ADA, Okla. – Mood swings, aggression and utter exhaustion – these mental health warning signs (and many others) have spiked more than 25 percent globally since the pandemic began. That’s according to the World Health Organization, which considers this a “wake-up call” for all of us.
“I’m having conversations about anxiety and depression with my patients daily,” said Dr. Dylon Howard, a family physician at Mercy Primary Care Clinic in Ada, Oklahoma. “Symptoms do appear to be either directly or indirectly related to the recent pandemic and global events – they’re work-related, financial hardships or the unexpected illness of a family member.
“My best recommendation is to be mindful of it all,” Dr. Howard added. “Understand how stress is affecting you and those around you. Understand the physical and mental signs of anxiety and depression and be proactive in utilizing the tools below.”
Dr. Howard shares more thoughts.
What are the first signs that someone might have heightened anxiety or stress?
“The more frequent symptoms of anxiety are excessive worry, difficulty concentrating, too little or too much sleep, mood swings and even panic attacks, which are characterized by heart racing, sweating and difficulty breathing.”
What lifestyle choices can contribute to this?
“Poor diet and sleep, sedentary behavior and excessive alcohol intake can heighten anxiety levels, worsen depression and provide a cycle of symptoms that is very difficult to break. There is a strong interplay between mental and physical health, and it takes purposeful action with intent to treat the whole person to break this cycle.”
When should you seek help?
“When the anxiety reaches a point when it is no longer manageable by the individual, whether it’s difficulty with regular social interactions, problems completing tasks at work or home, poor sleep or panic attacks. To keep anxiety at bay, you may consider regular exercise, proper sleep hygiene and diet, and stress-relaxation techniques like mindfulness, meditation and breathing exercises. But please do not hesitate or feel ashamed to seek medical counsel if your symptoms are not manageable. There are many ways medical professionals can help with proven therapies like medication, counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy.”
Describe the physical toll poor mental health can take on your body.
“Untreated, chronic stress can lead to many health issues and exacerbate underlying chronic conditions. Anxiety is not just a psychological issue, but a physical one as well. Chronic elevations in stress hormones cortisol and catecholamines lead to fluctuation in blood pressure and heart rate, elevated blood sugars, and can raise the risk of cardiovascular issues and dementia to name a few.”
Is age a factor?
“The recent increase in anxiety and depressive disorders is not limited by age-group. It is very common to see stress-related symptoms in all ages, from grade-school age to the elderly. My personal experience has shown that the uncertainty of the recent pandemic and new school policies have led to an increase in anxiety and depression in school-age children. Additionally, the uncertainty of COVID-19 and limitations in social interaction are a regular concern for people of older age. As clinicians, we have broadened our scope when screening for these issues.”
If someone doesn’t get the help they need, what is the long-term impact?
“Anxiety does not just affect the individual, but also those closest to them. Tense interactions with family members or co-workers can lead to long-term health and financial consequences.”