A Behavioral Health Services of Arkansas official discusses the challenges people face in managing their mental health during the COVID-19 outbreak and offers advice to help maintain a positive outlook.


“When a crisis occurs, and certainly when it lasts for an extended period of time, it’s important for people to think through the situation in small doses and process the facts. That can help us from being overwhelmed,” said Lisa Hickey, a licensed social worker and therapist with Youth Home and Behavioral Health Services of Arkansas.


“Often, as we try to learn everything we can about the situation so we can respond appropriately, we end up hampering our ability to deal with the situation mentally and emotionally,” Hickey said.


Hickey suggests the following approach to help maintain a positive mental health outlook during a prolonged crisis:


MAINTAIN ROUTINES


The search for normalcy during a chaotic time can partially be found in something as simple as the daily routine. That includes getting enough sleep, eating well, getting some amount of physical exercise and spending some time outside. Actions that help avoid the feeling of isolation are therapeutic during these times.


FOCUS ON THE DAY


It’s normal to try to focus on the big picture to mentally reach a resolution, but the big picture often entails a lot of “unknowns.” Those uncertainties are part of what lead to anxiety. Hickey advises to focus on the day at hand, since there is more control over the next 24 hours than in the weeks or months to come.


Limit information and sources


The crisis itself, and every development surrounding it, will be the focus of every source of media, almost 24/7. Limit the amount of information consumed by identifying two trusted media sources and checking in for brief updates only twice a day. Limiting exposure to news may also mean stepping back from social media.


Also remember that speculation, misinformation and personal agendas can abound during a crisis. Refer to reputable state or national sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the state department of health, in instances such as a pandemic.


ADDRESS THE FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN


In some crises, state and national leaders know the necessary course of action. But, in an unprecedented situation those leaders, along with health or other experts, will be in unchartered territory, so the plan to find a solution could be more challenging and take more time. Identify resources for help in the event you need assistance, but don’t become overwhelmed, as many organizations are working to provide relief to those affected by the situation.


ANTICIPATE NEW SURROUNDINGS


Anticipate changes in the community, rather than being surprised. In times of crisis, there may be limited resources. That may include food, water, household products, gasoline or other items. Hickey advises to be aware of what community surroundings could look like to minimize being caught off-guard. That may entail empty store shelves, neighbors in protective gear, etc. Communities and residents will respond to help others, so consider the fact that there are resources for assistance.


STAY CONNECTED


There is comfort in human interaction, so check-in with family and friends often. Avoid talking about the situation at-hand and, instead, focus on something positive to share. Even the smallest positive comment can create a much-needed mental detour for everyone. And, look for opportunities to be part of a project in the community that is offering assistance. Altruism certainly helps strengthen mental health.


Hickey points out that it is important for those who have a diagnosed mental health disorder or illness to continue therapy during a crisis, so they don’t regress in their progress.


“Stress exacerbates any inability to cope with situations, so it can lead to increased incidents of domestic violence, depression, anxiety or suicide in people of any age,” she said.


Individuals who do not have a diagnosed mental health condition but are struggling to cope with a prolonged crisis may benefit from professional therapy, even temporarily.


Details: Behavioral Health Services of Arkansas, www.bhsarkansas.org.