Staying Afloat: Maintaining Our Emotional Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Graphics by Nermina Ferkić

By Caleb Sprous

On March 13, President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency—the COVID-19 pandemic had finally come to our shores and life as we knew it was about to change. U.S. healthcare workers mobilized to combat the novel coronavirus as schools and small businesses closed their doors, not knowing when or if they would ever open again. The following days of social distancing bombarded our nation with an overwhelming sense of uncertainty, and thus, anxiety. In the face of troubling times, our mental and emotional wellbeing became the most immediate priority.

“What we are going through is literally unprecedented. It has affected and will continue to affect nearly everyone in profound ways,” said Eric Goedereis, an associate professor of psychology at Webster University.

When I asked Patrick Stack, director of Counseling and Life Development at Webster University about maintaining my emotional health while social distancing, he suggested practicing a wellness lifestyle.

“Stress and anxiety is never to be eliminated, but we learn how to manage it,” Stack said. “Put time into thinking positively.”

Stack referred to a specific wellness model developed by the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point, which consists of seven dimensions: spiritual, physical, emotional, career, intellectual, environmental and social. Adherence to the wellness model by putting personal effort into the seven dimensions is something that can be done during the pandemic, Stack noted, adding that while gyms may be closed, you can still ensure your physical and environmental wellbeing while social distancing by taking walks, for example.

Stack broke down his daily routine during the pandemic, which consisted of reading, intellectual and career development, walks with his dog and daily sit ups, and phone calls with friends and relatives.

“One thing that I emphasize, the medicine I give people I take myself is to try to live a wellness life,” he said. “(Hitting all facets of the Stevens Point wellness model) gives one a fighting chance.Being optimistic is a choice.”

Still, I worried. What if it gets to be too much? Will I have a lifeline, even during the pandemic? Luckily, many mental health professionals are working remotely around the clock to give patients constant access.

“Many of us have made the switch to telehealth,” said Mollie-Beth Brewer, a clinical mental health counselor at Great Oak Counseling in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. “This consists of Skype or Zoom-type sessions, or phone sessions. Some are still (providing support) face to face, but the vast majority are not, from what it sounds like to me.”

Stack, Goedereis, and Brewer all stressed the importance of reaching out to loved ones who may be struggling during this hard time.

“Connect with people you care about. Do those things, but of course, do them safely and in line with public health guidelines,” Goedereis said. “While we want to maintain appropriate physical distance, we don’t want people to isolate themselves emotionally.”

Stack reminds us to be consciously aware of those who are having emotional difficulties to be supportive of each other.

“As we face our own unique struggles during the pandemic, it is important to remember our neighbors, friends, and family may need a helping hand, as well,” he said.

Stack currently oversees nine therapists and licensed social workers at Webster’s Counseling and Life Development. Since the pandemic restrictions in the area began, the staff has received a number of new service requests from students and faculty via telehealth.

Webster students in need of assistance can reach the department’s emergency counselors at (314) 968-6911.

The U.S. National Suicide Prevention Hotline can be reached at (800) 273-8255.

“People should be extra understanding and compassionate to themselves and to others,” Goedereis said.

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Caleb Sprous
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