James Carson

James Carson is the psychology program coordinator at Lees-McRae College. Carson holds a PhD from the University of Illinois.

BANNER ELK — The effects of COVID-19 has reached every person in one way or another, yet one of the more silent ways the virus has made itself present is in the way it has affected people’s mental health.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the outbreak of the coronavirus may be more stressful for various groups, including the elderly, children and teens. While there are approximately 4,816 confirmed cases of the virus as of Tuesday, April 14, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, many more people have been affected by the virus indirectly.

These people include the family members of those infected, professionals working in the health care sector and at-risk individuals who may have underlying mental-health conditions, such as chronic depression or substance abuse. There is also the stress that comes from the new social distancing requirements and the subsequent isolation. Whatever the case may be, there are ways of minimizing the virus’s effect on one’s conscience.

Marla Gentile is the director of counseling services at Lees-McRae College. Because classes have been moved to an online format, Gentile and the staff at the counseling center have been seeing their clients, or students, remotely.

“This is definitely a period of grief for people because there is a sense of loss,” Gentile said. “There is a loss of work, a loss of friends and family and a loss of structure. I want people to know that those feelings are normal.”

Gentile recommends to students, as well as her personnel clients, that one of the best practices to implement during this time of upheaval is to find a new sense of structure in day-to-day life.

“One of the most important things you can do right now is try to create structure in your life. Try to wake up at the same time every day. If you’re working at home, create the same kind of structure you would have if you were at work, same thing with school. At the same time, reduce your expectations of yourself too, because this is such an unusual time,” Gentile said.

There are also practices related to self care that are not only beneficial for maintaining a healthy mindset but also for maintaining a healthy immune system, including exercise and eating a healthy diet complete with fruits and vegetables.

Gentile says that the current downswing in activity is also good for taking up a new interest or hobby while distracting themselves from their own anxiety.

“I think that people at some point are going to have to come to some acceptance that this is what it is right now, recognize that they don’t have control over it and recognize what they do have control over,” Gentile said.

Despite their being a limit on personal interactions, people who feel isolated can take this time to reach out to friends and family members or check in with the people they work with through Zoom or Skype.

Additionally, Gentile recommends reducing stress through mindfulness, meditation and prayer.

“One exercise I really believe is a huge destresser physiologically, mentally and psychologically is meditation. Practice deep breathing exercises. If you’re working from home, it’s important to get up and walk around at least once an hour. Take a walk outside, and really be aware of what’s going on around you. Try to practice gratitude. Wake up in the morning and find three things you can be grateful for,” Gentile said.

Lees-McRae Psychology Program Coordinator James Carson offered similar advice, as well as a bit of positivity on how people are typically inclined to overcome challenges.

“The things that we take on and overcome make us more resilient in the future and give us more skill sets,” Carson said. “In a time like this, there really are reasons to be hopeful for the future. It’s going to change the country and the world in potentially more positive ways. We’re going to be potentially more caring. Maybe we’ll pay more attention to health care. Huge economic changes may come about. If you look at the history of plagues and things like that in the past, often times really good economic and social times come after periods [such as these]. It’s tough now, but the future might be bright,” Carson said.

Additionally, Carson gave a psychologist’s perspective on what contributes to behavior such as people hoarding toilet paper from stores.

“[People think] ‘What is something I can do that can potentially help me feel safer in the world?’ People tend to stock up on groceries and things like that. Specifically, with toilet paper, toilet paper is really large. There is an x-amount of shelf space for toilet paper. When a couple of people go to the store and grab the toilet paper off the rack, you start to think ‘Oh my gosh, the toilet paper is starting to disappear.’ Meanwhile, you walk past the anchovies, and you don’t even notice that those are being bought. There’s lots of things that feed into it,” Carson said.

For those in need of mental health resources, NAMI High Country can be reached at (828) 406-7669, and Daymark Recovery Services can be reached at (828) 733-5889. Both services are doing remote therapy at this time. Individuals with health insurance can check with their provider to see what services are best for them.

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