From the Health Team
May 13 2020
Submitted by Bonnie Harmon, First Central Health Team
In preparation for this week’s Adult Forum on Mental and Spiritual Well Being, I’ve tried to do more reading on the subject. However, I have found, like many others have posted, that I am having more trouble concentrating on printed articles during this time. Fortunately, my computer can read to me. The voice is monotone and not all that engaging, but it does help me get through some good articles without my accidently finding myself in the garden within a few minutes. Through these articles, I have noted that the inability to focus as well as usual is one very common response to this type of trauma. And, yes, this pandemic can be internalized as a very real trauma, with many varied responses. In an article in Self Magazine, called “What the Pandemic Is Doing to Our Mental Health—And How We Can Cope”, Nina Bahadur sites several items that speak to the trauma, some common reactions, and several popular options for coping.
I think it is particularly important to note, as Joshua Morganstein, M.D., assistant director at the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress in the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, did for the article, that an inability to plan for or visualize the future, is naturally unsettling. Anxious feelings are a completely normal response. Additionally, a person, who has persistent mental health conditions, like OCD, Anxiety disorder or depression can face even greater challenges in managing them. Still, there are effective ways to work with them.
In that same article, Karestan Koenen, Ph.D., professor of psychiatric epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, says that how we experience the pandemic will vary with our personal experience and perspective of how it is effecting us and our loved ones, and whether it is stress or actual trauma. We have all heard of the flight-or-fight response that is a surge of bodily response to help us deal with fear and threat. It can be especially useful in the short term, but over the long haul, our bodies need a break from it to preserve our mental and physical health. Because of this, Morganstein says, a person experiencing severe stress or trauma, even PTSD, cannot be ignored, but needs appropriate attention as quickly as possible. He offers several ways to access mental health services, which are not, even under normal circumstances, always easy or comfortable to access. He mentions, on-line support groups, telehealth mental health appointments, and person to person support groups for people in similar conditions such as front-line health care workers. For day to day management, Morganstein mentions self-care, appropriate sleep, eating, hydration, and reaching out to others. Perhaps advocating for better emergency preparation, adequate universal health care coverage, and more easily accessible mental health care can give us a sense of doing something valuable for facing future events.
In a time when it is easy to focus on dark thoughts, Morganstein suggests that while we wade through this trauma, we be aware that healing IS possible and many people will feel stronger and more successful in coping after they work their way through this sort of thing. Still, it is no time to be hard on ourselves for feeling overwhelmed or traumatized, we can’t change the situation, and sometimes our bodies will react in ways we cannot control. Relying on one another and offering support where possible is one of our strongest reserves.
Stay well everybody! If you want to explore this in more detail, click here for the original, albeit lengthy, article.