Pandemic! Earthquake! Aftershocks! A mental and physical health challenge, how you can fight back

Coronavirus Updates

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) How do we deal with both coronavirus, continuous aftershocks from the earthquake, stay in isolation, and keep each other safe? It’s a lot and can feel numbing.

We are worried about our safety, our existence, our children, financial well being, where we will get food? Add social distancing, and you have a recipe for a host of mental health issues, plus your physical well being can suffer too.

(Credit: Getty Images)

ABC4 News spoke with two practicing Licensed Clinical Social Workers-Chief Clinical Officer at Valley Behavioral Health, Julie Rael and Utah Pride Center Clinical Director Joshua Bravo about the new stress we all face. They told us several helpful things we should all think about.

First? Understand none of us have ever dealt with a pandemic before, nor an earthquake at the same time. Julie said, “It’s totally normal for individuals to be feeling more anxious right now, even if they don’t have a history of anxiety”

Director Bravo shared a deeply personal point of view, a reminder all of us from every sector including our caregivers are going through it too, “Personally, I have woken up overly exhausted after going to bed completely spent from a full day of providing telehealth services to our community in need of psychotherapy. I have felt aches and pains; my head has hurt from all the personal trauma I am experiencing, as well as the trauma I hold for others. My body is consistently telling me to rest and sleep. All of these physical, emotional, and psychological symptoms are triggered by this trauma that we are collectively experiencing.”

One of his patients states: “The earthquakes alone don’t bother me. I like them. I remember earthquakes from the 70s when I was a kid. For some reason they made me feel safe and centered. They do now too. I am not afraid of dying in a major earthquake or from COVID-19. I am afraid of having to go to the hospital since I don’t have health insurance.”

He goes on to explain that yes, this is trauma, a real type of trauma, you would not think about in that sense, but what we are going through is an emotional response to a terrible set of events.

The circumstances we are in activates the flight or fight response. It’s a new thing we haven’t been through before, and it is scary for individuals.

“If you’re feeling completely wiped out, you’re not alone. “Fatigue is a very common reaction to stress of all kinds, and for sure a chronic stress that is impactful on many areas of life and lasts a long time, like what we are experiencing in a very new way with COVID-19,” – Jason Moser, Ph.D. Michigan State University

Chief Rael explains The most important thing is to realize you do not need to go through this alone. engage with others. Connect with others, use the applications, Facetime, Facebook, Messengers, call on the phone. Right now it’s important to connect with others and to talk. It helps us cope.

Director Bravo also reinforces this: “Though physical visits may not be possible currently, make extra effort to text, call, video chat, write letters, send gifts, or other creative ways to interact with people in your circles. This is also an opportunity to make connections through online communities”

Try to limit the amount of news you consume. Right now we are all glued to the news. It is important for us to all stay up to date with what is happening in the world, but news is best used as a tool to help us make responsible decisions. If you have enough information to begin making the necessary changes in our lives given current events, it may be a healthier decision to unplug from the constant flow of information. 

Valley Behavioral Health

Make sure you get regular exercise. Being isolated can cause you to not get the kind of exercise you need. Time can become a blur.

Joshua Bravo adds to this, “There is comfort that comes from predictability, cleanliness, and organization. Protecting the habits and routines that help us stay healthy and feel productive can promote self-esteem and self-worth.”

Here at ABC4.com we help each other, every hour we have “move your body,” where no matter what we are doing we stop and get up and move a little bit. Our managing editor came up with the idea. Julie Rael said we did ourselves a good turn there. Do what you can to stay mindful of your situation.

She recommends a technique called square breathing. Square breathing is when you take a breath in four counts, pausing for four counts, breathing out for four counts, pausing for four counts. Practice the cycle for about a minute. It helps counter your body’s response to the stressors we are encountering.

Learn more about square breathing.

If we can get our physical response calm, it helps with our thought process and vice versa. Yes! Don’t be afraid to do positive self talk about the things we are doing right. And tell yourself you will get through this.

How do you recognize you might be getting depressed? You need to look for the signs:

  • Maybe you are not sleeping well, or sleeping too much. Out of your normal routine
  • Emotional eating. It’s normal to do a little emotional eating, but if you’re eating non-stop that is a flag.
  • Are you taking care of yourself, are you getting ready for the day? If you are not showering, not combing your hair, shaving, making sure your clothes are clean.
  • Are you not talking with people as much?
  • Are you not feeling up to your normal activities?
  • Are you having a harder time getting going?

These are all red flags and if you are encountering these, you should seek help right away.

Julie Rael said to remember that little things you do throughout the day will have a cumulative effect on our mental well being. She said, “Taking breaks is important, doing the square breathing, stretching, go outside, breathe some fresh air, walk around a little bit”

Another thing to help is stay hydrated, make sure you drink enough water.

Remember we are still adjusting to this situation we are in right now with the pandemic and the earthquakes. Dr. Rael said, ” Our thoughts can go to a place like, ‘when is this going to end?’ ‘I cant handle this anymore.’ Take that thinking and turn it back to the positive.”

The process in our brain is called Catastrophizing. We have to really be mindful not to do this.

She urges all of us to focus on what is going well not on what is not. This will not last forever. She cited a saying from one her colleagues, “A rainstorm always runs out of rain.” It is applicable in this situation? Try to make meaning out of the situation.

Find something to do around your house, the example we were given was gardening, why would you garden? Because it helps you plan for the future!

Gardening can help you fight stay at home depression

Planting the seed, preparing the soil, watering, weeding etc…keeps your mind focused on the future.

If you feel you need a little help do not be afraid to reach out to organizations like Valley Mental Health or the Utah Pride Center who provide counseling using tele-health.

Joshua Bravo said to remember, “We hope that everyone knows that while we may be physically apart, a loving, affirming, strong, and active community still surrounds you. We are all experiencing similar stressors. Please remember that we love you, we see you, and we are here to assist you.”

Pandemics, Earthquakes, Aftershocks, remember you can always find healthy ways to relieve the stress and if it overwhelms you there are resources to find help some of them on this page below.

ABC4 News would like to thank both Chief Clinical Officer Julie Rael from Valley Behavioral Health and Clinical Director Joshua Bravo from the Utah Pride Center for contributing the technical information in this article.

If you are in crisis and need help immediately please call 1-800-273-8255

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