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Managing Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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DES MOINES, Iowa — As Iowans head into their second month of social isolation, feelings of anxiety, depression, loneliness and just plain boredom are starting to creep up.

“Some of that’s very normal. We’re all going through it, but if it’s persisting, if it’s interfering with day-to-day functioning, with relationships, with sleep, with eating, with exercise, that’s when you know it’s time to get a little bit of extra help and seek out some professional help,” UnityPoint Health Vice President for Behavioral Health Kevin Carroll said.

UnityPoint Health has some tips to boost your mental health on your own.

First, connect. Start establishing a new routine of connecting with loved ones whether it be FaceTime, Skype or a good old-fashioned phone call.

Second, listen. Ask good follow-up questions and look for areas of sadness, anger or frustration where someone else might be asking for help.

And third, reflect.

“Finding a quiet moment, journaling is a great activity that works for many people just to get the ideas out from our head and through our mouth and on to paper. It helps with sleep, and it helps with our general well-being throughout the day,” Carroll said.

Because of COVID-19, many people’s daily patterns or routines have changed, and that may affect how they are sleeping at night.

“Some people working from home and needing extra quiet in the morning when they’re on conference calls to some people having teenagers, like in my house where the noise level continues to 10, 11, 12, 1. That didn’t happen during normal circumstances,” Carroll said.

UnityPoint said setting some ground rules in your home and laying out expectations around how sleep is important right now. They also said getting exercise, being awake during daylight hours, and turning off electronics before bedtime are proven to help people sleep better at night.

Another issue that people may be running into during isolation is an increased use of alcohol or narcotics.

“Those particularly at risk are those that have history and could suffer a relapse or people who have fallen into ‘hey, I never used to have a drink with dinner but now I am,’ and that’s leading in to maybe two or three drinks at the end of the evening,” Carroll said.

Carroll said there are a number of local organizations including AA and NA that have moved online, making it easier to get connected if you or a loved one needs help.

Staying informed right now is important, but experts say scrolling through COVID-19 related news all day is damaging to your mental health.

“Picking a time in the morning and afternoon or evening a couple times a day to check in to watch a trusted news source and then turn it off or put it down is really important and a good way to maintain your health and mental health,” Carroll said.

UnityPoint said it has seen an uptick in calls related to mental health. This includes, anxiety, depression and overall stress. They said seeking out health care, even for mental health, is essential right now, and those who have a history with mental illness are at most risk during this time.

But even without a history, people in isolation are starting to get a little stir crazy. UnityPoint said this is the perfect time to learn a new skill, pick up an old hobby, anything to get your brain focused on a task. It could even be as simple as turning on some music.

“Music is a tremendous uplifting skill, whether you play it and have an instrument at home or whether you’re just streaming music or turning on the radio. Those are great ways to pass time that again traditionally in our busy lives that maybe we would pass on but are great activities to reengage in,” Carroll said.

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