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April is Stress Awareness Month

During these difficult times it’s important that we focus on stress management. By applying a few simple ideas to relieve anxiety and depression, staying positive may be easier than you realize.

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Stress and COVID: The Double Whammy

Stress occurs when your mind and body react to changes, and it often results in emotional and physical responses that can have lasting effects. Stress has multiple causes – including changes in your work and home environments – exactly the kind of scenario that COVID-19 has brought about for most people.

Not all aspects of stress are negative: it is a built-in survival response designed to keep you alert and able to avoid danger. But unless you have a lot of grizzlies wandering about in your neighborhood, stress is generally not a good thing. Moreover, if you don’t take steps to manage stress, over time it can accumulate and push your mind and body over the breaking point. Physical manifestations of untreated stress include:

  • Chest pain and a racing heart rate
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • TMJ
  • Weakened immune system
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Aches and pains, including headaches

Long-Term Mental Health Issues

Stress has emotional and mental effects as well, including anxiety and depression, and behavioral issues including addictive behavior such as drug and alcohol abuse, gambling, overeating, and smoking.

Being cooped up in quarantine exacerbates these issues for many people, and it’s not just good old fashioned “cabin fever.” When stressors are in your environment for the long term, your body doesn’t turn off the switches that mitigate it as readily, which can lead to anxiety disorders such as OCD, PTSD, GAD, panic attacks, and SAD.

Stress Management Techniques During the Pandemic

We humans are social creatures who need friends, family, and activities together for our happiness and mental wellbeing. We’re accustomed to going to work, visiting friends and family; and our kids are used to playing sports, going to school, and other means of social interaction, which is why social isolation affects us so greatly.

To ease your mental burden during these difficult times, try:

  • Getting out to exercise As the weather warms there is no better time to get out and enjoy being active. Fresh air, sunshine, and your favorite exercise can all add up to you being happier, calmer, and less stressed
  • Eating a healthy diet A poor diet leads to low energy and reduced happiness, which is why it’s important to include plenty of fruits, vegetables, and other nutrient dense foods in your diet
  • Getting organized Spending more time in your home can leave you feeling overwhelmed, which is why it’s important to keep things organized and in place. Plus, cleaning is a good activity to keep you occupied and less focused on being isolated
  • Taking breaks Along with staying organized, taking breaks for self care is important. Taking time to breath, focusing on the positive, and treating yourself to relaxing, enjoyable activities is an important step in reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression
  • Meditating Taking the time to perform simple meditation exercises can make a world of difference for your mental health

These are all things you can do starting immediately that will help you get the peace of mind you deserve to stay healthy and positive throughout the pandemic.

Parents With Teens

Teens and younger children are especially susceptible to depression and anxiety while isolated, since kids need socializing as part of their childhood development. They’re also used to gathering with friends at school, for sports, and just to play together, which is likely why there’s such an alarming spike in the suicide rate among teens lately.

If you’re the parent of a teen, there are some things you can do to ease their stress levels:

  • Check in with them Teens like to talk, and as much as we think they don’t, it’s important that you check in with them to see how things are going
  • Ask open ended questions Questions such as “How was your day?” or “What did you do today?” will get them talking more so than merely asking “Did you have a good day?”, which usually elicits only a one-word response
  • Ask in-depth questions Asking in-depth questions about things like their online interactions and social media use can give you insight into how your young ones are doing and give you ideas for creative things for them to do

Older People 

Our parents and other older family and friends are also used to things like visits from grandchildren, socializing in clubs, and other face-to-face interactions, leaving them particularly vulnerable to anxiety and depression during these times. Without these interactions, they’re susceptible to withdrawing and feeling lonely and less needed, which is why it’s important to schedule face time with them, even if it’s only virtual for now.

Remember that any interaction is better than none, and even a brief phone call to check in with an elderly parent or loved one can help them stay positive.

“MHI” Spells Relief

In recognition of the compounded stress issues that accompany COVID-19, Intermountain Healthcare has implemented a new Mental Health Integration (MHI) program which we are now expanding to all of our clinics. This self-referral program is designed for patients with a Medicare Advantage plan and a behavioral health need, including psychotherapy or medication management. Team members – including the patient’s PCP and mental health professionals – communicate and work together to chart and implement a treatment plan.

Why Intermountain Healthcare?

Whether it’s the best, most comprehensive professional healthcare you need or just some advice on stress management during the pandemic, Intermountain Healthcare has got your back. With our many state-of-the-art facilities conveniently located throughout the state and staffed with award winning medical professionals, you have the peace of mind knowing there’s always easy access to the kind of top quality healthcare you deserve.

Ready to schedule your appointment? At Intermountain Healthcare, we can do that, and so much more.

*This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice or diagnosis from a physician or qualified healthcare professional.

Intermountain’s LaTeisha Morgan, LCSW Discusses Stress Management on Ask the Experts

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