The impact of the coronavirus on our mental health

As we trudge through the pandemic facing our town, and the world, some thoughts are being left behind. 

Rather than focusing on ourselves and what’s going on inside our heads, we’re forced to worry about a more global, external worldview. We’re forced to worry more about our parents, grandparents, coworkers, and everyone around the world who’s being forced to deal with the novel coronavirus. And the instinct to worry about all that is certainly the correct and valiant one. 

But just because we’re worried more about what’s going on on the outside doesn’t mean that our functioning on the inside stops. Quite the opposite in fact. As we worry more and more about what’s going outside, the issues on the inside just continue to rise and fester.

But let’s realize that even as stressors are on the rise all around us, we still need to take into account our mental health and well-being, and that in our current situation, the threats to our mental health are two-fold.

First, look at the impact that stress itself can have both on mental and physical health. While most times, when one reads the news, it can seem distant and intangible, with today’s crisis that news, and the stress that comes with it, seems closer and closer. This stress quickly leads into fear and anxiety, which in turn, will lead to clear negative impacts. 

According to the University of Minnesota, longer term fear and anxiety have four clear impacts on both physical and mental health. 

Physically, chronic fear and anxiety weaken our immune systems, gastrointestinal systems and cardiovascular systems, to name a few.

Mentally, it can limit the formation of long term memories, interrupt proper brain function, and lead to larger mental health problems like fatigue and depression.

While all that seems pretty grim, especially in light of the long term fear we’re all likely to face during the COVID-19 pandemic, all is not lost. The University of Minnesota furthers their research, noting a variety of ways that fear can be reduced. Promoting positivity, developing your sense of personal control, facing the fear and being mindful can all help prevent this stress from resulting in these clear detriments.

But even as fear and anxiety takes its toll, so will the social isolation and social distancing which we all must practice as a result of this epidemic.

The US Department of Health and Human Service’s National Institute on Aging reminds us that at our cores “Human beings are social creatures.” As a result, limitations on socialization like those which are being instituted globally can have devastating impacts.

Dr. Clifford Singer, an Adjunct Professor at the University of Maine, writes in the Journal of Aging Life Care notes that several studies show “impact of isolation and loneliness on health and mortality are of the same order of magnitude as such risk factors as high blood pressure, obesity, and smoking.”

In fact, according to the same National Institute on Aging article, this impact can be magnified with a sudden loss of mobility or a sudden severance from family and friends, just as we’re facing measures which might result in exactly that to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

But again, all is not lost. Scientific American reminds us that “An obvious answer is the device you are reading this article on.”

What this means, simply put, is that if there was ever a time to use your electronic devices to their utmost, this is it. These devices will help keep us connected, even if not in a physical sense.

At day’s end, there’s a lot of impacts which this pandemic is going to have on our community, and on many individuals. But some of the most important problems aren’t even the ones you can see. So even in the face of these trying times, don’t forget to take care of your mental health. Remember to always reduce your fear and anxiety by any means possible, and try to connect whenever you can.

Stay safe and stay healthy Pelham.