outreach to the extent possible. We are taking proactive measures to ensure the safety of our participants, staff, and community during this pandemic.

Our office locations in Thurston, Lewis and Mason will be closed to the public beginning Tuesday, March 17, 2020 until further notice. We will reassess the situation weekly and update you via our website and other social media.

Essential Services programs (Rosie’s/YAS, Haven House, New Directions) are being assessed on a daily basis and will stay open with certain precautions and changes in hours or capacity levels if needed based upon staffing wellness and availability or based on quarantine recommendations if warranted.

Our street outreach staff will be conducting normal outreach Monday-Friday to provide support to vulnerable community members who are unsheltered – including delivering supplies and keeping youth up to date on safety and health recommendations. Drop -In hours at Rosie’s Place will be shifted and occupancy will be limited to meet safety standards.

We will be actively seeking new information from health authorities as this public health emergency evolves, and we will update our response as needed. Please visit our website at www.communityyouthservices.org  or social media sites for the most updated information about our services and hours.

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