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Your Healthy Family: Getting help with the stress of uncertainty during a pandemic

Posted at 2:03 PM, Jul 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-23 16:03:23-04

In our last story Dr. John Fleming, MD, is a Board Certified Psychiatrist and a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association with Southern Colorado TMS Center in Colorado Springs talked about the impact of uncertainty we are all facing in regards to the pandemic right now. But how do you know if the struggles are taking an emotional toll on you and what can you do to feel better, with no end to the uncertainty insight?

If we are lucky in life, we have someone close to us who cares enough to help us be aware of how our emotions, actions, and behaviors are affecting ourselves and others, but that’s not always the case.

Dr. Fleming says, “Emotionally most of us are not wired that way, to automatically be able to access our feelings.”

If that’s not the case there are warning signs we can look for that indicate there may be a mental health issue that needs to be addressed. Dr. Fleming says ask yourself these questions, “Am I sleeping all right? Am I kind of cranky? Am I doing something that is assigned to me, like overeating or under-eating or turning too much to alcohol or pot, or avoiding people or desperately interacting with people?”

If the answer is yes to those negative behaviors, it’s important to find positive coping skills to deal with the ongoing societal uncertainty. “If we can realize that we're facing an extended period of uncertainty we can realize we need to do stress management. We need to take care of ourselves each day. The way you do that - is to the extent that you can - get regular sleep, eat quality food, get regular exercise, and every day try to take some time - even if it’s just 10 or 15 minutes where you're not involved in the same old thing.”

Finding the right activity for you depends on you. Dr. Fleming says not doing the same old thing will be different for different people. “Maybe it's reading a book, maybe it's watching a video, maybe it's going for a walk and just enjoying the weather. Perhaps it's a chat with an old friend where you don't talk about current things, but you recall wonderful times together in the past. Find your bliss, and engage in it actively.”

Since most of us are not in a position to come up with a vaccine for COVID-19 and fix society’s problems, the only thing we do have control over is ourselves. Dr. Fleming explains, “I can embrace how I really feel, I can manage my stress - those are things I can do. You may be trying and a lot of people are trying, but then they have anxiety or depression that expands. This is a good time if you already suffer from things such as anxiety, panic, depressive feelings, suicidal thoughts, to reach out and get help. Most clinicians in El Paso county are doing Zoom sessions, and some are even holding in-person sessions in rooms where people can be far enough apart.”

If you have been battling anxiety and depression, and the pandemic has pushed it to new levels and the medications or therapy you have been trying are not working, it may be time to try something new, says Dr. Fleming. “Here at our center (Southern Colorado TMS Center), we have unusual treatments. I called them unusual only because most people don't use them or have not heard of them, but they're medically certain. Such as the use of TMS (Transcranial magnetic stimulation) or Ketamine for people that the usual medications aren't working for. All these things are open and available. Demand for services is increasing because you don't do human beings any favors when you make life uncertain, and that's what's happened to us.”

Finally, Dr. Fleming says many times a conversation with ourselves simply isn’t enough, and fears or concerns about seeing a “shrink” shouldn’t stop you from giving it a try. “I've been doing this for about 43 years now, and I joke that I'm not a shrink - I'm an expander. Hopefully, the service that I provide to people is to listen to them. I don't have a stake in their life per se. If I try to talk to my wife about how angry I am, and she's having to live with me, who knows how that conversation will go? If I go to a third party such as a therapist, they will be concerned for you and your feelings. So if you're having a rough day they can relate to you without their feathers getting ruffled. That's the advantage I think of a professional conversation.”

If they thought of getting counseling or professional help has ever crossed your mind, now is a good time to take that step.

Southern Colorado TMS Center is a proud sponsor of Your Healthy Family