Millions have been affected by COVID-19 since the first cases were reported this year. While evolving, detailed information relating to physical symptoms, spread, and preventive measures in the face of this pandemic has been increasingly available, less attention has been paid to the secondary effects of COVID-19. The socio-economic impact of this virus has been devastating, leaving so many women in sustained isolation, some having lost their jobs and feeling trapped with anxiety and fear—all while taking on increasingly active role as a care giver. The mental health and stress women are experiencing due to COVID-19 is extraordinary.
Here, we look at the impact COVID-19 has on women’s mental health, what signs or symptoms you need to be aware of, and how to find relief and get the help you may find that you need.
The Mental Health Impact of COVID-19
The large-scale interruption of our daily lives continues to have negative ripple effects on emotional and mental stability for so many. In fact, a recent study shows that the stress and negative mental impact COVID-19 has had on US citizens actually surpasses that felt after the 9/11 tragedy or the Great Recession, and national surveys coordinated by Massachusetts General Hospital report that over 90% of U.S. adults surveyed say they are experiencing extreme frustration or worry directly resulting from the pandemic.
This toxic cocktail of stress, anxiety, and fear combined with social isolation is creating a global mental health crisis-within-a-crisis. Researchers and clinicians alike are feverishly trying to incorporate this very real emotional distress into wider pandemic response efforts. A result of this examination is that women seem to be experiencing a more significant emotional impact than men.
COVID’s Differing Emotional Impact on Women
As more research into the emotional and mental impact of COVID-19 becomes available, evidence is suggesting that the stress from the pandemic is being felt more acutely and having a greater impact on women than on men:
- A Total Brain survey shows that 83% of women compared to 36% of men are reporting significant increase in depression
- A recent Kaiser poll shows that 53% of women who responded report a significant negative impact on their mental health, compared to only 37% of men.
Compounding this already challenging emotional impact is that evolving evidence suggests women, especially those without a college degree, experienced more job loss than men during the pandemic. Many of these women were employed in hard hit service-sector positions (hospitality, food service, etc.), and with the simultaneous closure of schools and daycares, they are bearing the considerably inflated weight of additional burdens of home—all while isolation and social distancing recommendations removed help from friends or grandparents as a relief option. This also means that older women, who are more likely to live alone or in managed care are not only unable to help others in their family with newly soaring in-home childcare needs, but are also feeling an extended burden of extreme isolation and fear of infection.
Finally, for those women already in emotional distress and anxiety prior to the pandemic, such as those suffering from post-partum or other depression, or those in unhealthy, abusive relationships, these new confines further exacerbate stress and underscore a feeling of being alone, trapped, and helpless in the face of their fear and anxiety.
It’s important, then, to know what signs and symptoms you should be aware of in yourself and others, so that you can start taking steps toward the relief and help that you deserve.
Signs and Symptoms
The first step in addressing a problem is an honest self-examination of how you are feeling. While we’ve all been feeling the drain of elongated isolation and a certain degree of hopelessness in the face of more bad news seemingly every day, if you experience extreme or ongoing symptoms of any of the following, then it is important you have an honest conversation with your doctor about getting the help you need:
- Persistent sadness or feelings of hopelessness
- Misuse of alcohol and/or drugs
- Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits
- Appetite and/or weight changes
- Decreased energy or fatigue
- Excessive fear or worry
- Seeing or hearing things that are not there
- Extremely high and low moods
- Aches, headaches, or digestive problems without a clear cause
- Suicidal thoughts
These considerations are certainly not a comprehensive list, and if you are unsure and want a very simple, but impartial read on your current mental health, Mental Health America offers a fantastic mental health self-screening exam to help you better understand what your symptoms may mean, and how to get help.
If you feel even a small notion that something is “off”, then don’t risk it—talk to your doctor or a mental health professional to start your path toward feeling better today. Most healthcare professionals have transitioned to offering easy and safe access to care during the pandemic, many with virtual/telemedicine options for you to safely get the help you need.
Coping Strategies & Getting Help
Whether it started with an online screening, a long talk with a friend, or a detailed conversation with your doctor, the most important thing to realize is that you are not alone in this. While a specific plan for finding the help you may need will vary for each woman, there are a few things we can ALL do to improve our mental health during COVID-19:
- Make a Routine and Stick to It – As women, we thrive on the reliability of routine, structure, and predictable outcomes. Set realistic goals for a balanced routine that takes into account the many to-do’s of your life, while leaving room for incredibly important “down” time. Share it with those around you, and discuss how their own routines can help.
- Have Boundaries When Working at Home– So many have shifted to a remote-work arrangement, and one of the dangers of working remotely is that no one tells you when it’s time to stop. Its all too easy to just get caught up in your to-do’s and find that your burned out by mid-week. Make sure you stick to a work schedule and unplug at the end of the day. Your brain needs that switch!
- Digest News in Small Doses – In an time when new information on infection rates, spread, containment, and changing public health and safety regulations dominate the headlines, it can be all too easy to constantly refresh that news homepage to read the latest…and the latest…and the latest. You should keep an eye on developing information and trends to make sure you and your loved ones stay safe and informed. You should not dwell, immerse, or otherwise lose yourself down the rabbit hole of COVID-19 response. Be mindful of your exposure, and meter it to avoid adding stress.
- Stay Safely Connected – The pandemic has closed many physical doors that stand between us and our support networks, but it is critical that you make time for responsible social interaction. Virtual gatherings or socially-distant connections offer you a critical relief valve from the fact that it helps to see others also dealing with this new normal, and there is real value in the emotional healing that comes from talking and commiserating with friends.
- Maintain a Regular Sleep Schedule – Easier said than done sometimes, but getting a restful night’s sleep is key for mental health. Don’t be tempted by the “I’ll just stay up later and wake up later, since there’s no commute!” sentiment that seems to plague so many during the pandemic. Make time in your schedule to wind down (no screens!) before bed, and allow plenty of time for the rest and sleep your body and mind need.
- Exercise and Nutrition – Many are finding that more time at home means more temptation to snack more and exercise less. The gym may be closed, but the fridge is always open! Not only can a disrupted diet have a negative effect on physical health and metabolism, but your diet also significantly impacts your mental health.
- Preventive Care For Mind and Body – It is critically important to understand that COVID-era restrictions do not mean your mental or physical health should be put on hold. Virtual medicine (telehealth) and in-person social distancing measures are creating new, safe paths to care every day. If you are even slightly concerned about your mental health, or have questions or concerns for those around you, seek help from hotlines and online guidance available from caring, connected organizations like:
Most importantly, you should not let COVID-19 force you to delay your health. Our Axia Women’s Health team is here to help. Contact your provider to start a dialogue about how you are feeling, and discuss resources that can help you.
For Axia patients in Pennsylvania, the Women’s Emotional Wellness Center is available as a comprehensive resource within the Women’s Specialty Center, a collaboration between Main Line Health and Axia Women’s Health. Click to learn more.
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