Mental health professionals share tips for dealing with prolonged stress

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As we approach our third year of COVID-19, another wave of infections leaves many people in an endless cycle of stress.

Why is this important: In the United States, about four in ten adults have reported symptoms of anxiety or depression during the pandemic, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. This represents an increase of around 10% from January to June 2019.

  • Mental health professionals warn that prolonged stress can interfere with sleep and affect your ability to function properly, among other problems.

The big picture: About two-thirds of U.S. psychologists say their waiting lists have been growing since the start of the pandemic, and half share feelings of burnout, per a survey by the American Psychological Association in 2021.

  • In Philadelphia, the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety has seen demand for its services double since the start of the pandemic, said director Lily Brown.

Inventory: People who experience this heightened emotional state may be hypersensitive to pressures, on the one hand, as well as being mentally tired and numb.

  • “Neither of them are healthy,” Brown said.
  • She said it was not uncommon for clients to speak out about concerns about making safe decisions when navigating COVID-19 protocols, as well as job insecurity.

What to watch: Signals of stress include staying awake at night and worrying about the future.

  • Stew up memories from the past, like browsing your Instagram feed from before the pandemic.
  • Decision fatigue on which activities are safe.

What to do: Are you looking for help to manage your stress or anxiety? Try these tips.

  • Slow down and focus on one task at a time.
  • Ground yourself in the present moment.
  • Take regular breaks, especially away from screens.
  • Have an exercise routine, even if it’s just a once-a-day walk.
  • Get at least eight hours of sleep.
  • Create a consistent schedule.

What you should not do: Avoid isolating yourself. Even if you can’t physically see your loved ones, pick up the phone!

  • Do not engage in excessive alcohol or substance use to cope with your emotions.

What they say : Meghan Musselman, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at Temple University, has insisted on having a set schedule to reduce the number of decisions you make in a day.

  • “Just like the fatigue of our bodies after physical work, our brains tire after heavy mental work. With the pandemic, the number of decisions we are making is increasing,” she said.

During this time, Brown said it’s part of the human experience right now to deal with sadness and grief.

  • “The more you can become aware of your tendencies, the more freedom you have to make the choice to do something more meaningful at that time,” she said.
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