The coronavirus pandemic shows no signs of slowing in the United States. In addition to increased stress due to the economic implications of the pandemic, individuals have also reported grappling with fear, anxiety, loneliness, and uncertainty as they attempt to adjust to a very new reality, and one big adjustment is getting comfortable resuming some daily activities in accordance with local health and safety guidelines. With so much unknown, here's what a psychologist recommends if you're scared to go outside during the coronavirus pandemic or are still experiencing emotional distress amidst the ongoing pandemic.
In the months of lockdown, people have been feeling the mental toll of the isolation of quarantine and the stressors that have come with the pandemic. A national poll released by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) on March 25 found 36% of Americans felt that the coronavirus pandemic has significantly impacted their mental health. Meanwhile, according to July 2020 data from the Census Bureau, one third of Americans reported symptoms of clinical anxiety or depression, as reported by The Washington Post. Compared to 2013-2014 data from the Census Bureau which reported 25% of U.S. adults experienced a depressed mood at least “several days” during the week, the responses from May 7-12, 2020, saw double that, with 50% of U.S. adults now saying they experienced a depressed mood. The number was even higher among young adults ages 18 to 29.
C. Vaile Wright, Ph.D., senior director of health care innovation in the Practice Directorate at the American Psychological Association, tells Elite Daily that high levels of uncertainty are a driving force in the rise of the population's anxiety and stress. "You're seeing a lot of individuals reporting a high level of distress right now," Wright says. "There's a sense of probably anger as well as sadness and grief, for either the actual loved ones who have been lost, or just a loss of normal daily life or milestones that people have been looking forward to that didn't happen."
In addition to the frustration of not knowing when things are going to go back to normal, people are navigating other stressors including the economic downturn and a renewed spotlight on racial injustice and police brutality. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as of July 1, people are not only coping with the mental strain of potentially contracting COVID-19 and passing it on to others, but they're also worrying about their loved ones being impacted, their finances and the economy in light of mass layoffs, and the loneliness and isolation of quarantine. An April 2 poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation found women, Hispanic adults, and Black adults are especially impacted by current events.
As states around the country slowly begin reopening, it's natural for these fears and stressors not linger. Wright says many people may feel anxious about taking part in activities that used to feel normal due to the decision making involved with simple actions, from going to the grocery store to getting a haircut to attending class.
"It's really the sense of uncertainty about what's safe and what's not safe, and the level of decision making that has to go into something as simple as leaving your house right now," she says. While the majority of Americans support mask and social distancing mandates as ways to help curb the spread of the virus, some people have flouted safety instructions. Wright recommends individuals focus on what is in their control and weigh the risks and benefits of decisions, while also remaining aware that the disease has not gone away and they still need to protect themselves and others.
”It's really about evaluating what makes sense for you individually and following recommendations that are true to your local area. And then you have to decide, 'what things am I comfortable with doing?'"
According to the CDC as of Aug. 4, the novel coronavirus is thought to mainly spread through respiratory droplets during person-to-person contact. One thing that can help ease fears about interacting with others while still practicing physical distancing is to wear a mask, which can help prevent the spread of the virus. People who are older than 2 years old should wear some kind of a cloth face covering when in public and when coming into contact with people they don’t live with, according to July 16 recommendations from the CDC.
Karen Levy, Ph.D, an epidemiologist and associate professor of environmental health at Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health, says wearing a mask and maintaining social distancing while you’re outside can be helpful to your mental health. "It is a great idea to go outdoors, so long as you can maintain social distancing (6 feet of distance between yourself and others) while outside," Levy previously told Elite Daily. According to Kirsten Koehler, Ph.D, an associate professor of environmental health and engineering at Johns Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health, you should also be careful when handling your mask when you return home.
Koehler previously told Elite Daily, to “[minimize] any risk of touching contaminated mask surfaces with your hands and accidentally touching your face afterward,” you should take off your mask without touching the front part at all and wash your hands right away. If you have a reusable mask, put it in the laundry to wash it before your next use, and throw away disposable masks after each use.
As the novel coronavirus continues to surge around the country, many experts, including the World Health Organization, have warned about lingering mental health issues as a result. Wright says that there were higher rates of anxiety as well as post-traumatic stress disorder following the SARS and Ebola epidemics, especially for vulnerable populations.
While she says certain groups like frontline workers, health care workers, and individuals from communities of color, which have been hit harder by the pandemic, might be feeling the mental health effects of the coronavirus more strongly, Wright doesn't believe a chronic mental health crisis is unavoidable.
"It's normal to feel stressed, but if we work hard to reduce that stress and to mitigate it and take care of ourselves, I think that for most people, they're going to come out on the other side of this adversity," Wright says. "I don't think it's inevitable that a large group of people have to have mental health consequences at the end of this if we take a proactive stance now to take care of our mental health."
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all Elite Daily's coverage of coronavirus here.
C. Vaile Wright, PhD., senior director, health care innovation in the Practice Directorate at the American Psychological Association
Karen Levy, Ph.D, MPH, associate professor of environmental health at Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health
Kirsten Koehler, Ph.D, associate professor of environmental health and engineering at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health