Keywords: COVID-19; coronavirus; coping with stress and anxiety; isolation; CAMH and COVID-19; emotional distress of COVID-19; pandemic distress; mental health challenges during pandemic; behaviors associated with COVID-19; CDC resources for pandemic.
A pandemic is without doubt a very stressful situation, as people around the world are experiencing COVID-19. With almost 11 million people infected and over half a million people dead to date as a result of this pandemic, the thought of our mortality is ever present. Many characteristic behaviors and psychological outcomes afflict different populations. Yet, the message is clear: there are ways of coping with COVID-19 that hopefully would lead to healthy survival and even thriving after this ordeal is over.
In the opening months of COVID-19, it was thought that those who had to worry about infection were the old and those with pre-existing conditions. At least, these were the people who were stricken by the virus and who made up most of the dead in many countries. This led to the erroneous idea that the other groups in society may have been spared or may have been beyond the touch of the virus.
Only a Fleeting Idea
However, as the pandemic has spread, there is now evidence that no one group is immune or untouched by this virus. Not only are young children being infected, but also teenagers and young adults who may have once thought that they were strong enough to withstand the virus are now coming down with the infection and some are even dying. This therefore makes the pandemic a time of great fear and uncertainty.
Behaviors Associated with COVID-19
Some of the behaviors associated with COVID-19 are stress, depression, irritability, insomnia, fear, confusion, anger, frustration, boredom, and stigma associated with quarantine even after the quarantine period is over. Many people are having problems concentrating. Others are fearful, worry a great deal and are anxiety-ridden. Some have even slipped into depression. Chronic health conditions have become more severe for some individuals, while mental health has been impaired for many, particularly for those who had previous incidents with mental health breakdowns and psychiatric diagnoses.
Isolation and solitude during COVID-19 as some people have to self-isolate or be in quarantine after testing positive for the virus are also taking a toll on mental health; and death and dying of loved ones and acquaintances have also led to a sense of loss and grief associated with COVID-19 for those left behind.
Characteristics in Different Places
One study carried out in China, but also reviewing works done in other countries, identifies disturbed sleep, anxiety and depression as common psychological outcomes of COVID-19. Findings in some of the studies reviewed also show high levels of stress among people working in critical care units with depression a high risk. While these workers are a vulnerable group because of the great suffering and death that they witness on a daily basis and their inability to save numerous lives, other vulnerable groups for mental health challenges identified in the literature are older adults, homeless, migrant workers, the mentally ill, and pregnant women.
Conditions vary among countries, but what seems consistent are fear, anxiety, depression and stress.
According to a study in the New England Journal of Health, some of the factors that lead to emotional distress and risk of psychiatric illness associated with COVID-19 in America are fear of getting the virus, the shortages of proper protective and testing equipment particularly for health care workers, and “confusing messages from authorities” . The fact that people often do not know what to believe or whom they should believe is another source of uncertainty and confusion.
Uncertainty and Other Feelings
Uncertainty is therefore a major feeling among all groups, as people ponder the likelihood of contracting the virus, the steps they must take to restrict the spread of the virus, and the ultimate impact on their daily lives in the future. With economies shut down, companies closed, and unemployment at an all-time high, many people seem to be left in a permanent state of wondering what to do next.
Uncertainty among Young People
The uncertainty of the period has affected younger people in other ways. Many young people, just getting out of school for the summer, or just graduating, are wondering about their futures. While some returning students already had their summer jobs arranged, they are discovering that these jobs no longer exist. Many graduates who may already have had promise of employment, or who had their eyes on a specific job, also realize that these dreams would not materialize.
But uncertainty for these young people stems from more than disappointment at not having a job and not being able to predict the future. For graduates, it may involve wondering whether the job they trained for will be around after the pandemic.
How to Cope with Stress and Anxiety during COVID-19
What all of this suggests for teenagers, young adults, and older adults in different countries is that despite the changes that have been brought about because of the pandemic, and despite the loss and grief many of us are experiencing, we have to learn to cope with stress and anxiety. We have to be flexible, and think of going on after all is said and done.
How do we move forward?
According to CAMH, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (2020), it is important to recognize and face the fact that anxiety and fear in this environment are normal reactions. Recognizing this, the next important thing is to seek out credible information for ourselves. It is not good enough to take whatever information is circulating on social media or among our contacts. Seeking out verifiable sources like our public health departments makes better sense; for at least, we will be provided with the most relevant and up-to-date information at the time. Once we have that information, we must take a balanced approach and do not become so overly consumed with the news that we are paralyzed with fear. Maintaining a balance is highly recommended. While it is natural to worry and have some anxious thoughts from time to time, we must try to reduce stress through relaxation and meditation and seek out social support. CAMH (2020) also recommends: “Be kind to yourself” and eat healthy meals, while avoiding substance use. We are also encouraged to get proper rest and sleep.
If after trying these methods, we still feel unable to cope, it may be time to seek out professional help. CAMH (2020) will also send out a report via email on “Ways to cope with the effects of isolation”, if requested . The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) (2020) provides numerous resources on coping with the crisis of pandemic stress where we can get help if needed. The CDC (2020) also recommends individuals who need help should find a healthcare provider or treatment for substance abuse disorder and mental health problems, if these are problem areas for us. Such professionals can be found in our different areas.
Older teens and young adults can take hope that this pandemic too will pass, as they strive for successful youth living. But this hope is based on all of us, young and old alike, recognizing that with roughly half a million people dead worldwide because of the coronavirus, we have a crucial role to play in stopping this pandemic.
What We Must Do
We must demonstrate care and show respect for each other. This is what makes us human (Shockness, 2019). We must do our part to stop the pandemic. We can accomplish this by washing our hands frequently; observing physical distancing; avoiding crowds; getting tested; when testing positive, observing social isolation and quarantine; helping in contact tracing by truthfully relating all our contacts; and very importantly, wearing a mask, especially when in public. These are all instructions that our public health departments tell us to follow.
CAMH (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) (2020). Quarantine and isolation. Retrieved from https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/mental-health-and-covid-19/quarantine-and-isolation
CAMH (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) (2020). Coping with stress and anxiety. Retrieved from https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/mental-health-and-covid-19/coping-with-stress-and-anxiety
CAMH (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) (2020). We are Apart, but Not Alone. Retrieved from https://action.camh.ca/apart-not-alone
CAMH (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) (2020). Loss, grief and healing: Understand how the pandemic causes experiences of loss and grief, and how to move forward in the face of uncertainty. Retrieved from https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/mental-health-and-covid-19/loss-grief-and-healing
CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) (2020). Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Coping with Stress. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/managing-stress-anxiety.html
Pfefferbaum, B. & North, C. S. (April 13, 2020). Perspective: Mental Health and the COVID-19 Pandemic. New England Journal of Medicine. Retrieved from https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp2008017
Rajkumar, R. P. (2020). COVID-19 and mental health: A Review of the Existing Literature. Asian Journal of Psychiatry, 52. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7151415/pdf/main.pdf
Shockness, I. (2019). Respect is Only Human: A Response to Disrespect and Implicit Bias. Vanquest.