After more than seven months of COVID-19, along with the social distancing, stay-at-home orders, economic strife and uncertainty brought on by the pandemic, experts say pandemic-induced stress and fatigue are growing public health concerns.
Everyone responds to challenges and hardships in their own way, and health officials are urging the public to make sure they pay attention to their mental health during the ongoing public health crisis.
“Many, many people are feeling anxious, angry, worried, sad or frustrated, and that’s completely normal,” Pasadena Public Health Department Acting Social Mental Health Division Manager Erica Davis said. “What we try to tell people is that it’s OK to not be OK right now, because we’re all in this together. But sometimes you can just feel very alone.”
“For you to be able to accept your worry and your anxiety, I think, is part of the process of being able to find healthier ways to cope,” she said.
Pasadena Public Health Department Deputy Director Emmanuel Carmona encouraged those who start feeling overwhelmed to seek out help immediately.
“These are challenging times for a variety of reasons. I think all families, especially families with children, have been affected by changes in work status and dealing with the protocols in trying to protect their families from getting infected with COVID,” he said. “And then, of course, there’s the challenges presented by distance education. So all of these do take their toll and we’re going to provide as much support to families as we can.”
For some, that could mean scheduling a visit with their primary care physician.
But there are also many free and low-cost opportunities for mental health services in Pasadena, which can be found on the city’s COVID-19 Mental Health Resource Guide at https://www.cityofpasadena.
“We’re encouraging people to reach out and kind of normalize mental health,” Davis said. “Mental health is part of your overall physical wellbeing.”
The city also partners with the Crisis Text Line, allowing people to get guidance 24 hours per day by texting L.A. to 741741, according to Davis.
Large-scale societal stress is not unique to the pandemic, according to Huntington Hospital Medical Director for Psychiatry Dr. Clifford Feldman.
“Any time you crowd people in a confined space for a protracted period of time, anxiety will increase and depression will result,” he said. “The pandemic is just the instance causing this confinement; the first and hopefully only global pandemic we will see in our lifetimes.”
Self-isolation can heighten family tensions for some, he said.
“But being cooped up is only part of the psychological shrapnel of the pandemic,” Feldman said. “The economic toll on families is not calculable. Being unable to see others takes a tremendous toll as well.”
The doctor advised people to try to be mindful of their own mental state and keep an eye out for symptoms of anxiety or depression that interfere with daily functioning.
“They should take note if someone asks: ‘Iis something wrong?’” he said. “Common symptoms of treatable depression — not necessarily related to the pandemic — include: sleep disturbance, appetite disturbance, weight gain or loss, anxiety or panic, sadness, crying or thoughts of not wanting to live.”
With the increase in working from home and decrease in daily activities so many people have seen in recent months, Huntington Hospital Doctor of Physical Therapy and Orthopedic Certified Specialist Marc Inamasu said he’s already seeing the pandemic’s toll on his patients’ backs and necks.
“Everyone’s posture seems like it’s getting worse. They’re getting neck pain, shoulder pain and low back pain,” he said. “And people don’t really have their ergonomics setup properly at home, so it’s really affecting them physically in that regard.”
Improving the ergonomics of a home workstation doesn’t necessarily mean investing in an expensive new specialty chair, Inamasu said.
“It’s as simple as even looking up on the internet ‘desk ergonomics’ or ‘computer ergonomics,” he said. “You can make little modifications to give yourself some lumbar support, put some books under your feet, so your feet are touching the ground; things like that to at least make what they have at home better.”
And perhaps most importantly, make sure to take breaks to get out of the chair, Inamasu said. “Stretching is really important.”
“What I always tell my patients is to try to get up every half an hour, every hour, even for a little bit, even if it’s for a minute just to get out of that static sitting posture,” he said. “It kind of resets the body a little bit because when you’re in the same sitting position, certain muscles just get really tight and you tend to slouch into your chair, and it really manifests a lot of pain and tightness and, uh, that sort of stuff.”
Heightened stress levels don’t help matters, either.
“The stress absolutely can manifest in some physical symptoms such as pain, Inamasu said.
For those experiencing back or neck pain, “…they really should start trying to do something about it, because it doesn’t usually just get better on its own,” he said.
Pasadena City College Professor Jennifer Fiebig said during a time when so many aspects of life are out of people’s personal control, it can help for them to focus on the things which they can control.
“Even so much so that we can kind of look at it and maybe change our mindsets that this is an opportunity, albeit forced…to start a hobby… to go back to school,” Fiebig said. “I can change my mindset, that is something I can do to alleviate stress.”
Social distancing doesn’t have to mean a lack of social support, she said. Whether keeping in touch with family by phone or chatting with friends or attending events over the internet, “It’s very important that we’re still connecting,” Fiebig said.
“Really, it comes down to what works for you,” she said. “We all need to be doing some basic self care. Are you trying to eat as healthy as possible and not stress eating, overeating? Are you able to get enough sleep?”
For some, limiting the amount of pandemic-related news they consume may help.
“We need to know about what’s happening, but on the other hand, if it’s causing me to cry all day and to worry about what’s going to happen tomorrow, then I have to limit it,” Fiebig said.