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6 Reasons the Coronavirus Outbreak Has Been Difficult on My Mental Health

This is a tough time for me, and it’s obvious I’m not the only one struggling. COVID-19, a new viral strain in the coronavirus family that affects the lungs and respiratory system, has left most of us stuck at home, our lives (and for some of us, our incomes) disrupted. I write to remind others and myself that you are not alone – and – you are not the only one. I’m going to take you through some of the reasons this pandemic is hard on my mental health, and I fully expect many of you will relate.

While my stories typically include “tips and tricks” on how to work through things, I don’t have those answers yet. If you do have ideas, please join the conversation in the comments, or check out this list of seven things to do if social distancing is triggering your depression. 

Without further ado, here are some of the reasons the coronavirus outbreak has been so hard on my mental health. 

1. Isolation and Social Distancing

Staying home and avoiding people? No problem, I practically invented it. In fact, it’s such a problem I’ve carefully crafted my life to ensure I have reasons to get out of bed. Along with the regular things most people do, I volunteer a lot. All of these opportunities have been canceled. I’m not saying they shouldn’t be, they should and I want everyone to be safe! I’m just relaying the fact that losing these occasions is hard on me. 

Going to work, school or volunteering is a huge part of our lives. These things give us purpose, structure, distractions and connection. Not having them means a large built-in coping tool is unavailable. Keeping routine and having motivation is likely going to be hard for awhile. 

2. What If?!

What if my medication supply is interrupted? What if my elderly parents get sick? What if society as a whole collapses? All these and much more are thoughts now running through my mind. If you’re familiar with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), you’ll know a good chunk of it is dedicated to looking at unhelpful ways of thinking. One of the common unhelpful thoughts are the “what ifs,” especially if they are constant.

But what if (!?) you’re in a situation that naturally has a lot of “what if” questions? (See what I did there?) We are in fact in a very uncertain time with quickly moving parts. Some questions are only natural and probably healthy. The problem is though, for those of us who have brains, the “what ifs” can be hard to reign in when they move beyond being helpful.

3. Processing Threat Incorrectly

I experience many of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and with that comes processing threat incorrectly. Some times I overreact to perceived dangers, other times I under-react. A loud noise, odd glance or any other number of things my brain may interpret inaccurately. This is often the case with folks who experience PTSD as well as other forms of anxiety.

Right now it seems like we are under constant threat. Going back to point number two, it’s a real situation and my brain doesn’t know what to do with it. I quickly go from “the sky is falling” to “YOLO” with the constant stream of information, and quickly moving through those states is both exhausting and unsustainable. If you feel like you are going through a lot of ups and downs, this might be why.

4. Disruption of Professional Supports

With most places closing their doors this is going to include our mental health supports. Even if they don’t close up, they are likely to be inundated with appointments and may get sick themselves. Some of us go to therapy pretty frequently and not going can be a big disruption. Other supports may be instructed to only respond to emergencies, or only be available over the phone and web. We may not be able to get into our psychiatrists as quick as we need for a medication change. Either way this is all sure to have an effect.

5. The Internet Has Become Scary

The internet has always had its good and bad sides and that hasn’t changed, but it seems to be more difficult to navigate right now. This is especially difficult for those of us who typically use the web as a source of refuge. I personally run a mental health Instagram, @mentalhealthyxe, as well as volunteer running the social media of another mental health non-profit. I also obviously spend a lot of time on The Mighty and a variety of other forums.

Now you can’t click on anything without seeing something about COVID-19 (she said in an article about the virus, meta). There is a lot of fear mongering, false information and misunderstandings. Everyone wants to talk about it, and that’s understandable, we should. But it’s legit impossible to avoid. Having said that, the internet has been a great place for support and good information too, which can be part of the struggle of navigating through this.

6. Telling the Difference Between Mental Health Symptoms and COVID-19

Does my chest feel funny because I’m having respiratory symptoms or a panic attack? Am I experiencing the typical tiredness of depression or the malaise of flu? Do I have a fever or is this an anxiety hot flash? Folks with obsessions or compulsions around illness or cleanliness are facing a whole new set of problems. In all honesty in the last few weeks, I’ve had a symptom I wasn’t sure was originating from my brain or body. It’s confusing and frustrating, and something I’m guessing most folks with chronic illnesses are struggling with.

Good news is so far for me these symptoms have all ended up being mental health related. Bad news is, they have all been mental health related.

This is just a short list on some of the ways this pandemic is impacting my mental health. These feelings and struggles are real and valid. If you are also experiencing them or something similar I again want to remind you that you’re are not alone and not the only one.

I don’t have all the solutions to this yet, but I promise to keep looking and hope you will too.  Some great ideas are already starting to emerge. I look forward to what we as a society figure out through this difficult time, and I know we are going to persevere.

If you enjoyed this article, please take a moment to check out some of my other articles here on The Mighty. If you’d like to follow along with my journey, you can find me on Instagram as @mentalhealthyxe.

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Lead photo via contributor