Since the beginning of Covid-19, our therapists have noticed a considerable shift in the physical and psychological symptoms of stress. The on-going forced constraints of the pandemic take a toll on even the most resilient clients. Mental health in a pandemic is a new precedent. Initially, the stress was more connected to the uncertainty of job-related worries and financial concerns due to the closing of so many businesses.
Remote work was initially welcomed and often viewed as a nice change to the everyday stressors. Those stressors include a commute and observable expectations of going to work every day. For example, being late to work, or having a manager look over the work you’re doing.
As time has gone on, people settle into the remote work pace. But, different types of stressors have come to light.
Family disagreements or conflicts around a child. Elderly parent caregiving. Coordination of schedules. Arguments over whose job takes precedent. Underlying family issues that may have been previously been ignored are no longer just the “elephant in the room”.
IBS-Related Stress and Anxiety’s Impact on Mental Health in the Pandemic
Additionally, there is an increase in IBS-related stress and anxiety. Those with GI-related issues are now seeing the relation between stress and their GI symptoms more clearly altogether. For example, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal pain. Evidently, mental health in the pandemic and physical health in the pandemic is hand-in-hand.
More stress is added when people visit their doctor for help, and are told “your labs look fine”. In reality, their hope was to get “some” kind of diagnosis. At least that would provide a tangible explanation for their symptoms.
Loss of Coping Strategies
Coping strategies that were available to people before are limited or no longer available. Especially because even taking a walk to calm yourself down comes with the need to plan.
Don’t forget the mask. Wait to take the elevator if there are other people waiting to use it. By all means, remember to social distance.
“Stress”, in and of itself, is actually the body’s response to perceived or real threat/danger. When you are chronically exposed to stress, the body can respond by sending a “fight, flight or freeze” response. Or, on the other side of the spectrum, you might shut or numb down physically, emotionally and/or psychologically. Oftentimes, the worries, concerns, or fears are about things that occurred in the past or have not yet happened.
Helpful practices to improve your mental health in the pandemic:
- Practicing mindfulness can help reduce stress by bringing you back to the “here and now”. When you’re present, you’ve got a better chance of knowing if your stress is anything you can do something about. It may show you a need to become more in touch with distressful feelings. Those feelings may not be caused by anything that is presently happening.
- Watching out for catastrophizing or unlikely-to-happen scenarios floating around in your mind. One way to know if you are catastrophizing is to think about your thought in terms of reality. On a scale from 0-10, ask yourself what the likelihood is that this is actually going to happen? Notice we are not denying that you are worried, anxious, or fearful about your thought. What we are asking is, is your thought based on reality or on emotion?
- Belly breathing to calm the nervous system. Our Autonomic Nervous System is made up of two major branches. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the fight, flight, or freeze response. The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for getting your gut into rest and digest mode, lowering heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol levels, amongst many other beneficial physiological responses. Diaphragmatic breathing, aka belly breathing, can activate your parasympathetic nervous system. This results in a calmer, more relaxed you!
If you are looking for additional guidance and support, feel free to reach out to use to learn more about how mind body connection for anxiety and trauma can help.
About the author(s)
Karen is the founder and Clinical Director of Cohesive Therapy NYC. She earned a Masters in Social Work from New York University and has extensive training in Hypnosis, Anxiety, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Brainspotting, and DGBI. She is a member of the Institute of Certified Anxiety Treatment Professionals, The Rome Foundation, the National Association of Social Workers, The Crohn's and Colitis Foundation, and the American Social of Clinical Hypnosis.