Common mental health symptoms, what they mean and what you can do to start healing.
Our world has recently experienced a lot of change, and change is hard for everyone. Trying to adjust, while also experiencing fear for your health, the health of your friends and loved ones and the future of our country as a whole, can feel overwhelming in itself. However, the limited social interaction and connection might be one of the hardest parts of it all. Humans are social beings, and while we don’t have any prior data on this exact situation, what we are seeing is reinforcing the data we do have; humans thrive on being able to connect with others, and without that connection, our mental health suffers.
Research indicates that many people are experiencing depression, some for the first time. With depression, you may notice a lack of motivation for work, school, hobbies or other activities, or feel tired, foggy or simply sluggish. You may find that you’re no longer as interested in things that used to bring you joy. Feelings of loneliness or helplessness are also common. We may even begin to feel hopeless, which is one of the hardest parts of depression. (Spoiler alert: As much as it may seem so at times, it’s not hopeless at all!)
The good news? Whether you’re experiencing one or all of these symptoms, whether mild, moderate or severe, depression can be treated, and there are many paths to feeling whole and happy again. The first step is reaching out, either to a friend, a loved one or a mental health professional. Let them know how you’re feeling, and talk through what you might need; social support, some time off or additional guidance, like through talk therapy.
Many people are also experiencing increased or exacerbated anxiety-related issues. Some may notice that a condition they’ve dealt with previously, such as generalized anxiety, social anxiety or obsessive compulsive disorder, is worsening, making it harder to breathe through it, overcome it or function in your daily life. Meanwhile, others may be experiencing these issues without precedence.
With anxiety, you may notice things like excessive and persistent worry—which can often seem irrational or out-of-proportion, a feeling that something bad might happen—that there is some sort of impending doom, changes in your sleep habits—whether that means sleeping more or sleeping less, feeling on edge and high-strung, feeling tense and experiencing actual muscle tension—sore shoulders, a stiff neck, etc. When our body begins to react to high levels of stress and/or fear, we may notice other physical symptoms, too. Physiological responses like a racing heart, rapid breathing, sweating and feeling like you’re going to pass out are common.
Much like depression, anxiety disorders can be treated, but if we isolate ourselves, we will only feed and maintain our anxiety. Avoidance is a common coping mechanism with anxiety, but it isn’t healthy. Within the boundaries that you are comfortable with, going to work, being with friends and going out in public can be a great way to overcome your fears and worries. If you need help getting there, try reaching out to a mental health professional who can offer support and guidance. You don’t have to feel this way forever.
"Luckily, as humans we are resilient and capable of moving forward after grief and trauma."
GRIEF & TRAUMA
Many individuals are also experiencing grief and trauma. We may be grieving the loss of a loved one, the loss of a career and the purpose and identity it provided, the loss of a landmark like graduation, or simply the loss of what we knew as normal, and what we could count on tomorrow to look like. Many of the same instances that can cause grief can also leave us dealing with trauma—the death of someone close to us, the sudden fear of going out in public and interacting with others, etc. Meanwhile, those who were already struggling with trauma are susceptible to symptoms increasing in times of high stress.
Signs of grief and trauma often overlap. With grief you may feel numb or detached, a preoccupation with loss, avoidance or repression, sadness and hopelessness, among others. With trauma, you may feel indicators of grief, as well as intrusive memories, nightmares or flashbacks, avoidance of people, places or things, hyper-arousal, difficulty sleeping, hypervigilance and more.
Luckily, as humans we are resilient and capable of moving forward after grief and trauma. As with many mental health issues, social connection and support play a big part in healing. Setting meaningful goals for yourself can be helpful. A few examples would be reaching out to friends, easing into work or a hobby, getting active and spending time outdoors. If you find it difficult to move forward on your own, you may benefit from reaching out to a mental health professional who specializes in grief and trauma.
ALCOHOL & SUBSTANCE USE
Research also shows a recent increase in alcohol and substance use. It’s often said that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it’s connection, and there is a great body of research to back that up. Stress, but primarily isolation, can a) cause people to turn to drinking or substance use to cope, b) lead individuals who are already using drugs and alcohol to cross the threshold into a level that is no longer manageable on their own, and c) leave those in recovery from alcoholism or substance use disorders at a higher risk for relapse.
How do we know when we are drinking or using substances too much, or when we have crossed the line into addiction or alcoholism? The CAGE screening tool can be extremely helpful in determining whether you have a problem, though questioning if you have a problem in itself is often a good indicator that something is not quite right. Asking the opinion of someone close who doesn’t drink or use substances in the same way that you do is another helpful way to determine whether you may need to further assess your usage, and perhaps seek help.
If you decide that you need to cut back, this can sometimes be achieved by looking for healthy behaviors to replace the alcohol or substance use, such as exercise, meditation or a hobby. Finding moderation may be successful for some, while sobriety, i.e. abstinence, may be the answer for others. Either way, it’s important to note that you don’t have to do it on your own. A mental health professional who specializes in substance use can provide guidance and support, as well as help you to identify and work through any underlying issues as you work to find wellness and freedom again.
A final message that bears repeating—you don’t have to do this alone. While a support system of friends and loved ones is vital, shown to improve resilience in matters of mental health, a mental health professional can help you with the tools and inner healing needed to overcome any number of issues. Look for someone who specializes in what you are dealing with, and who you feel safe and supported by. You are worth the work, and there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
At Ethos Wellness, our team of specialized, master’s-level clinicians are here to offer support and healing at the outpatient level, while our sister-company, The Prairie Recovery Center, can provide a place for residential respite and healing from alcoholism, substance use and process addictions. Reach out to our client care team confidentially anytime by tapping here.