How to cope with COVID-19 mental health struggles

For help, call the SLO Hotline at 800-783-0607
Posted at 12:48 PM, Mar 24, 2020

COVID-19 has seemingly overtaken the year of 2020.

Sport seasons have been canceled. Countless family gatherings are called off. Schooling was abruptly changed to online.

All the while, the population is trying to avoid becoming sick while also caring for those who are ill and grieving the ones we have already lost.

Frank Warren of the San Luis Obispo County Behavioral Health Department says this non-stop conversation about the coronavirus is having some major societal side effects.

"These are really stressful times," Warren said. "These are times of a lot of uncertainty."

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The global fear of illness, disappointment of cancellations and confinement of stay-at-home orders are just some of the factors taking a toll on the mental health of millions of Americans.

"Our society is going to go through this emotionally as much as they are going through it physically," Warren said.

Caroline Johnson works alongside Warren in the Behavioral Health Department and says these coronavirus-induced stressors may feel foreign for many people.

"For those of us who struggle with stress, anxiety, every single day, we're kind of already in that mindset of 'Okay, I just need to take this moment by moment and everything will be okay after this,'" Johnson said. "But for people who don't experience that day to day and now all of sudden having these feelings, it can kind of feel daunting like, 'Where do I turn, what do I do.'"


Warren says prolonged social distancing and staying at home may feel isolating and bring on anxiety, depression and fear.

Together, Johnson and Warren say their message to people is this: you are not alone.


Warren says celebrating little wins everyday will help ease the mental struggle of this crisis.

"Finding those hope points that they can place ahead of them and work in increments toward those," Warren said. "So, even if that means getting through this day, this week and being able to acknowledge those as victories, because for all of us now who are in this together, we're going to have to take this a day at a time, a week at a time."


He says setting long-term goals, like having coffee with a friend you haven't seen in a long time, give people something to look forward to.

"Saying, 'When things change or when things go back, I'm going to do this," Warren said.

Now is the time to write flushing out your bucket list and look forward to doing those things in the future.


Johnson encourages people to use technology to connect.

"Don't forget that you can still be emotionally present with others by having dinners over the phone, over Facetime if you can't be at your family dinner every week," she said.


However, Johnson says it's important to find balance with the screen time. She recommends no more than an hour total per day and says unplugging from social media and muting accounts that bombard your feed with negative posts will help keep your headspace positive.


Johnson tells clients to prioritize their self-care, whether that's a home workout, a walk outside or meditation.

Establishing routine is critical to maintaining positive mental health while forced to work from home.

"Get up like you normally would, get ready for work, have your breakfast, go online for 30 minutes if that's what you choose to do and then set up a space within your house that is just your work space," Johnson said. "Don't work from your bed."


Warren suggests helping kids connect with friends through virtual play-dates.

"There's a ton of pressure right now for parents to be these amazing homeschoolers," he said.

He says to help foster some of the developmental skills kids would otherwise be receiving at school by setting up video chat conversations for them with older adults like neighbors or relatives.


Also, Warren says to find hope in knowing good will come from this crisis, through strengthened communities and increased compassion for others.

"If you have the opportunity to help somebody else, that will go a long way for your own mental wellness and emotional wellbeing," Warren said.


If you need to talk to someone about your mental health, the SLO Hotline is staffed and ready to take your call at 800-783-0607.

People may also contact Behavioral Health at 1-800-838-1381.