Taking Care of Your Mental and Emotional Health

Stephanie Blanco and Melissa Salazar discuss maintaining good mental health during the Coronavirus Pandemic.
Taking Care of Your Mental and Emotional Health
Featured Speaker:
Mellissa Salazar | Stephanie Blanco, LCSW;
Mellissa Salazar is Program Director for Psychiatric Care at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital. She also holds a Master of Science degree in Psychology. 

Stephanie Blanco, a licensed clinical social worker, is supervisor care coordinator for Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital's Behavioral Health program.

Introduction: This is the Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital Podcast on COVID-19 dated May 11th, 2020. It's your Health radio, a special podcast series presented by Henry Mayo Newhall hospital. Here's Melanie Cole.

Melanie Cole: We're all in a very stressful time, but how do you keep a solid mental and emotional health going? What resources are available should you or someone you know need help at this time? Welcome to, it's Your Health Radio with Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital. I'm Melanie Cole and today we're discussing COVID-19 maintaining good mental health during this pandemic. Joining me in this panel is Stephanie Blanco. She's the Social Service Supervisor for the Behavioral Health unit and Melissa Salazar, she's the program director of psychiatric care andthey're both with Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital. Stephanie, Melissa, I'm so glad to have you both here. Stephanie, I'd like to start with you what we're experiencing now. Tell us a little bit about the difference between chronic stress and acute stress and what is it that we're experiencing right now?

Stephanie Blanco: Hi Melanie. Thank you for having me on today. And I think that's a great question to start off our topic today on It's Your Health and just understanding mental health a little bit better, thedifference between chronic stress and acute stress as you mentioned, let's just break it down. What is stress? Stress can be mental or physical exhaustion and any form of overexertion that is out of the norm for the person. So that can mean long hours at work. It could mean being laid off recently. It could mean increased financial difficulties. It can mean different things can cause a person to have increased stress. Now the difference between acute stress versus chronic stress, acute would be short term.Something short term, something recent that is out of the ordinary versus chronic stress is something that is longstanding. For example, a person that works 12 hours every day for the last two, three years, that kind of stress is kind of quote unquote thenorm for that person.But acute stress is something short term. So for what we're experiencing right now in the community, a lot of the acute stresses surrounding Coronavirus or COVID-19, and also the financial difficulties that are coming along with that, such as massive unemployment rates difficulties with paying their mortgage or their rent, different things like that. And I think it's really important to recognize the differences in mood shifts when a person is noticing a shift in their mood, their sleep, pain in their body. Thoughts are reoccurring. Those are all signs and symptoms of stress or a change that's impacting their mental health and their wellbeing. So I think the most important thing that I'd like the listeners to be aware of is listen to your body and just be in tune with what is normal for you and what is, you know, what's changing and how is it impacting your life in a negative way.

Host: So right now, what we're feeling right now, Stephanie, is this normal because we're really, there's this worldwide anxiety, we're feeling anxious all the time. So many of us and as you said, because of reasons of mortgage and job security and fears of this illness. Tell us a little bit about what you want people to know about managing those emotional challenges right now. Start off with your best advice for this.

Stephanie Blanco: Awesome. Thank you Melanie. First, I want to say that what everyone is experiencing and also including myself, just, you know, worries about what's going on in the global pandemic and how it's affecting us here in our own State and also what we see on the news. It's very normal to be worried and to have these symptoms that can come up, right? It's very normal. I want to normalize that because I mean, people react to these things as you normally would. It's, it can be scary because it's the unknown. It's new. We've never gone through something like this in our lifetime and it's normal to have these symptoms because it's associated with something kind of traumatic. But if it becomesan issue when it's affecting your day to day life, of course it's normal to get a little afraid and worried. But when it's affecting your ability to function, when the person can't sleep at night, when they are having nightmares or when they are not wanting to take a shower or not want to eat their meals, that's when it gets to a point where it's unmanageable.So my tips are first start with recognizing what is normal for you. Some people are generally more anxious than others and some people can toleratechange and can tolerate difficult times. Others can't. So recognize what is normal for you. The second thing would be is it taking a negative tool on your wellbeing? And if it is, then we need to reach out for help. And then the third thing is not to isolate or minimize what's going on. Isolate would mean not talk to your friends, not, not talking to your family, not reaching out for help and just staying in your little hole per se. Right. And that's very detrimental, especially when we're told you have toquarantine at home and you have to stay home and yada, yada. But I mean we're living in an age where everything is digital now and making a phone call, sending a text, getting on social media, it's pretty much at our fingertips and those resources can really save a life.So I would like to let listeners know that first, yes it's normal to feel anxious. And number two you can do something about it, and we can reduce some of those symptoms by reaching out for help. And sometimes when the anxiety gets to thepoint where you just can't deal with it anymore, you definitely want to reach out to a provider. Your regular Doctor can help give you some recommendations on what you can do. And we also have other numbers that are available to the community where you can call for support. We have the National Association of Mental Illness, it's called NAMI and they have a website which is NAMISF.org. That's for the San Fernando Valley. We also have the local one here for California, which is NAMICA.org. And they have zoom meetings going on that are anonymous. You don't have to even say your name, but you can get connected, listen to a provider, run a group, talk to peers and kind of let your, your worries be heard in a safe forum. Especially when now people are feeling very alone and feel like no one understands them, or they feel that they're losing it per se. But feeling anxious is definitely normal. It's a normal reaction to stress. And we talked about stress, but I think doing something about it, trying to manage it ina healthy way is the most important critical thing at this point.

Melissa Salazar: Can I caveat off of what Stephanie just mentioned, as she mentioned, it's understanding the stress, understanding what's going on and you know getting help when you need itis really important. And I think part of the stigma when one feels that they might need help is seeing it as a weakness versus a strength. So it's important to remember that treatment is effective and it's okay to feel what one would call not normal. And people who get that appropriate care, even if it's just talking to someone for a few minutes, feels rewarding, is rewarding and can assist with whatever they're going through.

Host: Well, thank you for that answer both ladies. So Stephanie, why don't you give us some of those tips that you mentioned to help us. Are they, are we looking at exercise, yoga, breathing exercises? What are you talking about here? Give us some tips.

Stephanie Blanco: Well, it's very basic. I want everyone to just start with the everyday things like making sure you're eating your meals every day because when you're very anxious or stressed, you may feel a loss of appetite. You may feel like you don't want to prepare a meal for yourself. So making sure that you're eating your balanced meals every day, that's critical. You want to stay on top of your nutrition. It's easy to snack all day, and eat kind of junk food. But we want to stay committed to our health plan and eating as much healthy fruits and vegetables is going to be critical to mental health. It helps with, you know, the nutrients and the vitamins in natural healthy foods help with mood stabilization. So eating healthy meals, making sure people are on top of their hygiene. I know when we're at home, people want to kind of lounge around in pajamas all day.Sometimes you may not want to take a shower, you want to stay on top of your hygiene, get up in the morning, do your, you know, your regular routine. Try to stick to your normal routine as much as possible. Even though we're at home a lot more, we want to make sure that we're still taking care of our bodies because that helps with your mood as well. Exercise is important. I know a lot of gyms are closed now and many people don't want to even go outside for a walk. But there's a lot of great YouTube videos that you can get on. There's streaming podcasts and different things that you can do for exercise at home such as yoga. And if you have machines at home, get on your treadmill, do whatever feels comfortable and makes you feel good because ultimately exercise is linked with mood stabilization and it reduces anxiety a thousand percent.I mean, I don't have the numbers for the actual, you know, evidence behind that, but it's incredible how much a walk on the treadmill or just a jog can do for your mood. It releases so much tension and anxiety, and stress can feel like tension in your body. Your muscles can get tight. You know, you can get pain and when you exercise, even gentle stretching can have a huge difference on your mood. I also would like to recommend setting small goals for yourself. I think that in these times that we're in, it can feel very overwhelming because we're thinking about what's going to happen in the months to come. And you know, we think about the long-term,but I think staying focused on what's happening today, getting through the day, set an intention for your day, you know, what would you like to accomplish? Set small goals that you can achieve. And that will also help with mood. Because when we break things down into little tasks, this is what I'm going to do today. Tomorrow I'm going to do this.It can feel less anxiety provoking because you have more control over life versus not having any structure and you're going through every day kind of just go with the flow that can cause more anxiety and more stress. So it's very simple. Making sure you eat your meals every day, not skipping meals, staying hydrated, eating fruits and veggies. Exercise as much as possible at home. Spending time with your pets and loved ones at home is also great for your mood. It makes you feel good and setting small tasks for yourself, little goals, things that you can do every day and it helps you feel accomplished. And ultimately the bottom line is if you are getting to that point where things are just unmanageable and it's getting scary, you definitely want to reach out for help. So you can do that by reaching out to your regular Doctor. You can do that by calling. The NAMI hotline number or going on their website. And if you ever get to that point where you feel like, you know, hopeless, helpless, your depression may be kicking in or you feel suicidal, those thoughts can come in as well. I definitely want people to know there's a safe number that they can call, which is the National Suicide Hotline. And that's 1-800-273-8255. And a trained counselor will get on the call and it's an anonymous call. And walk that person through that call and help them kind of get more control of what's going on and help them feel safe. And here at Henry Mayo, we also take patients in for a psychiatric assessment. So if anyone's local and feels they need help, they can certainly come in voluntarily and check themselves into the BHU and get some help here. And we have trained clinicians and psychiatrists that can help people through this difficult time. So I think most importantly is just have a positive outlook on life and know that things are going toget better and know that the help is out there, but you have to know what feels right for you. And if it's just feeling unmanageable, you definitely want to reach out for help sooner than later.

Host: That's great advice. Melissa, do you have any final thoughts for us as well to put this all into perspective and manage our expectations for the quarantine and social distancing and this isolation stress that we're all feeling?

Melissa Salazar: Well so one in 5 million people experience mental illness in their lifetime. We have to not forget that, you know, we're not alone. Unfortunately we're not unique inany way to the pandemic and although we're all different by way of just being, you know, human beings, we're all different. We all do have an unfortunate common numerator, which is the terms that we've learned such as social distancing, N95, isolation. Some of those terms we hadn't heard before until now. And now we have that commonality amongst us. So it's important that we understand that we're not alone and that we're protecting our mental and emotional health.

Host: Absolutely. Great information, vital now, but really all the time. Ladies, thank you so much. And if you're feeling overwhelmed with emotions like sadness, depression, or anxiety, or you feel like you may want to harm yourself, please call the national suicide helpline at 1 800-273-8255. If you have concerns about COVID-19, we encourage you to check the Henry Mayo website at henrymayo.com and click on the virus link at the top of the page for more info. And that wraps up this episode of, It's Your Health radio with Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital. Please share this show with your friends. Share it on social media because we're learning from the experts at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital together. And it's so important at this time that we reach out and help each other through this difficult time. I'm Melanie Cole.