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The availability of vaccines and declining COVID-19 cases have offered hope that the crisis may become more manageable.

But for many, ongoing virus-related fears continue to cause high levels of stress and could lead to health issues in the months and years ahead.

“High levels of stress have a negative impact on one’s overall health and wellness,” explained Catholic Health’s Director of Behavioral Health Central Intake Services Lawrence M. Ferber, Ph.D. “An increase in stress can cause serious problems such as strokes and heart attacks.”

Mental health experts are now studying the possible short- and long-term impact that COVID-related stress could have on individuals.

A recent study by the American Psychological Association (APA) determined that the average reported stress level was 5.6 on a scale of 1 to 10, the highest level recorded over the past 12 months. The survey also revealed that 80% of respondents cited the COVID-19 pandemic as a significant source of stress.

The concern for Dr. Ferber is the long-term effect the pandemic could have on people’s mental health. He believes there is a growing number of people suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

“PTSD typically develops in individuals after they experience or witness a horrifying traumatic event,” he said. “With all the difficult news reported over the past year day after day, it can become too much for some people to deal with.”

Warning signs of PTSD include increased depression and anxiety, becoming angry quickly, having upsetting memories or difficulty sleeping.

According to the APA, there are several steps people can take to help manage their stress.

  • Take a break from the news and social media. Constant exposure to negative information, images and rhetoric pushes our stress to unhealthy levels.
  • Practice the rule of “three good things.” Reflect on three good things that happened, large or small. This helps decrease anxiety, counter depression and build emotional resiliency.
  • Practice self-care in 15- or 30-minute increments throughout the day. This can include taking a short walk, calling a friend or watching a funny television show.
  • Stay connected with family and friends. This helps build emotional resiliency and provides support.
  • Keep things in perspective. Try to reframe your thinking to reduce negative interpretations of day-to-day experiences and events.

Catholic Health offers assistance for those in need of counseling. They include outpatient, inpatient and telepsychiatry behavioral health services to treat adults experiencing depression, anxiety and other psychiatric illness. Patients are cared for by board certified psychiatrists, psychiatric nurse practitioners, licensed clinical social workers, licensed mental health counselors, registered nurses and a licensed creative arts therapist.

Information on the mental health resources at Catholic Health may be obtained by calling 1-855-247-4500. You can also download the Catholic Health Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Guide.

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