JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. – Social distancing, working from home, and self-quarantine during the coronavirus pandemic could affect mental health, according to a Regional Health Command-Pacific psychologist.
Lawrence Edwards, RHC-P’s director of psychological health, said being physically separated from family, friends and coworkers can also lead to higher instances of emotional distress.
“Many folks will experience an increased level of anxiety during this time, and with a possible increase in isolation, some may experience levels of depression as well,” he said.
However, it’s possible to build and maintain psychological readiness and resilience, even when stuck at home or in a remote location.
Edwards said it was important to maintain a healthy lifestyle during self-quarantine or working from home.
“Some of the biggest focus should be upon getting enough sleep and exercise,” he said. “Get outside, maintain increased levels of social contact, and learn to manage your stress levels.”
Edwards said that although there are many different methods and techniques of dealing with stress, they are generally going to be specific to each individual person.
“It can be difficult to focus on any one specific technique that will work for everyone,” he said, and provided some examples of helpful techniques.
“Focus on seeing difficult situations as a challenge, versus a problem,” Edwards said. “Be committed to yourself and to your life, your friendships and relationships; and focus on situations over which you have control.”
Another RHC-P staffer said family relationships may also be stressed due to the pandemic, since people are together 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with no definite end in sight.
Lt. Col. David Sensiba, a social worker and chief of RHC-P’s family advocacy program, said stressors on significant relationships can make conflict resolution difficult and worsen communications problems.
“When couples clash, the stress of being at home together for an indefinite period can amplify the fault lines that may already exist in the relationship,” Sensiba said. “Old disagreements that couples thought they had resolved can suddenly return.
“It is important when emotions begin to escalate that the couples take a step back, take deep breaths, and it may be beneficial to go another part of the house to regain a sense of calmness before considering reengaging with the other person,” Sensiba added.
Sensiba said keeping a positive mood and being resilient are important values and for many people, there’s a tendency to avoid negative emotions and to pile negative self-judgment on top of their stress.
Sensiba suggested taking a break from what’s going on in the outside world and focusing inward on family and friends, since activities that distract people from current events can be helpful.
“Be kind to yourself and your partner,” he said. “Treat yourself with kindness, the same way you would treat a friend. This is a pandemic, so decrease the focus on self-criticism and judgment about what you’re not getting done, or how you’re not doing as much as you should be doing with your kids’ lesson plans.”
Sensiba said Soldiers and families, especially those with children, should talk about what’s going on during the pandemic.
“Talk to your kids about scary subjects,” he said. “Even if kids aren’t talking about it, we should broach the topic and create the space for questions to be asked and answered. Kids can be surprisingly aware of what adults are talking and worrying about behind closed doors.”
Sensiba said children’s feelings of fear and uncertainty can increase when they're not spoken to directly about something that is potentially frightening.
“Ask your children what they have heard about COVID-19, how they are feeling about it, and what concerns they might have,” he said. “You can also remind them that you are available to talk about thoughts and feelings and continue to check in with them over time.
“You are certainly not alone,” Sensiba added.
RHC-P’s large geographic area – covering the West Coast, Alaska, Hawaii, Japan, and Korea – also means Soldiers, civilians and families are dispersed across hundreds of thousands of square miles, which can contribute to a sense of loneliness.
Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Baker, RHC-P’s master resiliency trainer, said people can take advantage of modern technology to help bridge the gap.
“It is important to remember that though we may be physically separated from one another, we are connected through our social network,” Baker said. “Technology is a powerful tool for us to leverage during these times. We can set up message chat groups using mobile applications to remain in contact with our teammates and families. Phone calls and video calls are another way keep in contact.”
The Army’s Resilience Directorate, in Washington, D.C., also offered some tips to building and maintaining psychological readiness:
- Express gratitude: Visual cues, like a photo of your favorite person, can help you remember to be grateful for the good things in life.
- Take your mind off counter-productive thoughts: Think of something that brings you joy like a favorite song.
- Practice self-control: Think before you act. It can help minimize impulsive behaviors and improve decision making, leading to better outcomes.
- Try deep breathing techniques: Close your eyes and breathe in and out for six seconds each. Inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth. Repeat.
- Smile more: Smiling can have psychological and physical health benefits such as boosting your mood and lowering your blood pressure.
Edwards also recommended maintaining perspective as to what’s going on around you.
“Don’t overly focus on only the negative events, as there are also positive events occurring,” he said. “Look at those positive events, and if you’re having a tough day, use them to change your focus or perspective to a more positive one.”
HELP IS AVAILABLE
The Army has a variety of resources available to help build and maintain resiliency. These resources are there for Soldiers, civilians, retirees, and their families. Many are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Because so many Regional Health Command-Pacific staff members are working long hours, working from home, or are self-quarantining with their families, we’re sharing their contact information to reach a wider audience.
Regional Health Command-Pacific Behavioral Health: Lawrence Edwards, email@example.com; Warren Aoki, firstname.lastname@example.org; Michael Martella, email@example.com.
Regional Health Command-Pacific Chaplain: Chaplain (Col.) David Deppmeier, 808-594-8031, firstname.lastname@example.org; Staff Sgt. Michael Kuehne, 808-741-3049, email@example.com.
Regional Health Command-Pacific Master Resiliency Trainer: Sgt. 1st Class David Baker, 808-800-1450, firstname.lastname@example.org
Army Resilience Directorate: https://readyandresilient.army.mil/index.html
Army Public Health Center Spiritual Fitness: https://phc.amedd.army.mil/topics/healthyliving/bh/Pages/SpiritualHealth.aspx
Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness: https://readyandresilient.army.mil/CSF2/index.html
Military Crisis Line (U.S.): (800) 273-8255 or DSN 111; Press 1. Text: 838255
Military Crisis Line (Korea): 0808-555-118 or DSN 118
Military OneSource 24/7 Support: 800-342-9647
Psychological Health Center of Excellence: 866-966-1020; 24/7 outreach