With uptick in ‘anxiety, hopelessness,’ local experts offer advice, resources for mental health

March 23, 2020

By: Grant Stringer

Originally appeared in the Sentinel Colorado

AURORA | As the pandemic and financial woes create more anxiety in Aurora and across the region, mental health experts say residents can maintain sanity with at-home strategies and resources.

Care providers at the Aurora Mental Health Center, which runs clinics and therapy sessions for Aurora residents, are working overtime with patients through video and phone links, said Chief Medical Officer Anne Garrett-Mills.

“Stress from of all of the sudden life changes, loss of income and financial uncertainties for many, lack of clarity around the rationale for dramatic social changes, decreased opportunities for social interaction and the disruption of usual routines are all circumstances that create distress and increase the use of addictive substances and exacerbate mental illness,” Garrett-Mills said. “We are hearing folks express an increase in anxiety, hopelessness, and general distress, as they navigate this new world of fear, uncertainty and scarcity of resources.”

Mental Health Colorado president Vincent Atchity said the current pandemic has made it clear that “Our mental health and physical health are not two separate things.”

To manage anxiety, Aurorans should get outside, practice deep breathing and limit social media consumption while stuck inside, working from home or not at all, Aurora Mental Health says.

“Focus on deep breathing for two-minutes every hour to calm your body, oxygenate your brain, and reduce stress,” Aurora Mental Health spokesperson Lisa Mackenzie said. “Step outside if you can for maximum effect. Kids need this, too.”

Staying active is crucial, even on snowy, cold days when it feels more natural to hunker in with a flick on Netflix. But Aurora Mental Health says fresh air and body movement are “proven health enhancers, positively affecting body, mind and emotions. It’s a great way of experiencing freedom when we are feeling confined or isolated.”

The Aurora-centered health network’s doors remain open for people in crisis or detoxing.

To cope, the center has redesigned its healthcare practices based on tele-health on phones and video technology. Therapy is accessible without driving to a clinic.

Online mental health resources became a bonafide industry long before the pandemic with apps like Headspace and Ten Percent Happier. But the pandemic situation has spurred some free resources with private apps.

Headspace is offering a free, two-week trial of its app platform. It’s a catch-all for resources on how to meditate, how to clear one’s mind to sleep better, how to reduce anxiety and even “mindful cooking.” The app requires a credit card number for the two-week trial. After that, the subscription costs $70 a year, which is free for healthcare workers.

Ten Percent Happier is offering a free “Coronavirus Sanity Guide,” live streaming video episodes every weekday at 3 pm Eastern time, and podcasts with meditation teachers and anxiety doctors.

A total subscription is also free for healthcare workers.

Other apps include Simple Habit, which is making its premium memberships free for people impacted by the pandemic who can’t pay, such as laid-off workers.