An Anxious Moment

Facing the Mental Health Consequences of COVID-19

This is an anxious moment. And this moment is dragging on with seemingly no end in sight. Seeing an angle to advance their agenda, some politicians like to talk about the mental health effects of dealing with COVID-19 as being worse than the virus. But we would prefer to stick with facts. So we pay attention to the fact that many of us have cause to worry. Age, obesity, and chronic health conditions put us at risk for bad outcomes if we become infected. Thus it is unsurprising to learn from new research that anxiety is a key consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A Global Snapshot

Commonwealth Fund: More Americans Reporting Mental Health ConcernsThe Commonwealth Fund tells us that more Americans are feeling the mental health impact of COVID-19. The Fund surveyed 8,295 from the U.S. and nine other high-income countries. Roughly a third of Americans are having difficulty coping with stress or sadness since the pandemic began. Yes, by this measure, America is #1. So if you’re having such feelings, know that you are not alone.

Hannah Rettie and Jo Daniels report in a new study that health anxiety is a particular problem. Their study, published in American Psychologist, provides data from 842 adults in the U.K. They found that a person’s tolerance for uncertainty might be a significant factor for mental health in our present situation. They also found coping responses that predicted more or less anxiety and mental distress.

Coping Strategies

Rettie and Daniels suggest a fork in the road for coping with the uncertainty COVID-19 presents us. Maladaptive coping will take a person to more anxiety and distress. This includes self-blame, denial, substance use, venting, disengagement, and self-distraction. But the other fork in the road takes us to more helpful behaviors: planning, seeking support, acceptance, humor, and religion.

Certainly the dichotomy between denial and acceptance resonates here in the U.S. Entertaining a fantasy that the virus will “just go away” doesn’t help.

On a better track of active coping strategies, we certainly endorse healthy physical activity. Research tells us it might play a role in preventing anxiety. And it certainly helps with physical health. Even better, you can choose between many options for keeping active. One size for all is unnecessary.

The bottom line here is pretty simple. The COVID-19 pandemic is surely having an effect on our mental health. To deal with it, we need to engage in honest coping strategies and stay away from maladaptive approaches like denial, disengagement, and self-blame. We can do this.

Click here for the study from the Commonwealth Fund and here for the study from Rettie and Daniels. For helpful perspective on positive coping strategies, click here, here, here, and here.

An Anxious Moment, painting by Briton Riviere / WikiArt

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August 9, 2020

One Response to “Facing the Mental Health Consequences of COVID-19”

  1. August 10, 2020 at 3:10 am, Mary-Jo said:

    I am in The NL. The difference is striking between how our PM and Health Minister present info to the public and how their counterparts in the USA do it. I feel much more inspired and capable of doing what needs to be done and it decreases anxiety. My children live in the US. When I watch news and see/hear ‘recommendations’ and ‘actions’ there, I immediately feel my heart racing and my anxiety skyrockets. The skills, expertise, experience, and character of leaders cannot be underestimated as pandemic responses of all sort are analyzed.