Five months into the pandemic, tips for fighting COVID-19 stress

Pat Morris

Yes, there is such a thing as COVID stress. Burnout. Overload.

“We are so saturated with information,” says Pat Morris from Volunteers of America Western Washington, “that there’s a sense of powerlessness among all of us. When are we going to get back to normal? When is this going to be over?”

The information saturation, says Morris, comes from 24-7 news, social media, lost jobs, friends and family, fears about school, shopping… even getting out of the house for a break.

The American Medical Association reported in June that 40% of us “say worry and stress related to the threat of coronavirus has played a negative role in their mental health.” The Kaiser Family Foundation conducted the tracking poll, which shows that 46% of women, and 33% of men, believe COVID-19 “has negatively impacted their mental health.”

COVID stress affects all ages. A study from San Francisco’s Woebot Labs claims that “more than two-thirds of Millennials (born 1981-1996) and Gen-Z (born after 1997) survey respondents said they feel anxiety nearly every day.” That’s higher stress levels than the Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers (1965-1984) exhibit.

How do we combat the stress, after five months living with the pandemic?

Morris says bring your focus back to your own individual level: “What choices can we make to assure ourselves that we’re going to be safe?”

Remember, she adds, “we can’t control what others do, but we can control what we do.” She believes that “it’s pretty powerful if everyone took ‘self responsibility’ to wash our hands, wear masks, keep apart; I think we’d be having a different discussion now.”

Morris is senior director of behavioral health for Volunteers of America in Everett. She oversees a regional crisis/chat line, is a certified trainer/consultant for suicide and crisis intervention; a member of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Steering Committee and board member for NASCOD (National Association of Crisis Line Directors) .

She headed up the crisis counseling team after the Oso landslide in 2014. Her VOA teams spent a year on scene, connecting with people, setting up support groups, doing whatever was necessary to help victims and families recover.

But, she says, COVID stress needs a much different approach. Oso happened in a specific area, with boundaries and a relatively small number of people. With the coronavirus, she knows “each and every one of us is at risk of being affected by the virus at any time.”

She says watching out for yourself is key. “It’s more about refreshing your memory of things that work for you” to help relieve COVID stress.  She says it’s basic self care: Get enough sleep, keep to a schedule of some kind, eat properly. Don’t succumb to the so-called “COVID diet” of sitting at home, bored and eating food that we normally wouldn’t.

Stay connected to friends and family by phone, online, via Zoom, Skype or Facebook. Be the one who initiates contact.

Morris knows coping with COVID goes way beyond self-help. People face lost jobs, housing insecurity, other health issues and child care availability — not knowing where to turn for help. For many, she adds, this is the first time they have had to reach out and they don’t know what is available. “I don’t have any money to pay my rent,” is something Morris says they hear again and again.

The VOAWW has just launched outreach teams throughout Snohomish County. They go where people gather — food banks, COVID testing centers, food pop-ups and drive-through food delivery services and community centers. Soon, they will be at community colleges.

Each person, clearly identified as a VOAWW COVID team member, is equipped with a laptop filled with resources. There are bilingual counselors for Spanish-speaking residents.

Learn more about VOAWW’s COVID-19 relief services here.

The VOA also runs the Northsound 2-1-1 phone information line. Monday-Friday, from 8 a.m. -4 p.m., a live counselor answer calls. After hours, leave a message and team members will return the call. If someone is in emotional crisis, they can connect immediately to the Crisis Line, which is staffed 24-7.

The bottom line from Pat Morris: “We all share this experience. Help is there so you feel like you’re not alone.”

—  By Bob Throndsen



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