Stacey Farris uses many coping mechanisms to combat anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As a life and mental health counselor, LMHC, in Cuba, Farris said it is important to use self-care so that she can help others do the same.  

Farris listed many coping skills that she uses daily: meditation, journaling, finding new hobbies and exercising. 

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For others suffering with anxiety during this time, Farris recommends staying in the moment.

“Finding little things that I’m grateful for helps me sleep at night,” Farris said. 

Farris also says staying connected with supportive people to “get out of our own heads,” getting enough sleep, and staying away from the news can help alleviate anxiety and depression. 

“I stay as informed as I need to be, but with anxiety, it’s not healthy to swim in that negativity,” Farris said.

Other counselors in the Greater Olean area offered tips for coping and reasons for why mental illnesses may become exacerbated by the pandemic and quarantine.

Rory Niles of Portville, a retired domestic violence and sexual abuse counselor, who has anxiety and depression, recommends fresh air and exercise during the pandemic. 

To cope with her mental health problems, Niles gets out for walks. 

“I could easily stay in bed all day, but I force myself to get out,” Niles said.

Melissa Ball, an LMHC with Rehabilitation Today in Olean, does not suffer from any “underlying diagnoses,” but said she still needs to practice self-care.

“We can’t help people, if we’re not helping ourselves,” Ball said. 

Ball said she has regular conversations with other counselors, family and friends to stay connected. Additionally, she said she does things she enjoys such as reading. 

“Being easy on yourself and recognizing that we’re doing the best we can is important,” Ball said.

Amy Mann, clinic director and suicide prevention coordinator of the Cattaraugus County Counseling Center in Olean, uses her rural residence to her advantage, she said. 

“I thankfully live in the country, so when it’s nice out, I can go outside,” Mann said. 

Mann said she enjoys gardening and identified partaking in enjoyable activities as another form of self-care.  

“Practice things that help you feel good,” Mann suggested.

Mann added the New York State Office of Mental Health and the Suicide Prevention Center of New York State offer coping skills that can be used for anxiety and depression.

“But, really, it’s about self-care and staying connected with people,” Mann said. “Just because you are socially distanced doesn’t mean that you have to be emotionally distanced.” 

Thomas Stephens, a licensed clinical social worker and counselor in Olean, listed the coping mechanisms he has been using.

Stephens said he watches light-hearted, like sports and comedy, goes on walks with his wife and goes on drives while listening to music.

“Utilize creativity,” Stephens said. “There might be things that you can do that you haven’t done in a while. The more you put into your bag of tricks, the more you won’t feel that loneliness.”

The Greater Olean area mental health professionals also said unhealthy living environments, social distancing, anticipating the future and isolation might cause mental health deterioration.

Niles spoke on how child abuse victims’ mental health could be worsened by being forced to stay in a toxic environment.

“Daily, they’re thinking in survival mode,” Niles said. “They may be feeling even more stuck in the situation than they already would be.”  

Children, abused or not, could also suffer from anxiety and depression due to a disrupted routine. 

“They’re in that mode and now they haven’t had that structure, so their minds are all over the place,” Niles said. “They could get hopeless. As adults, it’s easy to see that this will end but to any children, let alone kids with mental health issues, they don’t see an end in sight.”

Ball said social distancing could lead to emotional difficulty. 

As well, people with mental illness may feel more isolated or stressed than the general population, she said.

“Regardless of what their diagnosis might be, if someone’s dealing with symptoms of stress, they should reach out for help,” Ball said. 

Mann attributed increased anxiety, depression and more to people’s social nature.

“Humans are social creatures, Mann said. “When you aren’t able to go out and meet with people and have physical contact, it certainly makes anybody have more anxiety and stress.”

For that reason, Mann has seen an increase in paranoia and psychosis in patients.

Stephens agreed with Niles that the pandemic has affected children and explained why people may want to protest quarantining.

“I’m seeing some students that this is causing them more grief and anxiety.”

He credited it to the transition from in-person to online classes, worries about grades, and concerns about how the pandemic will impact the next academic next year. 

“The thing that’s really getting people is how long this is going to last for and whether there’s going to be a second wave,” Stephens said. “That’s why I think you see so many people getting antsy and wanting to protest. Especially with nicer weather.”

Farris made similar points to Mann and Ball about people suffering with mental illness but added that people with specific diagnoses might be at risk for different reasons. 

Farris said people with alcoholism might relapse, people with health-related anxiety might panic and people with depression and a tendency to isolate might do that more so.

“Of course, that poses a big problem,” Farris said.

Farris added, in general, people that don’t suffer with pre-existing mental illness could become overwhelmed with feelings of anxiety and loneliness. 

“You’re not alone,” Farris said. “There are other people that may be struggling. Hopefully, that can make people feel more empowered to make things better.”

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