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How to Prioritize Your Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Let’s face it: the COVID-19 pandemic has been incredibly stressful. From the isolation of stay-at-home mandates to work disruptions and layoffs to the never-ending resurgence of the virus itself, it’s no wonder we’re all feeling more anxious than usual. 

One CDC report revealed that of Americans polled in June 2020, 31 percent had symptoms of anxiety or depression, while 26 percent reported stress-related symptoms. A separate report found that 4 in 10 adults in the U.S. have experienced anxiety or depression during the pandemic. That’s a stark increase from 1 in 10 figures pre-pandemic in 2019. 

If you’re feeling stressed or uneasy, talking with a mental health professional might be the solution to managing this anxiety. 

“COVID-19 has affected our lives in every conceivable way, and that takes a toll on us,” says Dr. Deborah McKnight, PhD, a licensed psychologist at CM Counsel, a Philadelphia-area practice with offices in Exton, King of Prussia and Plymouth Meeting. “I am seeing patients who still feel anxious and unsure in all areas of their lives because COVID-related changes persist.”

Feeling the Effects of the Pandemic

It’s important to note that any anxiety or depression you might be feeling due to COVID-19 is completely valid. People cope with traumatic or negative events in different ways, and no one person’s approach is better than someone else’s. 

“There is not an aspect of life that hasn’t been affected or changed in some way, shape or form since COVID-19 started,” Dr. McKnight says. “I’m still seeing patients feeling anxious and unsettled in all areas of their life — because there hasn’t been a settling.”

Throughout its practice, CM Counsel strives to provide a holistic, individual-based approach to therapy. That means helping clients develop coping mechanisms and talking through what might be affecting their well-being — including the COVID-19 pandemic.  

“COVID has changed so much of our day to day lives,” Dr. McKnight says. “Our expectation that we know what’s going to happen — all of that got shaken up and shifted. We’ve all had to rethink our day-to-day lives in a way that we hadn’t previously.” 

Practicing Mindfulness During COVID-19

Dr. Daniel B. Kravitz, MD is a board-certified psychiatrist also practicing at CM Counsel. He sees patients who have been feeling the effects of the pandemic as well and has observed the benefits that seeking treatment can provide. 

Kravitz notes that those with preexisting anxiety might be more fearful of going outside due to the perils of the virus and that it could make their condition worse. He says that among his patients, it’s rare for COVID-19 not to be mentioned as part of the conversation. And whether you fall into this category or simply want to talk about something that’s troubling you, therapy can be a worthwhile solution.

Therapy in general can be great as a chance to talk to an impartial observer as to what’s happening in your life.” Dr. Kravitz says. “Talking about what’s troubling you can decrease your sense of isolation.” 

Of course, going to therapy to work on yourself is a great first step. But the process is an active effort. In their sessions with patients, Dr. Kravitz and Dr. McKnight both offer suggestions as to how to manage and mitigate anxiety or depression. 

Dr. McKnight specializes in mindfulness exercises and advice and has worked with her patients on these techniques over the past year. These can take the form of getting some fresh air or exercise, setting reminders throughout the day to check in with ourselves or listing what we’re thankful for.

“Mindfulness is the kind of self-care that’s required when you’re exhausted,” Dr. McKnight says. “I talk with patients about remembering to stay in the present and doing problem solving.”

Self-Care in the Pandemic

Even as vaccinations increase, the pandemic is far from over, which can be an isolating and scary thought. But even amidst the dark times the pandemic has wrought, there is a sense of unity.

And the fact that we’re all in this together, Dr. McKnight says, can perhaps serve as a salve during these times — a reminder that it’s OK to not be OK. 

“When you’re seeking therapy, it’s important to approach it with a degree of kindness,” Dr. McKnight says. “People really are so hard on themselves, and kindness is key. It’s important to acknowledge who we are and what’s going on in our lives without judgment.”