Prolonged Stress of the Pandemic


Exhausted. Stressed out. On edge.

The COVID19 pandemic has been our reality for several months now, and it appears that there are several more months of this to endure. The world we thought we knew has changed dramatically. This leaves many of us wondering, “when is life ever going to go back to normal again?”

“We need to remind ourselves that it’s ok to not be ok,” said John Garrity, PhD, executive director of the Mental Health & Recovery Board of Portage County.

Prolonged stress can harm a person’s physical and mental health.

“Be observant and recognize your body’s reaction to stress, such as difficulty sleeping, increased use of alcohol or drugs, being easily angered, feeling depressed, and having low energy,” said Garrity.

Taking practical steps to manage stress may reduce the risk of negative health effects. Regular exercise, setting realistic goals and priorities, incorporating relaxing activities into daily routines, and staying connected with friends and family all help a person cope with stress.

The pandemic has also created a feeling of uncertainty and lack of control over our environment. This may lead a person to experience anxiety which impacts mood and clouds thinking.

“Focus on addressing what you can control and influence,” advised Bill Russell, chief officer of behavior health in Portage County for Coleman Professional Services. “Letting go of expectations for others or for the world that you can’t control helps manage the sense of disappointment and anger that many are feeling. We are all ‘grieving’ the loss of our normal to which we were accustomed.”

“It’s important that we live in the moment, and take things one day at a time,” advised Garrity. When you are feeling overwhelmed, take some long, deep breaths to restore calm.

Russell noted that taking a walk outside and journaling can help with depression and negative thoughts. Strategies such as progressive muscle relaxation, mindfulness meditation can help with anxiety management.

Many families are worried about what the school year will look like this fall.

Mary McCracken, Director of School-based Services, advises parents to have conversation with their children about their feelings about the upcoming school year. “Do more listening than talking,” she says. “Model healthy lifestyle choices for coping with stress such as eating healthy, getting in daily physical activity, getting plenty of sleep, and talking about how they are feeling.”

For the past several months, callers to the 24-hour Helpline at Townhall II have been expressing concerns related to COVID19.

“People are struggling to manage the new challenges in maintaining their physical health, their mental health, or their recovery,” explained Paul Dages, Emergency Services Manager at Townhall II. “People are dealing with loneliness and looking for ways to complete daily tasks and stay socially connected, and yet still maintain physical distancing.”

“It’s crucial to maintain connections to others, even if it’s only remote,” said Russell.

Reach out to family members, clergy, and friends. Start a conversation with your health care provider. Mental health professionals are available. In Portage County, contact Children’s Advantage at 330-296-5552, Coleman Professional Services at 330-296-3555, Family & Community Services at 330-677-4124, or Townhall II at 330-678-3006.

If you are overwhelmed, using drugs or alcohol more frequently, or having suicidal thoughts, call 330-678-HELP (4357)

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The Mental Health & Recovery Board of Portage County funds services for Portage County residents through its network of agencies. Services help families, adults, teens and children with mental illness, depression, addictions, in crisis and at risk for suicide.

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