A Guide to Managing Mental Health & Sobriety During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Over the last few months, the world as we know it has changed.

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has become a global pandemic, and we’ve all been forced to face a new normal. This is uncharted territory for most people. In our lifetime, we’ve never experienced anything like this before. During these last few weeks, we’ve made significant sacrifices in hopes of slowing the spread of a highly contagious virus.

As of mid September, health organizations have recorded over 32.6 million cases of coronavirus worldwide. That number is expected to climb over the next several weeks and months. Even more alarming than the number of cases are the number of deaths. Over 990,000 people have succumbed to this illness, with over 207,000 deaths in the United States alone. China, Italy, and France have also suffered large numbers of casualties due to the coronavirus.

Coronavirus Cases and Deaths World Wide
In several hard-hit countries, early numbers show that new coronavirus cases and deaths may be on the decline, but the numbers are improving only after many weeks of strict isolation and social distancing measures. Due to the coronavirus being extremely contagious, the best way to prevent the virus from spreading is to steer clear of other people—or at least staying six feet away. Humans thrive on interaction and engagement with others. Not being able to have face-to-face contact with your loved ones, see your co-workers, or attend support groups is hard to cope with.

Avoiding contact with other people also has real consequences for our mental health. It doesn’t matter if you have a pre-existing condition or not. Being forced to stay home and avoid other people can quickly turn into depression if you don’t find ways to keep yourself occupied, and try to maintain a normal daily routine. Low levels of stress can escalate and become a serious anxiety disorder if you don’t prioritize your mental health during this period of quarantine.

For people who suffer from pre-existing mental health disorders, the coronavirus may be making their condition worse. Not only are people worried about getting sick, but there’s also anxiety around the uncertain future we’re facing. Once-harmless activities, like going to the grocery store or pharmacy, can trigger a full-on panic attack for some. For OCD sufferers, the threat of germs can make obsessions and compulsions much more severe.

The same goes for people who deal with substance abuse issues. Being in isolation for so long is a threat to their sobriety. If you’re stuck at home all day, it means you’re also alone with your thoughts. This might make someone more likely to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with their feelings. Not to mention, some people currently in treatment aren’t able to visit their therapist or attend group meetings that are essential tools for their recovery.

In addition to physical cravings, someone with an addiction issue will also spend a tremendous amount of time thinking about their drug of choice. These thoughts become a compulsion and impossible to control, which leads to drug-seeking behavior that can sometimes be criminal.

Feelings of depression, sadness, anxiety, despair, and the like are often at the root of substance abuse. The substance might temporarily mask these feelings, but they return once the high wears off, creating a vicious circle of drug abuse.

Taking a substance will temporarily stop the cravings and compulsion for it, but soon the same feelings return. In time, it takes more and more of the same substance to achieve the same effect it once had.

People addicted to drugs and alcohol may feel like they have no control over their drug use. Refraining from using or stopping seems to be an impossibility for them. The substance controls them, rather than the other way around.

Someone addicted to drugs or alcohol will continue to seek them out even if their addiction has made them lose friends, family, spouses, and jobs. Drug-seeking behavior can even lead to diseases such as hepatitis and HIV/AIDS.

Mental health disorders are extremely common in the United States as well as around the world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 450 million people suffer from mental conditions worldwide. About one in four people will be affected by a mental health or neurological disorder at some point during their lifetime. Specifically, people who suffer from anxiety, depression, OCD and trauma disorders may be the most affected by the isolation caused from social distancing to combat coronavirus.

Depression

Roughly 6.7% of American adults suffer from major depressive disorder in a given year. During the coronavirus outbreak, there are a number of ways that depression can become worse. For one, social isolation is keeping people indoors. They can’t enjoy their favorite activities or stick to their normal routines. Many people are out of work for the time being and are trying to make ends meet without a steady income.

School-aged kids and college students are learning virtually, so they’re not able to play on sports teams, go to prom, or even experience graduation. The social situations that make people happy and give them something to look forward to are suddenly gone.

Anxiety

Anxiety disorders, which are the most common mental health conditions in the United States, impact over 18% of the population. People dealing with anxiety during the coronavirus might find it harder to manage their symptoms and maintain a positive mindset. The media tends to rely on fear-provoking headlines to grab attention, which is making people more fearful that they’ll get coronavirus. And of course, many people have anxiety around the thought of their family or friends getting sick.

It’s important to stay informed and be diligent during this time, but it’s also easy to become consumed by fear and anxiety. There are so many unknowns right now, and that can easily lead to extreme stress or panic attacks in people who suffer from pre-existing anxiety disorders.

Trauma

Trauma disorders, like PTSD, affect roughly 3.5% of the population. This group of people is also heavily impacted by the coronavirus. Trauma disorders are caused by harmful experiences in the past, which can make people feel threatened in similar situations in the future. For example, if you know someone who got very sick or died of the coronavirus, you may be more likely to believe that you too will become sick. This type of situation can invoke a lot of anxiety to even leave your house for essentials like groceries.

Healthcare workers on the front lines of the coronavirus see extreme sickness and death every day. They are likely to be at a higher risk of trauma than others when this is over. For people who suffered from trauma-related disorders before the coronavirus, this situation could make their mental state worse. When left untreated, that trauma could lead to depression or anxiety.

OCD

OCD affects roughly 1% of American adults, but that translates to over 2 million people. OCD sufferers experience obsessions—which are triggered by anxieties—and compulsions, which are actions perform to cope with those anxieties. Many people who have OCD are triggered by germs, which is why the coronavirus can be a very difficult situation to deal with. To calm their fears around germs or potential sickness, some people will excessively wash their hands or constantly clean their homes.

It seems like the coronavirus is lurking everywhere, from the grocery store shelves to our front door knobs. While cleanliness is very important right now, people with OCD often can’t control their cleaning rituals, even if they try to stop.

Another related challenge that people are dealing with right now, is interpersonal issues. Most people are working from home, and kids are doing online school. This is a huge change from our everyday routines. With everyone being home at the same time, it can be hard to concentrate on work or even find a few quiet moments to yourself. At some point, your patience may start to wear thin, which can cause unnecessary arguments with your spouse, children, or parents.

Even when we’re not facing a global pandemic, people experience mental health disorders at very high rates, and when you throw isolation into the mix, people with those disorders often get much worse. When you’re feeling stressed or sad, sometimes a hug can make you feel better. When you’re feeling emotionally overwhelmed, visiting with your therapist can help clear your mind.

Right now, many of those things are off-limits. The lack of connection makes it harder to cope with difficult situations like the one we’re facing now. Even worse, is that we aren’t exactly sure when we’ll be able to do those things again. No one can put a specific timeline on the coronavirus, and naturally, that is adding to people’s anxiety. The projections range from several weeks, several months, more than a year, or at least until an effective vaccine or treatment is developed.

In addition to physical cravings, someone with an addiction issue will also spend a tremendous amount of time thinking about their drug of choice. These thoughts become a compulsion and impossible to control, which leads to drug-seeking behavior that can sometimes be criminal.

Feelings of depression, sadness, anxiety, despair, and the like are often at the root of substance abuse. The substance might temporarily mask these feelings, but they return once the high wears off, creating a vicious circle of drug abuse.

Taking a substance will temporarily stop the cravings and compulsion for it, but soon the same feelings return. In time, it takes more and more of the same substance to achieve the same effect it once had.

People addicted to drugs and alcohol may feel like they have no control over their drug use. Refraining from using or stopping seems to be an impossibility for them. The substance controls them, rather than the other way around.

Someone addicted to drugs or alcohol will continue to seek them out even if their addiction has made them lose friends, family, spouses, and jobs. Drug-seeking behavior can even lead to diseases such as hepatitis and HIV/AIDS.

Not only is the coronavirus affecting people with mental health issues, but it’s also affecting individuals who have substance abuse disorders.

These two conditions are often co-occurring, and roughly half of all people who have a severe mental disorder are also affected by substance abuse. For decades, addiction has been considered an epidemic in the United States and around the globe. The data on addiction is pretty staggering:

When you break down the statistics around specific addictions, it’s alarming how widespread the effects really are. These are the rates of abuse and overdose for some of the most common addictions we’re seeing today.

Alcohol

  • 300 million people around the world have an alcohol use disorder.
  • Roughly 88,000 people die of alcohol-related issues every year in the United States.
  • Globally, alcohol-related issues cause 5.3% of deaths—about one in 20—each year.

Opioids

  • Over 2 million Americans suffer from an opioid use disorder.
  • Roughly 130 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.
  • 20-30% of people who take prescription opioids misuse them.

Heroin

  • 494,000 Americans over age 12 regularly use heroin.
  • Roughly one-quarter of people who try heroin once will get addicted.
  • In 2017, more than 15,000 Americans died from a heroin overdose.

Marijuana

  • Between 30-40 million Americans use marijuana every year.
  • 30% of people who regularly smoke marijuana have a marijuana use disorder.
  • Roughly 43% of American adults have admitted to trying marijuana at least once.

Cocaine

  • 5 million Americans use cocaine regularly.
  • In 2017, cocaine was involved in 1 out of every 5 overdose deaths.
  • The number of cocaine-related overdose deaths went up 34% from 2016-2017.
There is no shortage of data that proves how substance abuse is impacting our society. During difficult times like the coronavirus pandemic, the rate of addiction and substance abuse is likely to climb. People are under a great deal of stress right now, and that could lead them to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. This is especially true for people who are currently out of work due to the coronavirus, have loved ones who are sick, or anyone who is facing added hardship right now.

Specifically, alcohol abuse is at risk of increasing because it’s easily accessible, while some drugs are not. In most states, liquor stores are considered an essential business and are able to stay open during the quarantine. However, some pharmacies are in short supply and aren’t able to give extra refills of certain pharmaceuticals that could be abused. During the lockdown, some people may be more hesitant to buy drugs illegally in-person for fear of getting sick.

If you are considering treatment for yourself or a loved one, call us today.

When you’re not in an alcohol or drug rehab program, there’s no one to hold you accountable or monitor your behavior. Not to mention, people who are stuck at home are dealing with extreme boredom right now. If you have a substance abuse issue, you might be inclined to drink or use drugs just to pass the time. With no routine and no daily structure, people who have addiction issues could make their disorder more severe.

The coronavirus pandemic is also hard for people who are already sober and are working to maintain their sobriety. Staying sober is a daily battle. When you can no longer see your therapist in-person or attend group meetings, it can be extra difficult to stay committed. Isolation isn’t good for your mental health, and it can lead to relapse if you’re not prioritizing your mental wellbeing while in quarantine.

It’s also important to note that people who don’t have pre-existing addictions could also develop new substance abuse issues during this period. If you’re dealing with depression or anxiety around the coronavirus, you might want a drink or two at the end of the day. Or maybe you’re having trouble sleeping, and are using your sleeping pill prescription more than just “as needed.” If you make these things a daily practice, it can turn into something much worse.

For the foreseeable future, we’re all stuck at home.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t prioritize your mental health and do things that will make you feel good. And remember—it’s not just about your mental health, but also about your physical wellbeing. There are many ways that you can continue treatment and commit to your recovery, even from home. Here are some suggestions.

Get Ready for the Day

When you’re stuck at home, it can be tempting to sleep in and wear your pajamas all day. But rarely does that make you feel productive. Instead, wake up at a reasonable hour and get ready for the day like you would if you were going to work. That means taking a shower, brushing your hair, and getting dressed in real clothes. On your busy days, consider making a to-do list with errands, tasks around the house, and work-related assignments to keep yourself on-track.

Stay Connected

You can’t see people in-person right now, but thanks to technology, you can still stay connected virtually. Stay in touch with your close friends and family with daily phone calls or text check-ins. This is also a great time to reconnect with old friends or people who you’ve lost touch with. Video chatting is also a great way to stay connected. You can use FaceTime for one-on-one chats, or download Zoom or Google Hangouts for chatting with bigger groups.

Exercise Your Body and Mind

During quarantine, use your free time for activities that are good for your physical and mental health. Stream a free virtual workout class, go for a run, or take out your bike. If you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed, try doing yoga or find a 20 minute guided meditation. Exploring other creative outlets, like art, drawing, crafting, knitting or journaling are all great ways to pass the time and destress after a long day. Staying physically active and being healthy can also help minimize the threat of the virus. You can also take advantage of online therapy.

Get Outside

Being cooped up in your house all day can leave you feeling tired and unmotivated. But in many places, the weather is starting to warm up, so it’s the perfect time to get outside. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked with reduced brain function and depression, so spending time outside can also improve your mood. If you live near the water, take a walk on the beach and feel the breeze. Or, find a quiet trail and hike through the woods. Remember, you can still go outside while also maintaining good social distancing practices.

Join an Online Support Group

Even if you can’t attend meetings in-person right now, there are ways you can get the same experience virtually. Find a Facebook group for people in recovery, and use the forum to connect with others and share your experiences. You can also find online 12-step meetings through InTheRooms, which offers more than 130 live group meetings every week. There are also many places online to listen to 12-step speakers.

We’ve also put together an entire list of resources here.

The coronavirus is affecting each and every one of us in a different way. But people who suffer from mental health and substance abuse disorders are among the most vulnerable. We’ve all been forced to face a new normal for the time being, but it won’t last forever. Until we’re able to safely resume our regular routines, we need to focus on staying mentally and physically healthy.
If you’re looking for mental health treatment during the coronavirus, Nexus Recovery is currently open and operating. We offer partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient and outpatient programs. During the coronavirus outbreak, the safety of our clients and staff is our top priority, and we are taking precautions as recommended by federal and state public health organizations. Some of the safety measures we are taking include:

  • Having no more than 8 clients in the building at a given time.
  • Clustering clients into small “pods” with distance between each other to prevent exposure.
  • Conducting individual sessions via telehealth to allow for distancing.
  • Regularly disinfecting frequently touched surfaces and practicing good hand hygiene.
  • Staggering shifts to keep the number of staff on-site to a minimum.

For those who are within 25 miles of Nexus Recovery, we’re also pleased to announce that we’re now offering telehealth services. If you’d prefer to continue or start treatment from the comfort of your own home, we have therapists and counselors ready to meet with you via phone.

During the coronavirus, mental health treatment can still be provided in-person, and it can be done safely. If you’re healthy, and interested in receiving treatment at Nexus Recovery, visit our website to learn more about our programs.

If you or a loved one are suffering from alcohol or drug addiction, we’re here to help. Contact us today and speak with one of our trusted recovery advisors.

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