Senior Health: Protecting mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic


During this time of physical distancing and uncertainty, many are feeling isolated, lonely, agitated and withdrawn. Those with underlying behavioral health conditions, such as depression, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia and substance use disorder, are at particularly high risk for a negative outcome, including severe anxiety, substance use or relapse and thoughts of suicide.

It is critically important for you to stay in touch with your counselor, therapist, or psychiatrist if you have an existing mental health condition or substance use disorder. Telemedicine, video or phone chat is the safest way right now to have an appointment.

Relieving stress and anxiety is critically important now. Here are some tips everyone can use to navigate these uncertain times:

• Stay informed and take steps to protect yourself and loved ones. Get facts from trusted sources like the CDC, your local health department or primary care provider. Take breaks from watching, reading or listening to news stories, including social media. They will only worsen the distress you may be feeling;

• Stay calm, do not panic. First and foremost, try to stay calm. Focus your attention on breathing — take slow and deep breaths, counting to three each time. Open a window or door and look outside. Focus on nature, the sky, grass and trees. Spend some time in the open air in the backyard. Tell yourself you’re safe and everything is OK. Repeat it over and over until the intrusive thoughts subside and fade away;

• Engage in healthy activities. Try to get seven to nine hours of sleep; eat a healthy, well-balanced meal, avoid alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. Meditation, walking and gardening are all beneficial to your mental health. There are many free online classes available for seniors such as gentle stretching exercises you could also try;

• Take all medications as directed by your health care providers. Make sure you have enough of a supply of the prescription and over-the-counter medications you need to manage your mental health and other on-going conditions;

• Stay connected with your family, friends and other support networks (faith, hobbies, etc.). Having someone to talk to about your needs and feelings is vital for mental health. Make a commitment to contact at least one person per day for continued social connection through telephone, or e-mail, video conference and social media. Consider asking one person to be your support buddy and have daily check ins;

• Embrace a routine. Isolation can cause minutes to blend together, and before you know it the day has turned into night, and if not careful, all days can merge together and weeks can pass by without you even realizing it. Having a routine keeps you grounded. It gives you a semblance of the normalcy you had before isolation. By giving an intentional purpose to every hour you’re awake and sticking to that routine you will be transforming for the better. Creating routines helps your brain and body know what’s coming, which removes feelings of anxiety and stress. A routine will eventually convert to a system, which you then automatically follow. This keeps intrusive thoughts from holding you back from completing your daily schedule;

• Use this time to tackle a project. Many people have projects they have put off. They could be small, like cleaning out a drawer or sorting old photos, or a larger project like cleaning a garage or basement. You will have a feeling of accomplishment and value, which will help you fight depression;

• Get up and get moving. When confined, it can be extremely tempting to spend all your time in bed or on the couch. Although easy to do, this lifestyle can cause physical and mental health concerns. It’s important to keep moving throughout the day. Every little movement helps. Meditation, gardening and walking all are beneficial. Regular exercise is also a must. Moving can suppress the anxiety and depression isolated people can feel;

• Utilize technology. During this pandemic, there is lack of physical touch with loved ones. Utilize technology to talk and listen about nothing and everything, laugh, form memories and keep your mental health protected from the clutches of depression, anxiety and a series of other ailments.

Isolation can be dangerous if left unchecked. Keep your life moving forward. Remember, in the majority of cases, isolation isn’t a permanent phase, and like all other phases in life — it, too, shall pass.

UHS Delaware Valley Hospital offers telemental health appointments through its Primary Care offices. Call 607-865-2407 to learn more. Other local resources include: 24 hour Mobile Crisis Assessment Team: (MCAT) 24 hour crisis (1-844-732-6228); RSS Warmline: non crisis phone support (1-800-377-3281); Delaware County Mental Health Clinic (607-832-5888) and the NYS Covid Emotional Support Helpline at 1-844-863-9314.

Joan Phillips is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Mental Health Integrative Provider providing services through UHS Primary Care in Walton.

Recommended for you