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Pandemic struggle: What it is and what to do about it

By Misty Vaughan Allen Suicide Prevention Coordinator NV Division of Public & Behavioral Health

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed every aspect of life. Many are feeling a different kind of chaos, confusion, and doubt causing a strong internal struggle. While trying to mitigate the spread of the virus, we are experiencing severe economic, mental health, and healthcare crises. Education and understanding about the current Struggle helps lessen uncertainty and increases awareness for community and self-support. Looking at the statistics regarding crises and adverse effects will help us understand we are not alone. Recognizing some common signs of emotional and mental struggle and making time for practical action will help us cope. Being knowledgeable we can fight the Struggle and with one another stay strong.

Understanding the Impact of the Struggle

Increase in suicide deaths

Recognizing the trends and impacts of large-scale crises on citizens is key to supporting Nevadans and preventing an increase in the suicide rate. Nevada currently ranks 8th in the nation for suicide, but that could increase. A research report conducted by The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) concluded, “After the 2008 economic crisis, rates of suicide increased in the European and American countries studied, particularly in men and in countries with higher levels of job loss.” Unexpectedly, in Clark County, suicides for March, April and May 2020, have been significantly lower than in the same months in previous years. However, elder suicides have increased.

Increased adverse mental health conditions

Stressors related to the pandemic increase suicide danger for at-risk populations such as those experiencing trauma and stress related disorder (TSRD), the elderly, the LGBTQ community, youth, and military/veteran populations. Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “During June 24-30, 2020, U.S. adults reported considerably elevated adverse mental health conditions associated with COVID-19. Younger adults, racial/ethnic minorities, essential workers, and unpaid adult caregivers reported having experienced disproportionally worse mental health outcomes, increased substance use, and elevated suicidal ideation.” (CDC, August 14, 2020.)

Increased interpersonal violence calls

Interpersonal violence, a factor related to suicide, is also a major concern during the COVID-19 pandemic. Las Vegas Metropolitan Police reported an increase in domestic violence calls. In April 2020, the Domestic Violence Resource Center in Washoe County reported a 64% increase in calls. (Reno Gazette Journal, April 4, 2020.)

If predictions and past national crises hold true without a change, a spike in suicides will occur. But, “Where There is Hope, There is Help” stands true. The hope is in recognizing stress and burnout so we can learn to be strong in ourselves and for others.

How to Recognize Some of the Struggle

We know when life is out of balance we are at risk for mental and physical harm. Here are some red flags to consider:

Control. If you fear delegating tasks or perceive asking for help as a weakness or incompetence, you may have an issue of control. This might involve over planning, creating a situation where you must get it all done and it has to be done your way.

Perfectionism. You may find it difficult to accomplish one goal without laying the groundwork for another project. You might hear yourself saying, “If you want something done right, you gotta do it yourself.” Failure and anger for missing the mark are constant companions.

Relationships become less important. Your friends and family may complain you don’t spend quality time with them. Or although you are physically present, your thoughts are elsewhere and not in the moment.

Work binges. Are you missing meals, sleep, or working around the clock to finish a project? You would rather work non-stop for days. These are signs of work binges.

Inability to relax. Relaxing or having fun is seen as frivolous wastes of time because you have nothing to show for them. You might feel guilty or useless whenever you are doing something that doesn’t produce results. You feel anxious “doing nothing.”

Brownouts. Memory lapses may occur during long conversations because you’re preoccupied mentally with some other project. People close to you complain you’re off somewhere else and not emotionally present.

Impatience and Irritability. You hate to wait and have to be productive while you wait. Your impatience causes impulsive and premature decisions. Projects are started without all the facts. Avoidable mistakes are made because you rush and bypass research.

Self-inadequacy. Your self-worth and value are based on your accomplishments. You feel a temporary high and feeling of success when a task is completed. But immediately feel a letdown if you have no other worthwhile projects in line. You might have negative self-talk, name calling and put-downs, due to the lack of the next project, or a minor error.

Two major factors of the Struggle occurring during the pandemic is the lack of life balance, and the lack of self-care and whole wellness.

Personal/Work Life Balance Struggle

Our lives have been turned upside down with an uncertainty of an end. Due to the nation’s sudden work from home mandate, over 20 weeks ago, virtually overnight, the balance and the distinction between work life and personal life became skewed. The physical spaces of home and work merged leaving it difficult to separate the two mentally. The lack of commute left no time to mentally separate the two.

Even though they work away from home, essential workers, students/teachers, retail and customer services workers are feeling the pressure to stay safe and stay well with added expectations and preventions. At home, caretakers may feel the added pressures of social distancing which cause added limitations to force them to remain at home.

Work can be any responsibility involving taking care to meet the expectations of others whether paid or not. This could be doing laundry, caring for a parent, writing a college paper, or working on a spreadsheet or PowerPoint presentation for your boss.

Here are a few practical steps you can do to help end the struggle of an unbalanced personal/work life.

Set manageable goals each day. Being able to meet priorities helps us feel a sense of control. But don’t overextend yourself. Ask for help when necessary.

Be efficient with your time. Procrastination often allows the task to grow in our minds until it seems insurmountable. When you face a big project at work or home, start by dividing it into smaller tasks. Complete the first one before moving on to the next.

Ask for flexibility. Flextime and telecommuting are quickly becoming established as necessities in today’s business world, and many companies are drafting work/life policies. Seek family and friends’ help to relieve the pressures of caretaking, whether young children or aging adults.

Take five. Taking a break isn’t only acceptable; it’s often encouraged. Small breaks at work—or on any project—will help clear your head and improve your ability to deal with stress and make good decisions when you jump back into the grind.

Tune in. Listen to your favorite music to foster concentration, reduce stress and anxiety, and stimulate creativity.

Communicate effectively. Be honest when you feel you’re in a bind. Get help if you need it. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness—taking care of yourself is a sign of strength.

Give yourself a break. No one’s perfect! Allow yourself to be human and just do the best you can.

Unplug. The same technology that makes it so easy for office workers to do their jobs flexibly can also burn them out if used 24/7.

Divide and conquer. Make sure responsibilities at home are evenly distributed and clearly outlined—you’ll avoid confusion and problems later.

Don’t over commit. If you’re overscheduled with activities, learn to say,” no.” Shed the superman/superwoman urge!

Face the Struggle with Self-Care and Whole Wellness

When we don’t have whole wellness through self-care, each struggle becomes a greater challenge. Self-care is not selfish. It is not expensive. Self-care can reduce stress and support coping skills. It doesn’t need to be time consuming. Done daily, it maintains wellness in our body, emotions, mind, and spirit.

Put your mind and body to action. Enjoy walking, dancing, or paddle boarding. Or try something new. Stretch your imagination, be creative!

Experience your emotions. Find joy, laugh more, or have a good cry. Take the time to understand your stressors and limitations. Set boundaries. Seek support of a wise friend or see a therapist.

De-clutter your mind and space. Try meditation, breathing exercises or yoga videos on the Internet. Take a few minutes each day to straighten and separate your home space from your workspace, and the shared space from your private space.

Connect. People need relationships. Whether to nature, a higher power, or with one another, take the time to connect virtually or in-person with social distancing. Ask for support. Enjoy the company. Throw or attend Zoom parties, happy hours, or book clubs.

Make a non-negotiable appointment with yourself. It can be five (5) minutes of deep breathing, a 15-minute walk, or an hour to watch a comedy show. Whole wellness can help prevent physical and mental illness. If you are facing any health/mental health, personal, financial or safety challenges, we encourage you to seek out help. Here are some resources to help you get organized and stay well:

Self-Care Assessment–https://www.therapistaid.com/worksheets/self-care-assessment.pdf

Developing Your Self-Care Plan–http://socialwork.buffalo.edu/resources/self-care-starter-kit/developing-your-self-care-plan.html

Discuss with friends and family the information you learned by reading this. Learn to care for yourself and teach others. The Struggle is best conquered with others.

The Office of Suicide Prevention continues to support the community through the pandemic. Suicide Prevention Trainings are being held virtually. Register with the NV Coalition for Suicide Prevention here: https://nvsuicideprevention.org/. The Zero Suicide Initiative continues to progress with 11 hospitals and healthcare programs working to establish suicide prevention policies and procedures in their facilities. More support resources can be found here: http://suicideprevention.nv.gov/Resources/EmpoweredEducatedTXT/.

Misty Vaughan Allen is suicide prevention coordinator with the Nevada Division of Public & Behavioral Health.