Cottage Hospital psychiatry director gives tips on managing pandemic-induced anxiety
In an interview with radio station 99.9 KTYD last April, Cottage Hospital’s Medical Director of Psychiatry & Addiction Services Dr. Paul Erickson gave tips for coping with increased stress and anxiety caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, seven months later, pandemic-induced anxiety has had a cumulative impact on those who suffer from it, but the psychiatrist said his tips from the early days of the health crisis are still what he recommends to battle COVID-related stress.
Speaking to the News-Press, Dr. Erickson recommended having a “planful approach” to each day, similar to his earlier suggestion that people stick to a daily schedule. This he said is especially important because the normal structure provided by a workplace schedule and the ability for people to have their regular social get-togethers, have been disrupted.
He added that one’s new schedule doesn’t need to be filled with anything too major.
“Even things as simple as planning to take a walk with a friend on a regular basis, or to say, take an online class and learn something new, to plan to have virtual get-togethers with friends and family. I think that helps people a lot, that when they get up they know several activities they’re going to be doing,” he said.
Social connection is especially important as this pandemic drags on, particularly for people who have recovered from substance abuse. While virtual meetups are welcome, Dr. Erickson said having person-to-person connections in small gatherings is critical for these individuals.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Erickson has seen people arrive at Cottage Hospital because they are no longer able to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Doing Zoom AA meetings just isn’t enough for some recovered alcoholics.
Sadly, the psychiatrist has also seen cases of relapse since the start of COVID-19 in March. He recalled one Cottage patient who came into the hospital after relapsing, which came about after she lost her job, ended up spending an unhealthy amount of time at home, and lacked the necessary support structure to stay sober.
Increased social interaction alone can ease pandemic-induced anxiety in some people, but Dr. Erickson said medication and therapy is more helpful to individuals with moderate to severe mental illness. People who are helped by medication are at risk if they stop taking their medication, which is a scenario that has become far more likely due to the pandemic.
“It’s harder to stay connected with your doctor or make sure you get your refills on time at a time like this,” Dr. Erickson stated.
Regardless of one’s mental health status, looking after one’s physical health should be a priority since it can very easily slip by the wayside.
“It’s easy not to be as physically active and it takes some attention and planning to make sure you get a walk each day or get aerobic exercise and find ways to look after your physical health,” Dr. Erickson said.
Physical activity is one of four “pillars” for good health that Dr. Erickson enumerated. The other three were eating well, social connection, and good sleep. When treating mild or moderate anxiety symptoms, Dr. Erickson tries to bolster these areas of a patient’s life, starting with sleep.
“If somebody starts to sleep better, their anxiety and their depression starts to improve,” he said.
Lastly, Dr. Erickson recommended that people who need help managing COVID-induced anxiety reach out and request help for whatever their needs are, be it an AA meeting, a sponsor, a domestic violence solution, or a doctor or clinician.