Behavioral Health Outreach Director Tina Trimborn at HCA Healthcare said that while hand-washing and avoiding large crowds and people who are ill are important steps to mitigate the physical risks caused by the COVID-19 virus, it’s just as important that we understand and ease emotional stress caused by fear and anxiety.
Anxiety is a normal response to a stressful situation and can provide adaptive benefits, but when faced with mounting uncertainty, the brain can go into an anxiety spiral that is no longer helpful.
Atypical stress reactions may include: a persistent or excessive worry that doesn’t help in life and keeps you from carrying out daily tasks; increased drug or alcohol use; significant changes in energy, eating or sleeping patterns; difficulty concentrating on normal tasks; prolonged and overwhelming hopelessness; or thoughts of self-injury or suicide.
“It’s OK not to be OK and it’s important to seek help when you need it,” Trimborn said. “Coping with stress will make you, the people you care about and your community stronger.”
The CDC recommends the following ways to cope with stress: take deep breaths, stretch and meditate, try to eat healthy and well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, avoid alcohol and drugs and talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.
Patients receiving mental health services can work with their providers to develop a coping plan and have alternative options prepared if care routine services are disrupted. These can include teletherapy services, getting prescription medication or engaging in supplemental mental wellness activities.
Mark Cardillo, director of behavioral health services at Memorial Hospital of Tampa and Tampa General Hospital, said that while there was a decrease in the number of behavioral health patients at the hospital during the safer-at-home order, there has been a significant increase since it was lifted.
He has also seen a switch to teletherapy services, increasing accessibility to counseling and recovery services.
“Many of our outpatient therapists have moved completely their services online because people prefer to receive counseling at home,” he said.
In addition to teletherapy, individuals can call 2-1-1 at the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay or talk to their primary care doctor.
Cardillo suspects things will get worse before they get better.
“As people lose jobs and see their savings drained, fear will set in,” he said. “I’m not sure the state of Florida is prepared to deal with the mental health crisis that is coming.”