SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – The outbreak of COVID-19, or more commonly known as coronavirus can be stressful for some people. Combine that with empty store shelves, closures of schools and businesses, cancellation of mass gatherings, and orders to self-quarantine, experts said it’s not unusual to see a heightened level of fear and anxiety.

Faeiza Javed, a license clinical social worker in the Salt Lake County area shared with ABC4 News Tuesday that she’s seen an increase need for mental health services.

“This COVID has been disrupting everyone’s lives. I’ve actually had sessions with clients where I’m spending full sessions trying to help people get out of their panic. They’ll come into my office visibly wide-eye, freaking out, having suicidal thoughts over this whole COVID situation,” said Javed.

Javed, along with other mental health therapists such as Aarati Ghimire said they will offer other options for counseling sessions such as phone calls or online video conferencing to continue services for patients in-need who may not be able to meet face-to-face.

“This has been part of our sessions and conversations in conjunction with how this macro-pandemic has been impacting people’s mental health and their day-to-day life as well as limiting their ability to process and get resources,” said Ghimire.

According to the CDC, individuals who may experience a stronger emotional response during a crisis include older people, those with chronic diseases who are at a higher risk for contracting COVID-19, children, teens, healthcare providers, first responders, and those with mental health conditions including substance abuse.

“This can make people more hypochondriac…someone who’s already experiencing this fear of getting sick, which is anxiety-provoking and can make it worse,” said Ghimire. “Social anxiety can get worse with a pandemic like this because you’re already afraid of going into crowds, going in gatherings, and this can make it worse. Not only immediately, but long-term as well.”

For those who have been released from quarantine:

Stress during an infectious disease outbreak can include concerns about your health and the health of your loved ones, changes in sleep or eating patterns, difficulty sleeping or concentrating, worsening of chronic health problems, and increase the use of alcohol, tobacco, or drugs.

For those who have been released from quarantine, being separated from others if a healthcare provider thinks you may have been exposed to COVID-19 can be stressful, even if you don’t get sick. Some feelings may include:

  • Mixed emotions, including relief after quarantine
  • Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones
  • Stress from the experience of monitoring yourself or being monitored by others for signs and symptoms of COVID-19
  • Sadness, anger, or frustration because friends or loved ones have unfounded fears of contracting the disease from contact with you, even though you have been determined not to be contagious
  • Guilt about not being able to perform normal work or parenting duties during the quarantine
  • Other emotional or mental health changes

“We are social creatures and we need that intimacy with people around us and if we can’t get it in person, I think the nice thing about our time today is that we can have video chats and phone calls with people, which hopefully can make us feel less isolated,” said Javed.

Minimizing stress, anxiety, and depression

Experts recommend several ways to minimize stress, anxiety, and depression during the COVID-19 pandemic including:

  • Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.
  • Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, and avoid alcohol and drugs.
  • Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
  • Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.

“Our brain is signaling to the rest of our body that we’re in danger like our body actually thinks it’s being attacked. So what you need to do is you need to get up, you need to move,” said Javed. “Learn how to ground yourself through your five senses. The idea is to kick-start your mind so that it can be distracted from everything else that’s going on.”

The CDC emphasized that receiving information from a credible source, stopping the spread of rumors, and understanding the actual risk of COVID-19 to yourself and people you care about can make an outbreak less stressful.

Mental health impact on children and teens

For children and teens, their reaction stems from what they see from the adults around them. The best support comes when their parents and caregivers address and deal with the COVID-19 pandemic calmly and confidently.

“If you’re a parent who doesn’t know how to self-regulate yourself and you’re panicking and anxious, then it’s projected onto a child and can create more mental health issues,” said Ghimire. “The child’s primary safety net is their home and their parents. So if they’re not perceiving any sense of safety from their primary caregivers, then that can impact a child’s mental health and safety perception,”

While not all children and teens respond to stress, anxiety, fear, and depression in the same way, experts said some common signs to watch for includes:

  • Excessive crying or irritation in younger children
  • Returning to behaviors they have outgrown (for example, toileting accidents or bed-wetting)
  • Excessive worry or sadness
  • Unhealthy eating or sleeping habits
  • Irritability and “acting out” behaviors in teens
  • Poor school performance or avoiding school
  • Difficulty with attention and concentration
  • Avoidance of activities enjoyed in the past
  • Unexplained headaches or body pain
  • Use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs

If you think your child or teen may be suffering from mental health issues, these are some of the ways you can provide support and comfort:

  • Take time to talk with your child or teen about the COVID-19 outbreak. Answer questions and share facts about COVID-19 in a way that your child or teen can understand.
  • Reassure your child or teen that they are safe. Let them know it is OK if they feel upset. Share with them how you deal with your own stress so that they can learn how to cope from you.
  • Limit your family’s exposure to news coverage of the event, including social media. Children may misinterpret what they hear and can be frightened about something they do not understand.
  • Try to keep up with regular routines. If schools are closed, create a schedule for learning activities and relaxing or fun activities.
  • Be a role model.  Take breaks, get plenty of sleep, exercise, and eat well. Connect with your friends and family members.