From time to time, most of us face unusually stressful situations in our lives, whether because of illness, grief, unemployment, financial or legal problems, or another factor. Experts link prolonged or unmanaged stress to a variety of physical and mental illnesses, which can damage health, relationships, and quality of life. Chronic stress can be deadly.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused widespread fear and suffering, heightening the stress levels for many. This overload of stress is causing many people with existing symptoms of mental illness to experience an escalation of symptoms while creating new symptoms of mental health issues in others.
How Does Stress Harm the Body?
Chronic stress may cause physical symptoms such as digestive problems, headaches, sleep disturbances, high blood pressure, and more. It can impair the function of digestive, immune, cardiovascular, and reproductive systems, and can contribute to diabetes, heart disease, and other serious illnesses.
Stress can also contribute to serious mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, insomnia, eating disorders, and substance abuse. Symptoms may include low energy, mood swings, irritability, becoming easily angered, feeling on edge or hopeless, having trouble sleeping, increased use of drugs or alcohol, disordered eating, and more.
How to Take Care of Your Mental Health
If you are feeling overwhelmed, suicidal, are consuming dangerous amounts of drugs or alcohol, or exhibiting other risky behavior, seek help immediately. Call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or Live Online Chat.
There are many steps you can take to safeguard and improve your mental health. Begin by talking to your health care provider. They are aware of resources in your area that can provide the help you need. Medicare and most private insurance plans now cover telehealth and teletherapy as well. Ask your doctor for a referral.
What You Can Do to Take Care of Your Mental Health
- Tune in to and acknowledge what you are feeling. If symptoms are causing distress, contact your doctor, or a mental health provider.
- Commit to healthy practices. Plan nutritious meals, exercise at least 30 minutes each day, meditate, practice relaxation and breathing exercises, keep a daily gratitude journal, and stick to a healthy sleep schedule. Spend time outdoors connecting with nature, if possible.
- Cut back on negative influences. Limit your intake of negative news, books, movies, and TV. Read or watch inspirational, uplifting, or funny books and shows.
- Stay connected to family and friends. If you can’t visit in person right now, visit virtually through apps such as Skype, Zoom, FaceTime, Google Duo, or Facebook Messenger.
- Find support from your peers. Reach out to community support groups and/or 12-step support groups for help and support. Mental health treatment programs may also offer group therapy sessions to connect with others managing stress and anxiety.
- Seek out resources. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website to find virtual recovery resources, including support groups. The National Alliance on Mental Health also provides valuable resources. Contact them at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264).
Understand that you are not alone in what you are feeling. Reach out for help and take advantage of the many resources that are available while adopting healthy practices into your daily life.
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