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Struggling with your mental health during the pandemic?

Here's some frequently asked questions
Posted: 9:01 AM, May 01, 2020
Updated: 2020-05-01 09:01:03-04

May is Mental Health Awareness month and across the country as we work to get through this pandemic, many of us are trying hard to maintain good mental health. It's a difficult time and for some, being in isolation may be detrimental to their well-being.

WMAR-2 News spoke with Rachna Raisinghani, MD, Chair of Emergency Psychiatry at GBMC to discuss how people can develop positive coping mechanisms and get through these trying times in a healthy way.

Here's a look at some Frequently Asked Questions:

Being isolated for such a long period of time can cause people to have a 'cabin fever' mentality, how can people avoid that?

The best thing for that would be to figure out what is allowed and what people can do rather than what they cannot do. For example, if you're able to go out for a long walk in your neighborhood, maybe there's woods next to you where you can go for a solitary hike or with a couple of family members, that would get us out of the house and do something. We are still able to go do grocery shopping and so I would take advantage of that outing and maybe take a couple of extra minutes to sit there, soak in and take in the outdoors and then come back in and get ready for the next round of staying at home.

How can you transition of out quarantine in a healthy way?

Bit by bit. For people that live with other family members, I would kind of set up your own little incident command team and make a list of all the things for which people go outdoors. That'd be things like shopping, eating out, going to the gym, movies, those kinds of things and look at what is priority for that persons quality of life. Start introducing activities little by little rather than doing a complete 180 and trying to do everything all at once. I would also recommend calling establishments to find out what their schedules are, whether they're doing things by appointment rather than taking walk ins and just being aware of things, to be more mindful of our surroundings.

How can someone seek help during this time?

When the pandemic first started, it took a little bit of time for several medical practices and hospitals to figure out what we can still do to serve our patient population during this time. As more and more time has elapsed, a lot of practices have started offering appointments virtually and as a result of that many patients with psychiatric issues may hopefully still have access to their psychiatrists, psychotherapists, nurse practitioners, etc. through virtual technology. Fortunately, psychiatry is one of those fields where not a whole lot is missed by doing a virtual appointment compared to the other procedure based specialties. I would encourage patients to reach out to their doctors offices and find out whether they're still open or if they're doing this virtually. Simultaneously, a lot of platforms have stepped up to the task and are offering easy ways of doing video visits.

In general, for patients, making sure they have enough medications, asking either their psychiatrists office or if they're unable to do so, then their primary care doctors to give them refills of their medication so they're not running out.

How can someone develop healthy coping skills during this time?

I would probably not put a whole lot of pressure on myself to learn new things. I think in times of stress, we find refuge and comfort in things that are already known to us, so instead of trying to learn something completely new, I would say in the past, when I've been under stress what are the kind of things that make me feel calm and more relaxed. I would turn to those first as long as they're doable and healthy things. If none of those things are working, then try doing something relatively easy like mindfulness or grounding techniques, deep breathing exercises or listening to some soft relaxing music and of course communication with our loved ones, just to know that we're not alone in this.

With a lot of life events being canceled, how can individuals deal with that disappointment?

Number one, there's no sugar coating it, if it was something you were looking forward to, a positive event like graduation, a long planned concert or a travel plan or wedding there's going to be disappointment and there's no way to go around it but simultaneously I would also say that we are blessed with technology in these times and a lot of people have become creative. I've seen pictures where a couple was walking down the aisle in a church and the invitees to the wedding had the pictures pasted on the pews. So it does give you something to talk about in the future on how we overcame the problem and worked our way around it. I'd just say imagine going through all of this during the 20th century, during the time of the Spanish Flu and think how much better off we are. Each generation goes through its crisis and there are sacrifices that have to be made and disappointments that we have to live with and this will be ours.

I think we underestimate our own ability to be creative and we underestimate our own resilience and inner strength. This is the very moment to channel it and embrace it.

Overall guidance?

A lot of things are happening virtually, and we don't realize the importance of non verbal communication and a lot of the messaging gets lost in the process. I would just encourage people to use their words to convey their feelings more than they usually do to make up for the lack of or inability to be in the presence of someone when communicating. As always, I would say stay healthy and stay safe. Do the best you can for yourself before you can help anyone.

If you're in need of mental health assistance, here's some important links to bookmark.