The COVID-19 pandemic has been dragging on for longer than most people imagined possible. With each new variant, cases surge and people need to make complex risk calculations about school, work and social interactions. Needless to say, all this can create a great deal of anxiety. Health care workers are under enormous strain. So are families who have been faced with serious illness. Our guest, Dr. Jeffrey Rediger, offers ideas on managing stress during these difficult times.
COVID-19 has had significant impact on mental health. In some places, people who need inpatient psychiatric care are spending days in the emergency department because there are no available beds in the hospital. This was already a problem even before the pandemic began, but it has been aggravated with so many people needing hospital care for COVID. It’s little wonder that many medical workers are feeling burned out.
Younger people have also suffered. A record number of college students have responded to a survey that they have contemplated suicide. What can parents, teachers and adult friends do for young people in distress? How can they help children with managing stress?
How do you know when someone is having trouble managing stress? Certain signs suggest a person may be having difficulty with depression or anxiety. Sometimes people who are feeling especially uncertain or distressed, they may behave badly and act rude. A depressed person might withdraw or have trouble sleeping. Changes in appetite, irritability and trouble meeting deadlines could be other red flags.
Older people may feel especially isolated, whether due to restrictions on visitors in care facilities or because it is difficult for them or their family members to travel. How can we alleviate that situation?
Medical professionals are not the only ones who need coping strategies. Many other people who are expected to enforce public health recommendations, such as teachers, flight attendants or even town council members, have faced resistance or worse. They need to practice self-compassion as well. In the airline metaphor, put your own oxygen mask on first so you can effectively help others.
Some people may feel guilty or ashamed if they end up contracting COVID-19, even though it is not their fault. Such a reaction can add to the pandemic stress. How can we foster resilience for ourselves and those around us?
Jeffrey D. Rediger, MD, MDiv, is medical director for the McLean SouthEast Adult Psychiatric Programs and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He has a Master of Divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary and publishes in the fields of medicine, psychiatry and spirituality.
Dr. Rediger is the author of Cured: Strengthen Your Immune System and Heal Your Life