The trendy phrase “self-care” has evolved in recent months from bubble baths and yoga meditations to basic strategies in remaining positive and managing stress to help navigate the burdens of the current coronavirus pandemic worldwide. Dr. Mark Goulston is an expert in this field. He is a well-known psychiatrist, executive counselor, and sought after speaker with over 25 years of experience.
Mark wrote the book Just Listen, and it’s about improving listening skills to improve in being heard and understood in negotiations, work, and everyday life but his specialty in helping individuals deal with life traumas. He has helped patients with depression, grief, and suicide prevention. His skill is in even more demand today as people struggle to find their footing in these unprecedented times of a health crisis, mass unemployment, and overall uncertainty of the future.
Dr. Goulston joins us this week on What We Don't Know; Mental Health During COVID to layout easy tools to strengthen our mental health and assist those closest to us.
Americans all over are suffering from the effects of being directly impacted by a loved one becoming sick or even getting sick themselves. In the worst cases, people know someone who passed away from the virus. Still, the distress the pandemic causes also pertains to those of managing existence during this time overall. The American Psychiatric Association reported that 36% of Americans feel that the coronavirus has affected their mental health, while 59% say it's seriously impacted their daily life.
In the beginning, news outlets and the CDC were making it very clear what precautions to take and what the immediate symptoms of COVID-19 were. Hand washing videos were on all platforms, and everyone went through a self-check list of potential symptoms, but as months went on in quarantine, people's mental state suffered. Unemployment rates skyrocketed, parents struggled with assisting in-home learning, many social connections were cut off, and citizens' emotional health was becoming a concern.
What The Experts Say
According to The New England Journal Of Medicine, and the CDC list of common stress triggers during a pandemic, these are some of the many components triggering mental health issues during an epidemic:
The 3 Main Outcomes Of Mental Despair During COVID
Fear of the disease: The fear of not knowing struck everyone, especially in the early stages as scientists and doctors were still learning about the virus. We feared other people, excessively wiped down groceries, and worried about every sniffle and sneeze.
Those at high risk for catching the virus also tend to be high risk for adverse psychological effects due to the increased stress and fear, such as with healthcare workers, essential workers, the elderly, those with pre-existing conditions, and those who suffer from substance abuse.
According to The Medical Press, identifying high-risk populations is a form of "othering" that stigmatizes people. It also gives a false sense of security to the remaining community that they couldn't be affected because they aren't "them." As months go on, we see more viral videos of people yelling at those not wearing masks or people proclaiming that face covers don't work. It's all a symptom of the fear, either way, leading to anger and distress.
The loneliness of quarantine: There was a quarantine study in 2004 that showed 28.9% of the participants had PTSD, and 31.2% displayed signs of depression. Along with many other studies, and what we learned last month in our look at solitary confinement, it's no surprise that long-term isolation affects one's mental health. Stay-at-home orders for some aren't too extreme with the comforts of Zoom calls and Amazon deliveries. Still, the lack of everyday social life affects us, especially the elderly, who tend not to be media savvy enough to use social media for connection freely.
Financial anxiety and loss of work: Losing work creates the apparent anxiety of not paying bills or supporting yourself or your family. America's unemployment is at an all-time high with millions struggling to make ends meet. The Mayo Clinic identifies lesser known causes of depression due to joblessness such as a loss in the sense of purpose and identity, jealousy of those who can maintain work, and a general feeling of being lost.
Watch this short video, Dealing With Anxiety and Mental Health During a Pandemic by Babylon Health
How Is This Affecting Our Mind and Body?
Dr. Goulston refers to the feeling caused by these components that can lead to suicide as being "unpaired' with a reason to live. It's a general feeling of hopelessness, powerlessness, and helplessness that some may experience.
Goulston explains how it leads to suicide by stating, "They're pairing with a way to relieve that pain. When we're under great stress, there's a chemical in our body called cortisol, and a lot of people know cortisol is a stress hormone, it signals our body ‘Get ready!’ because the crap's gonna hit the fan." Goulston believes that we need to find ways to increase oxytocin, which counteracts cortisol's effects.
Cortisol: The hormone that triggers the survival part of our brain; flight or fight mode. Too Much cortisol leads to various health issues like high blood pressure, weight gain, and diabetes.
Oxytocin: Also known as the "love hormone”, it’s commonly released in the body during mother-child bonding and romantic connections. You even get oxytocin releases just by being near someone you care about.
To reach this goal, Goulston helps people practice what he calls "Interventional Empathy." It's a feeling of being seen or understood by way of identifying feelings of helplessness and isolation one feels when they “unpair”. He offers nine words that help identify feelings:
Oxytocin levels increase by acknowledging one's word through either saying it out loud or writing it down. Identity leads to empathy, and people can have a better understanding of what they are going through and what others are experiencing. More people are struggling during this time than not, and the mass relatability people feel can be healing.
What Can We Do?
Dr. Gouldston translates the five steps he learned from Russell Bishop's book, Workarounds That Work. The book is about working around life and work obstacles, and Goulston translates it to overcome mental distress during the pandemic.
Click this link to see how Goulston also applies these five steps to businesses struggling with layoffs and furloughs.
Dr. Goulston describes what has worked for his patients and himself in the past. Assisting others through difficult times, such as helping the homeless or volunteering, is therapeutic. It can also be as simple as listening to others. Reaching out to groups online and finding others to relate to, whether dealing with work furloughs or deaths, increases our oxytocin levels. To stop and listen to what others are experiencing around, you’re taken out of your own misery and put into a more productive, proactive state.
Dr. Goulston suggests, "Just pause and be curious; what's it like for the other person right now?.. You can't be curious about another person's state of mind or feelings and be venting at them at the same time."
It may seem difficult to comprehend helping others while struggling to survive, but it works in everyone's favor. It gives us a feeling of not only humanity and control, but it also provides the comforts of the company; we are all in the same boat. Dr. Goulston believes that people must resist the urge to withdraw from people and situations as it only breeds false imagination and worsen our scenarios.
Don't Forget Your Friends
An easy way to add reaching out to others to your life is by keeping a calendar for social circles, as Dr. Goulston recommends. It's a scheduled check-in that goes beyond the occasional, “What's up?” or "How ya doing?” He suggests the specific phrase, “Just checking in to see if you're ok.”
Scheduling an hour comes from the fact that most people are bound to tasks on their calendar. Rather than leave communication up to circumstance, you are accountable for an hour of check-in. Your list can be just a few people in your circle that you feel are vulnerable for depression; maybe they lost their job, live alone, or lost a loved one. You can check in to let them know you just wanted to make sure they are doing alright during the evolving news and changes.
The biggest takeaway we can have during this time is that we are not alone. You would be hard-pressed to find someone not impacted in some way by the pandemic, so relating to others for our health and the health of our loved ones is crucial.
The world is starting to discover that connecting with each other really matters, maybe civilization saving.”
For more information about Dr. Mark Gouston visit https://markgoulston.com/.
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