Maintaining emotional health amid coronavirus-driven uncertainty

Even before the pandemic, working women were already juggling family, career and their own emotional health. But after eight long months of quarantines, school shutdowns, working from home, social distancing and mandatory masks, emotional health is getting harder to maintain.

Shannon Ragusa

“With so much uncertainty in our world right now, the incidence of anxiety and depression continues to grow,” says Shannon Ragusa, executive director of behavioral health services at Baton Rouge General.

Feeling overwhelmed

The COVID-19 cloud hanging over our heads is a real thing and it has brought a lot of feelings to the surface. “Isolation, loneliness, frustration, fear of getting sick and worry about the future—these are all common feelings related to the pandemic,” says social worker Jessica Taylor, who works at Woman’s Hospital. “It’s mentally draining to be cut off from our normal support system and our routine activities.”

That mental exhaustion sometimes reveals itself through symptoms that include:

  • Mood swings
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Loss of appetite or overeating
  • Trouble concentrating
  • General feelings of malaise

A delicate dance

Jessica Taylor

Working women are especially vulnerable. “The balance between our lives at home and work is often a delicate dance,” Ragusa says. “At times, women can find themselves surrendering their own needs to assure the needs of their family are met. While there is great satisfaction in caring for the ones we love, it is also essential that women focus on caring for ourselves as well.”

A sense of peace

But what if you’re working from home and your attention is divided among your phone calls and emails, your children’s lessons, the doorbell, the dog, and maybe even a spouse who’s also working just a few feet away? First of all, don’t aim for perfection, and second, find ways to minimize your stress.

“Some of our most basic needs fall by the wayside during times like these,” says Taylor. “So to start with, be sure to exercise and eat right. Do deep breathing exercises. Install calming apps on your phone.”

“Find things that contribute to a sense of peace,” Ragusa says. “Make a music playlist that lifts your spirits, light candles and reflect on the day, spend time with a friend, cook your favorite meal or watch your favorite team play.”

Professional help

If you’ve tried some of these coping mechanisms, but you still can’t sleep at night, or can’t stop worrying, or feel yourself sliding into depression don’t be afraid to seek help. “It’s normal to be stressed or anxious,” Taylor says, “but when it interferes with your ability to function or to fulfill your daily responsibilities, then you need to address it.”

Make an appointment with your primary care physician to discuss treatment options that may range from counseling to medication to lifestyle changes. And check with your employer about an employee assistance program, which may provide free or low-cost counseling.

“Be kind to yourself,” says Taylor. “And give yourself grace. We’re all in this together.”

Ragusa agrees. “It’s important to do things that bring us joy and to spend time each day reflecting on the things we are most grateful for in our lives.”

Shannon Ragusa is executive director of behavioral health services at Baton Rouge General and can be reached at Shannon.Ragusa@brgeneral.org. Jessica Taylor is a licensed clinical social worker at Woman’s Hospital.