The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a heavy toll on American’s’ mental health.
According to a recent Boston University study, the prevalence of depressive symptoms in adults in the US increased more than three-fold in the spring during the COVID-19 pandemic as compared with before the pandemic. The study found 27.8 percent of US adults had symptoms of depression, as measured by the Patient Health Questionnaire-9, compared to 8.5 percent before the outbreak.
As we reported on this blog, the number of Americans reporting symptoms of anxiety has almost tripled since the start of the pandemic, and “while the pandemic itself does not formally meet the criteria for causing PTSD, many of the same issues can result from this widespread and overwhelming event,” wrote Varun Choudhary on Addiction Professional in October 2020. “Additionally, certain crises during the pandemic can trigger anxiety and fear, such as the loss of a family member or sudden loss of employment or income.” Some researchers have begun to call this specific form of anxiety “coronaphobia.”
“We’re living in a time when every little cough, sniffle, olfactory, or circulatory problem can elicit a knee-jerk bout of worry: Is this the beginning of COVID-19? For some people, however, it’s more than a fleeting concern: Experts say and research shows that the pandemic has triggered a surge in health anxiety. In fact, health anxiety related to the coronavirus has been given its own name: coronaphobia,” reported Stacey Colino in The Washington Post.
“Though fear is a common psychological outcome during pandemics, the COVID-19 pandemic is a continuously evolving disease and has unique risk factors. Therefore, fear related to COVID-19 might manifest not only in fear and anxiety related to disease contraction and dying, but also associated socio-occupational stress,” wrote Arora et al. in “Understanding coronaphobia.”
“From review of relevant research, the factors identified are, an unforeseen reality, unending uncertainties, need of acquiring new practices and avoidance behavior, loss of faith in health infrastructure, contraction of COVID-19 by heads of state, cautionary statements from international bodies, and infodemia [excessive flow of information]. These factors are assumed to cause interference with routine life, catastrophizing interpretation of benign symptoms, and social amplification of risk which lead to coronaphobia.”
Never-ending uncertainties and relentless fears may induce unresolvable, permanent stress, one of the main drivers of mental health and substance use disorders. Substance misuse is common among individuals who have experienced trauma and anxiety. Frequently, drug and alcohol misuse occurs as a result of self-medicating symptoms associated with PTSD, including depression, anxiety, and panic.
In her Washington Post article, Colino offers strategies on how to “get a grip on health anxiety on your own or with professional help.” Interestingly, they are also widely utilized in addiction treatment.
- Stick with a healthy lifestyle: Consume a healthy diet, get enough sleep, stay connected to others (even if it’s from afar) and exercise regularly.
- Practice mindful acceptance: When you feel worry flaring up, sit with your health anxiety, accept that it’s there so you can proceed with your life.
- Calm your nervous system (Recovery Ways has helped many patients utilizing sensory self-regulation).
- Refrain from excessive checking behaviors: Repeatedly monitoring your temperature or sense of smell for COVID-19 perpetuates anxiety.
- Change your thinking: Focusing on negative symptoms or jumping to catastrophic conclusions can increase health anxiety.
Changing a patient’s thinking, (i.e. reframing anxious thoughts) is one of the main goals of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a form of therapy widely used in the treatment of mental health and addictions.
Mental health concerns and substance use disorders are complex and no two patients are alike. Recovery Ways uses a deeply holistic approach that thoroughly assesses patients and tailors highly-individualized treatment plans to address each of our patient’s full range of needs.
To meet the rising need for mental health services in Utah, Recovery Ways recently created a specialized mental health program for those struggling with depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other mood disorders. Recovery Ways’ Mental Health Primary program offers profound and comprehensive long-term support. A substance use disorder (SUD) is not required for admission to this program.
If you, a family member, or a friend are struggling with addiction and/or mental health, Recovery Ways wants to help. We are dually licensed to treat mental health disorders and addiction. Our admissions coordinators can recommend a plan of action, suggest an interventionist, or speak with your loved one. For more information, please call us at (888) 988-5217.