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The Mental Health Effects of COVID-19

COVID-19 and Telehealth Benefits for Mental Health

The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc for months now and as North Carolina starts reopening in phases, I thought it would be good to talk about some of the mental health issues you may be experiencing; share some of the available resources; and remind you that you’re not alone.

Probably the most important thing to remember is the last thing—you’re not alone, even if you live by yourself. We are all going through this together. All our lives have changed in varying degrees and you may be experiencing anxiety now or you may start to once things get back to “normal”.

There are understandable reactions—like continuing to avoid handshakes or hugs; reacting strongly if someone coughs or sneezes in your vicinity; being more likely to seek medical treatment at the first sign of a fever, or even having anxiety about gatherings and longing for the days of wearing face coverings once it’s no longer deemed necessary.

To a certain extent, these are normal reactions and we have to work through these fears and feelings individually. If you find, however, that friends and family are starting to comment on your behavior, or your anxiety is keeping you from enjoying life, you may need to seek assistance from a healthcare professional. You might need counseling or even a brief course of medication to help keep your fear and anxiety at a healthy level as you return to society.

You can combat this type of stress and anxiety by taking care of your body, eating healthy meals, staying active, taking breaks from the news and social media, engaging (even if just virtually) with friends and family, getting plenty of sleep, and doing things you enjoy.

There are also abnormal reactions. Some abnormal reactions may be:

  1. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): characterized by repetitive, unnecessary behaviors, such as washing your hands more than 100 times daily, or cleaning surfaces over and over in the need to obliterate potential germs.
  2. Situational depression: isolating yourself from contact with others and with no desire to engage in routine social or work activities.
  3. Generalized anxiety: a persistent, overriding fear that you’ll contract COVID-19 or another infectious disease, to the point that you’re unable to engage in public events or return to your normal routine.
  4. Panic attacks: discrete episodes of severe anxiety, racing pulse, shortness of breath, lasting 2-20 minutes.

If any of these describes you, you should contact your healthcare provider or in the case of an emergency call 911.

There are resources available to help you deal with stress and anxiety.

  • N.C. Department of Health and Human Services’ Hope 4 NC at 855-587-3463 (a 24/7 mental health support hotline)
  • Cone Health’s 24-hour HelpLine 336-832-9700 or 800-711-2635 (for immediate assistance for mental health and substance abuse issues)
  • Disaster Distress Helpline 800-985-5990, or text TalkWithUs to 66746
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline 800-799-7233 and TTY 800-787-3224

HealthTeam Advantage covers behavioral health virtual visits if your current therapist provides them. Regardless of what level of care you need, make sure to take care of your mental health as well. Do not let COVID-19 take any more from you than it already has.

by Beth Hodges, MD

Dr. Beth Hodges is a family practice and palliative care/hospice physician in Asheboro, N.C., as well as a part-time medical director for HealthTeam Advantage.

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Taking Care of Your Mental Health

Taking Care of Your Mental Health

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five U.S. adults experiences mental illness. Mental illness covers everything from depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and bipolar disorder, to schizophrenia, personality disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Your mental well-being is just as important as your physical well-being. Often, the two go together, so recognizing the signs and seeing your healthcare provider is the first step toward treatment.

Here are some warning signs:

  • Noticeable changes in mood, energy level, or appetite
  • Feeling flat or having trouble feeling positive emotions
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Difficulty concentrating, feeling restless, or on edge
  • Increased worry or feeling stressed
  • Anger, irritability, or aggressiveness
  • Ongoing headaches, digestive issues, or pain
  • A need for alcohol or drugs
  • Sadness or hopelessness
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Engaging in high-risk activities
  • Obsessive thinking or compulsive behavior
  • Thoughts or behaviors that interfere with work, family, or social life
  • Unusual thinking or behaviors that concern other people

If you’re experiencing any of these signs you should talk with your doctor. And if you or someone you know needs help now you should immediately call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or call 911.

While you should always talk with your doctor about mental health issues and seek treatment as needed, there are things you can do to nurture good mental health.

10 tips to boost your mental health:

  1. Focus on the positive. Start a journal and write down three things you’re grateful for or three things you accomplished that day (no matter how small).
  2. Get plenty of sleep and eat a well-balanced diet. The Sleep Foundation has good tips on how to get a good night’s sleep and Harvard Medical School has research and information on how good nutrition affects your mood.
  3. Try something new. Experiment with a new recipe, hobby, author, etc. Creative expression is linked to overall well-being. 
  4. Laugh. It sounds simple, but laughter helps reduce anxiety. Watch a funny movie, talk with a cheerful friend or family member.
  5. Dance. Do a little cha-cha while you vacuum or do the twist while you dust. Dancing reduces levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) and increases endorphins (the body’s “feel-good” chemicals).
  6. Spend time with animals. Time with animals is thought to lower the stress hormone cortisol and boost oxytocin, which stimulates feelings of happiness. If you don’t have a pet, hang out with a friend who does or volunteer at a shelter.
  7. Be a tourist in your town. People often only explore attractions on trips, but you may be surprised at what cool things are in your own backyard.
  8. Send a thank-you note. Written expressions of gratitude are linked to increased happiness. You don’t have to thank someone for a material item but let someone know why you appreciate them.
  9. Socialize (even if it’s just virtually). People are more likely to feel happy on days they spend time with others.
  10. Take a walk. Stroll through a park or a hike in the woods. Research shows that being in nature can increase energy levels, reduce depression, and boost well-being. Soak up the sun. Sunlight is a great source of vitamin D, which helps your brain release endorphins and serotonin. Make sure to wear sunglasses and sunscreen.

 Resources:

Cone Behavioral Health
American Psychological Association
National Alliance on Mental Illness
Mental Health America
National Institute of Mental Health
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1-800-273-8255 (toll-free/24 hours a day)
1-800-799-4889 (TTY/toll-free)



Sources: Mental Health America, National Alliance on Mental Illness

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6 Tips for Summer Health

6 Tips for Summer Health

Take advantage of these 6 tips to improve your health this summer while enjoying some fun in the sun!

  1. Quit smoking. It’s never too late to quit. Did you know HealthTeam Advantage’s Living Plus has a quit smoking program? If you’re interested email your Healthcare Concierge or sign up here and a coach will contact you. The program is a series of three classes via telephone and rather than quitting cold turkey, your coach will guide you with the warm chicken approach that slowly weans your body off nicotine by switching to cigarette brands with less and less nicotine.
  2. Eat a healthy diet. Adding fruits and vegetables to your meals can make any summer meal healthier. Try grilling vegetables or making fruit skewers for your next BBQ.
  3. Move more, sit less! It’s recommended to get 150 minutes of physical activity a week. Try an early morning or evening brisk walk for 20-30 minutes.
  4. Keep cool in extreme heat. Extreme heat can be dangerous, especially if you have an existing condition. Make sure to keep your air condition working properly while drinking plenty of water. Place a water bottle next to your chair to remind yourself to take a sip.
  5. Wear sunscreen and insect repellent. Sunscreen protects us from harmful rays. Aim for using SPF 15 when your outside. Protect yourself from the sun and insects by wearing log sleeves and pants if it’s cool enough. If you use both SPF and insect repellent, apply sunscreen first!
  6. Rethink your drink. Swap out your sweet tea and soda with water to lower the sugar and reduce calories. Try adding fresh fruit to your water to jazz up the flavor.

Source: Center for Disease Control

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