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Tackle the stresses of COVID-19 with these psychology tips

Mental illness and unhealthy habits can take over during stressful times. Talk with your doctor if you need help.

During the COVID-19 crisis, Cindy Van Keuren, president-elect of the Ohio Psychological Association, has felt concerned about the mental state of so many people who are forced to stay at home.

"There's a lot of people who are fearful of the virus," Van Keuren said. "We've seen and are expecting extra cases of depression. People are experiencing isolation and frustration, and we expect that to continue as the world is not going to be back to normal for some time."

Outside of her role as president-elect, Van Keuren serves as a staff psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic Rehabilitation Hospital in Akron. She and other psychologists have seen how the coronavirus has impacted patients.

"This is definitely a more vulnerable time for a lot of people. Even people who generally have healthy coping strategies or coping mechanisms are now turning to some vices," Van Keuren said. "Whether that's opioids, alcohol, or gambling, folks are looking for a way to escape the realities of this crisis."

According to a report from the Columbus Dispatch, the Franklin County Coroner's Office reported 60 overdose deaths in the county in April, a 50% increase from April 2019. In Cuyahoga County, the medical examiner's office saw overdose deaths rise 45% from 33 in February to 48 in March 2020.

"People are having a harder time adjusting to higher levels of depression or stress management, with so many added reasons for stress. People can't have a loved one come to see them in the hospital, people losing jobs, support groups are harder to access right now. This all is leaving people vulnerable right now," Van Keuren said.

Amid all of the challenges, Van Keuren believes it's possible to find a positive light in the darkness by making a few life changes. She says that reducing your news consumption is a good place to start.

"Make sure you stay informed, but limit your exposure to the news, because it's just overwhelming and leaves people feeling powerless," Van Keuren said.

Turning to vices like sugary and high-carb foods might sound tempting, but these can have negative physical and mental effects. To offset any unhealthy splurges, make sure you exercise regularly and maintain a diet that is healthy overall.

Finally, strive for social interaction with at least one other person every day. Talking on the phone or through video chat can improve your mood and offers you a chance to see how your family and friends are coping.

In addition to her tips, Van Keuren suggests seeking professional help if you start feeling symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other mental illnesses.

In late April, the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services announced the COVID CareLine. Individuals can call this new toll-free support line to receive confidential emotional support during a personal crisis. Staff members can be reached seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at 1-800-720-9616. For more information on the COVID CareLine, visit the ODMHAS website.