Employee Assistance Program is here to help!

By Drew Henderson DLA Land and Maritime Employee Assistance Program Manager

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Hello Land and Maritime! Well here we are – still at home and still social distancing – but with change in sight.  If the stress of this situation becomes difficult, I encourage you to consider giving me a call or an email.  Below I’ve included more ideas for maintaining good mental health.

Although self-isolation is ending at different times in different states, at some point we will return to offices, restaurants and houses of worship. But what will that look like? One thing is for sure, we won’t ever return to normal; we will return to “a new normal.” And each of us will have repair work to do as we re-enter the world of physical proximity to coworkers and reconnecting with friends, neighbors and loved ones. Not just contagion worries but recovering from the psychological trauma of having lived under chronic uncertainty, isolation, financial insecurity, job loss and for some, death of friends and loved ones—taken together enough trauma for a massive mental health crisis.

The trauma, like the virus, will not simply disappear. It will to be with us in our memories, day dreams and nightmares. What can we expect and what measures can we take? Disaster researchers warn that the pandemic could inflict long-lasting psychological trauma on an unprecedented global scale. With some 2.6 billion people worldwide in some kind of lockdown, Dr. Elke Van Hoof, Professor of health psychology and primary care psychology at Vrije Universiteit Brussel, calls lockdown the biggest psychological experiment and predicts we will pay the price through a secondary epidemic of burnouts and stress-related absenteeism in the latter half of 2020. Van Hoof cites one study in China, where parents were quarantined with children, that reported no less than 28% of quarantined parents warranted a diagnosis of trauma-related mental health disorder:

“In short, and perhaps unsurprisingly, people who are quarantined are very likely to develop a wide range of symptoms of psychological stress and disorder, including low mood, insomnia, stress, anxiety, anger, irritability, emotional exhaustion, depression and post-traumatic stress symptoms. Low mood and irritability specifically stand out as being very common, the study notes.”

Elaine Miller-Karas, author of Building Resilience to Trauma: The Trauma and Community Resiliency Models and Co-Founder and Director of Innovation, Vision and Creativity of the Trauma Resource Institute in Claremont, California tells us that one description of trauma is simply too much or too little for too long. She said people worldwide are under a perceived “inescapable attack” from an invisible enemy, which causes an imbalance in the nervous system. The stress response is set off and continually loads our bodies with hormones meant for short action. The kinds of things we might notice are accelerated heart rate, rapid breathing, and fatigue. After a prolonged period of time, our bodies become depleted, impacting our thoughts and sense of well-being, leading to a plethora of mental health conditions including anxiety and depressive disorders.

During a disaster like the pandemic, always putting yourself at the end of the line is a grave disservice that actually works against you. Self-care makes your use of time more sustainable. Healthy eating, rest and regular exercise give you the stamina to withstand any threat to your survival. Take good care of yourself first, and you have more to give to others.

Remember H-A-L-T. When worry and stress take hold, stop and ask yourself if you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. This alert signal can bring you back into balance. If one or a combination of the four states is present, slow down, take a few breaths and chill. If you’re hungry, take the time to eat. If you’re angry, address it in a healthy manner. If you’re lonely, reach out to someone you trust. And if you’re tired, rest.

Indulge yourself. You deserve it. When was the last time you soaked in a hot bath or indulged in a restorative activity that rejuvenates your mind and body and restores your energy and peace of mind? Make a ten or fifteen minute appointment with yourself, and schedule personal time—a hobby, hot bath, manicure, yoga, facial, reading, contemplate nature or meditate.

Some other ideas to help:

1. Notice the good in the world, the helpers

There is a lot of scary, negative, and overwhelming information to take in regarding this pandemic. There are also a ton of stories of people sacrificing, donating, and supporting one another in miraculous ways. It is important to counter-balance the heavy information with the hopeful information.

2. Find something you can control, and control the heck out of it

In moments of big uncertainty and overwhelm, controlling your little corner of the world helps you control your mental health. Organize your bookshelf, purge your closet, put together that furniture, and group your toys. It helps to anchor and ground us when the bigger things are chaotic.

3. Find lightness and humor in each day

There is a lot to be worried about, and with good reason. Counterbalance this heaviness with something funny each day: cat videos on YouTube, a stand-up show on Netflix, a funny movie — we all need a little comedic relief in our day, every day.

4. Reach out for help — your team is there for you

If you have a therapist or psychiatrist, they are available to you, even at a distance. Keep up your medications and your therapy sessions the best you can. If you are having difficulty coping, seek out help for the first time. There are mental health people on the ready to help you through this crisis.

Your children’s teachers and related service providers will do anything within their power to help, especially for those parents tasked with the difficult task of being a whole treatment team to their child with special challenges.

Seek support groups of fellow home-schoolers, parents, and neighbors to feel connected. There is help and support out there, any time of the day — although we are physically distant, we can always connect virtually.

5. “Chunk” your quarantine, take it moment by moment

We have no road map for this. We don’t know what this will look like in 1 day, 1 week, or 1 month from now. Often, when working with patients who have anxiety around overwhelming issues, psychologists suggest that they engage in a strategy called “chunking” — focusing on whatever bite-sized piece of a challenge that feels manageable.

Whether that be 5 minutes, a day, or a week at a time — find what feels doable for you and set a time stamp for how far ahead in the future you will let yourself worry. Take each chunk one at a time and move through stress in pieces.

6. Remind yourself daily that this is temporary

It seems in the midst of this quarantine that it will never end. It is terrifying to think of the road stretching ahead of us. Please take time to remind yourself that although this is very scary and difficult. It will go on for an undetermined amount of time. It is a season of life and it will pass. We will return to feeing free, safe, busy, and connected in the days ahead.