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The coronavirus is a dangerous pathogen, but also cause for concern is the strain on mental health it's causing.

COURTESY PHOTO: PROVIDENCE HEALTH & SERVICES - Dr. Jeri Turgesen, a psychologist with Providence Newberg Medical Center, has advice for people on how to stay well during the coronavirus pandemic and economic shutdown.As cities cope with growing uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, a psychologist practicing in Newberg is offering advice on how we can stay comfortable and occupied during this worldwide health crisis.

Dr. Jeri Turgesen, lead psychologist at Providence Newberg Medical Center, said the crisis is "not something that any of us have experienced before. It's a really unique and different type of situation."

She added, "It's not like a natural disaster that has this start period, end period and recovery period. There's a high level of uncertainty in regards to what the long-term trajectory looks like."

This period of stress can affect all age groups.

Looking at children, Turgesen said, "We have kiddos who have lost their routine, lost those meaningful social connections and touchpoints with their teachers, peers and friends."

School is canceled for the rest of the academic year in favor of "distance learning," which education officials hope will continue to engage kids and teens in education — but it won't take the place of social activity, which is effectively on hold for now.

Life has also been disrupted for adults.

"Our normal routine and our day-to-day has been pretty widely disrupted, everything from losing a job to learning how to work at home and what that means for productivity," Turgesen said, noting another disruption is being confined to a safe space every day.

Our senior citizens can feel alone, according to Turgesen, who said, "Having lost access to community centers, senior centers and places of worship, it really increases the risk of isolation for these individuals." She said isolation, limited social support and loss of routine are significant risk factors for developing or exasperating stress, anxiety and depression.

Speaking of stress, anxiety and depression, Turgesen said, "They all tend to fall in a continuum. They all can look very different for individuals."

With stress and anxiety, symptoms can be varied. Some may experience nervousness or worry. Specific fears and racing thoughts can occur. Physical symptoms can include nausea, upset stomach, sweating, shortness of breath, feeling of panic, sleep disruption and loss of appetite.

Symptoms of depression can include low mood, loss of interest in everyday activities, loss of appetite, low self-worth, a feeling of hopelessness and, in some cases, thoughts of suicide.

There are several everyday steps we can take to feel better during the COVID-19 outbreak.

For children, Turgesen suggests getting them involved with creative play. Give them some reading time and let them take advantage of resources such as audio books. Make sure they have a planned lunchtime and a planned afternoon activity, such as writing. The idea is to create structure.

Even though social distancing is important, folks of all ages need to focus on structure and routine.

"It is really easy to fall into this pattern where we're sleeping 'til noon, we get up and we get locked in Netflix and we're watching shows until 2 in the morning," Turgesen said. "We're not exercising. We're not eating well. Our sleep cycle is off."

She suggests doing a morning routine, such as getting dressed and showering. Plan a breakfast hour, get involved in an intentional activity and make sure you have a consistent bedtime.

"Plan and structure screen time," Turgesen said. "Plan that screen time in a way that keeps it more limited so that suddenly you're not eight hours into your day and don't know what happened."

She added, "Having some of that structure and consistency for all age groups is a really important component for maintaining our emotional well-being."

There are ways we can keep our mind occupied during this stressful period of time.

"There are lots of really good coping strategies we can use for anxiety and depression," Turgesen said, suggesting someone could watch a yoga video, plan physical activities, read, listen to music or engage in crafts.

"If there are three key areas that I could really encourage people to maintain, it would be sleep, nutrition and exercise," she said. "Those are core, key components for emotional health."

If you feel overwhelmed, it's a good idea to report your symptoms to your primary care doctor.

"If people feel they're struggling or they have questions, reaching out for support is really important," Turgesen said. "The primary provider is an excellent starting point — also looking for other local mental health providers you can connect with."

There are also great online resources, according to Turgesen, who said, "Lines for Life is an excellent resource for anybody who is feeling overwhelmed or having thoughts of suicide."

As we move through the coronavirus pandemic, Turgesen feels confident we can navigate through the bad news.

"I think there's a lot of uncertainty and there's a lot of information that we don't know," she said. "But leaning into the things that we do know — people can absolutely go through this period well."

Sidebar

Hotlines

National Suicide-Prevention Lifeline

Phone: 1-800-273-8255

Web: suicidepreventionlifeline.org

YouthLine

Phone: 877-968-8491

Text: teen2teen to 839863

Web: oregonyouthline.org

The Trevor Project

Phone: 1-866-488-7386

Text: START to 678678

Web: thetrevorproject.org


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