There's no doubt about it; COVID-19 is having a massive impact on everyone across the globe. We are in a unique situation, as this virus knows no race and doesn't care about your socio-economic level. Whether it's a chef or restaurant worker who's suddenly out of work, a family member who is isolated from family and sheltering-in-place alone, or the UK's Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, who's battling the coronavirus in the ICU, this is an equal opportunity virus.
Unfortunately, as we take positive steps to minimize or 'flatten the curve' of infection and deaths as the virus surges forward, anxiety and depression are spiking worldwide. Fear of the virus itself, a sneeze or cough, the economic fallout, and the effects of social distancing; all of these are collateral damage caused by COVID-19, and the end is not in sight yet. The uncertainty created by the pandemic can lead to a host of mental health problems; which is not only normal but something to be expected during such a unique and threatening situation.
If you're feeling suicidal or feeling overwhelmed by feelings of sadness and depression, seek out help immediately. Call 911, or call SAMHSA's Distress Hotline.
You may be familiar with feelings of anxiety and depression, in which case, COVID-19 may be exacerbating those feelings. Or, you may be someone who has rarely felt these feelings, which may include feelings of grief and loss. The reality is, we are going through a collective sense of sorrow. Many have lost their livelihood; others are dealing with the illness itself, coping with the death of a loved one, or mourning the sense of stability and 'normalcy' of everyday life.
As our lives are turned upside down, the sense of grief and loss during this time is to be expected, according to George Bonanno, Ph.D. He states, "Grief is really about turning inward and recalibrating and thinking: 'This is not the way the world is anymore, and I need to adapt. It's okay to feel grief over what we're losing. When we do that, it allows us to let grief do its job, so that we can move on."
When dealing with the anxiety, stress, and grief that may arise from dealing with a global pandemic, Robert Neimeyer, Ph.D., Director of the Portland Institute for Loss and Transition suggests that you "name it and claim it." He says, "People often have a vague sense of anxiety or wordless suffering. We can help them wrap language around that. We can ask people to consider what they're losing in the context of this pandemic, what they can do to strengthen those ties." Claiming it and naming it allows you to better adjust to a new normal.
If acknowledging how you feel by 'claiming it and naming it' is important, it's also critical to create and foster social connection during a time of isolation. As humans, we're social animals, and COVID-19 has made many of us feel like caged animals. COVID-19 is an addition to a pre-existing epidemic of loneliness we've already been feeling. A recent survey by the insurance company Cigna found that 2/3 of Americans over the age of 18 feel lonely, and social distancing will only exacerbate this feeling for many. It is during this time that it's critically important that we address the emotional health of ourselves and society as a whole.
Since wide-reaching shelter-in-place orders have been communicated, creating social connections has never been more critical. Although scheduling a social interaction with a friend over video chat may feel contrived, we all need to do it. Text family members and set up a scheduled Facetime or Zoom call. If you're feeling fidgety because you can't go to your regular yoga or exercise class, seek out a virtual class online. Eventbrite and Meetup have both shifted to featuring online courses, groups, events, and virtual lectures. Take advantage of these new trends to soften the blow of social isolation.
Many people use medical marijuana to ease anxiety and stress; for some, it works better than medications like antidepressants. But, knowing what works best with your body and mental state is the key to success. CBD and THC, the two most well known and abundant cannabinoids, have proven effective in treating anxiety, depression, and stress-related syndromes. Cannabis with higher levels of CBD has been shown to be more effective at treating anxiety-related symptoms, while THC strains stimulate the body's natural mechanism for blocking out harmful memories.
Anxiety disorders produce a variety of unpleasant symptoms, including muscle pain caused by physical tension, panic, uneasiness, nausea, and sleeplessness. The calming, relaxing effect of CBD counteracts many of these symptoms. At the same time, THC may create a sense of euphoria that may temporarily block out negative emotions, allowing people to be more in the moment.
It's important to note that THC for some people may increase anxiety, so if you are new to cannabis, start with a minimal dose and gauge how you feel before consuming more. The psychoactive effect on people is widely variable, so what works for one person may not work for another. Many people choose to forego THC and only consume CBD to ease stress. CBD can be found with minimal amounts of THC, or with no THC at all, which is the case with hemp-derived CBD.
Dr. Sharon Olson, of HelloMD, offers the following advice for those looking to consume cannabis for anxiety relief,
"Typically, you will obtain relief within a month of starting super high CBD, low THC cannabis tincture administered twice daily. Your dose may need to be adjusted if you have not started to sense relief by the third week. Please, be aware that high THC may increase your anxiety level, so if you do use Sativa cannabis, always have some of the high CBD, low THC tincture available. In case of anxiety, you may always take one to 2 drops of CBD, which will likely be calming."
During this time, HelloMD wishes you health, happiness and a sense of community.