As humans, we have a psychological reaction to disaster and we’re seeing those reactions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Early on in any disaster, we go through a period of confusion. We are trying to figure out what’s going on and what’s going to happen next. During this period, many people feel overwhelmed and confused. Our emotional state dips and some people experience depression while wondering how we will get through the situation.

Not long after, we notice a heroic response. We saw this with COVID-19. People banded together to show support for health care workers by posting encouraging videos, decorating sidewalks with chalk and sending donations of food, toiletries and PPE. The community support was incredible and helped give people a sense of purpose and strength during unprecedented times.

As disasters go on, the heroic response starts to dwindle, and we move into a period of disillusionment and despondency. People begin to feel like things will never get better and the mental exhaustion kicks in. In this phase, your emotional state dips very low – even lower than at the beginning of the disaster. These feelings can last a long time until we reach the phase of resolution or reconstruction.

This cycle does not form a smooth curve because there are setbacks throughout the process. If you were to make a graph of your emotional reactions throughout the pandemic, it would likely look like a stock market graph, going up and down.

So much is out of our control during COVID-19, but there are things we have control over and focusing on them can help your mental health.

Here are some tips to help you get through the low periods of disaster response:   

Focus on what you can control.

You have control over your attitude and your choices. Feelings are powerful and if you find a way to be optimistic, those around you might follow suit. You also have control over how you follow CDC guidelines. If you know you’re doing what you can to keep yourself and others safe, you can feel good about your actions.

Pay attention to your physical health.

Make sure you’re eating healthy and exercising. COVID-19 is not the time to put your health on the backburner. Not only does being healthy help fight off COVID-19, but exercise and healthy eating help also improve your mental health, too.

Pay attention to your mental health.

COVID-19 has been tough on all of us. If you suffered from mental health issues prior to the pandemic, make sure you’re continuing to talk with a doctor, friends or family about how you’re feeling. If you’ve been prescribed medications, continue to take them. If you’re starting to feel depressed or anxious during the pandemic, talk with someone about what you’re going through. Do not suffer in silence. Just because you must keep our physical distance from people does not mean you need to stop talking on the phone or through video chat.

Take a break from the news.

Do not spend long periods of time reading or listening to stories about COVID-19. Take a break from the news so you can focus on something that makes you happy.

UofL Health – Peace Hospital offers inpatient crisis stabilization, partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs.  If you or a family member are struggling with feelings of hopelessness, depression or anxiety, contact our Assessment and Referral Center for a no-charge assessment 24/7 at 502-451-3333 or 800-451-3637. Walk-ins welcome.  Or contact the 24-Hour Crisis and Information Center Line at 502-589-4313 or 800-221-0446.

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Article by: Stephen Taylor, MD

Stephen Taylor, M.D., is the chief medical officer of UofL Health – Peace Hospital. Dr. Taylor is a graduate of the University of Louisville School of Medicine and completed his residency in psychiatry in 2007. Dr. Taylor has been board-certified since September 2008 and holds a current license for the state of Kentucky. He has been involved as a gratis faculty at the University of Louisville Department of Psychiatry since 2007 and taught medical students and residents in the proper use and application of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) until 2017. Dr. Taylor was awarded the School of Medicine teaching award for 2011-2012 for contributions to the learning environment and teaching students and received a certificate of excellence in medical student education in May of 2013. He was awarded resident research awards in 2005 and 2007.

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