Local View Column: It's OK to feel not OK while maintaining mental health

Michalene Stevermer.jpg
Dr. Michalene Stevermer

Most Americans are currently worried about their health during the coronavirus pandemic. However, of similar importance is our mental health. Many are faced right now with layoffs, changes in job duties, and other uncertainties outside of whether we may get sick. In order to bolster resilience it is important to focus on preventative care for mental health.

Here are some tips.

Focus on things you can control. One of the most concerning things that residents are facing is the uncertainty of life right now. Routines are comforting for people, and many are out of their normal routines. During times like this, one of the best ways to deal with the anxiety that many are facing is to focus on things that can be controlled. You can’t control how others respond to what is going on around them or whether Amazon delivery will be as reliable or how much toilet paper the store has in stock. You can control things like getting out of bed each day at the same time, setting a routine that you stick to, or doing some form of activity each day.

Also, maintain a healthy diet, sleep, and exercise. Have you let these fall by the wayside? When stressed, I find myself wanting to grab some — or half a box of — Girl Scout cookies. But focusing on making sure we are eating right is an important part of taking care of ourselves. I cannot stress enough the importance of a good night’s sleep. Make sure you continue to try to go to sleep at the same time and get up at around the same time each day to maintain your sleep pattern and schedule. Exercise is another important component. I’m not suggesting everyone needs to go out and become a marathon runner or bodybuilder during the stay-at-home order. However, some movement each day — whether it is a walk outside, yoga, or any other activity where you are moving your body — is important to increase natural endorphins (feel-good chemicals).

Try to connect with others, too. This time is going to be isolating for people as we can’t interact face to face like normal. Go ahead and call people who you haven’t reached out to recently. Facetime, email, send a snail-mail letter (yes, those still exist!), or even have a loud conversation across the street with a neighbor. You may see some videos of people in Europe out on their balconies playing music together. Any form of connection is healthy; and in these times, we may have to get creative to make sure our interactions are safe.


Additionally, limit your exposure to social media and news to only what’s necessary information. Some people aren’t bothered by this, but some are. If listening to the news causes increased anxiety, turn off the TV. Find a trusted source of news, and only visit that site or watch that program one or two times a day. Social media can be a great way to connect but may have misinformation that can lead to unnecessary anxiety. If you feel worse after being on social media, then step away from it.

My last suggestion is that you can and should reach out for help if you need it. If you are feeling like you can’t keep yourself safe, call your health care provider or go to the nearest ER. At St. Luke’s, many providers have switched over to telehealth, including our mental health clinic, which can be reached at 218-249-7000.

It is OK during this time to not feel OK, but we are going to get through this together as a community.

Dr. Michalene Stevermer is a psychiatrist at St. Luke’s Hospital in Duluth. She wrote this for the News Tribune.

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