by Dr. Sosunmolu Shoyinka MD, MBA, Chief Medical Officer, City of Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS)

As we approach the anniversary of the onset of COVID worldwide, people all over the world are experiencing a variety of emotions. As a result of COVID, most people have experienced isolation, stress, anxiety, and confusion at some point. Many have lost loved ones. Many others have lost their usual source of income.

Reading and hearing about the number of deaths from COVID is distressing. Family and other relationships have been particularly stressed by isolation and distancing protocols put in place to limit the spread of COVID. Amidst all this, there has been an increase in alcohol and/or drug use to cope. Even with the approach of spring and the availability of vaccines, anxiety and stress levels remain high for many.

Those with pre-existing anxiety and other mental health conditions may be particularly at risk. Individuals and teams whose work brings them in contact with infected persons have experienced stress and anxiety about possibly contracting COVID and/or spreading it to their loved ones. Other groups at risk for increased stress include the elderly, those caring for sick or vulnerable persons, and those experiencing significant changes to work, travel, or family life. For some groups, such as working parents of young children, youths, teachers, caregivers and first responders, the pandemic has been particularly challenging.

Regardless of status or work function, we can anticipate that all of us have already experienced (or will, at some point) some increased stress.

At times like this, it is important to continue to take steps to promote mental wellness and resilience.

DBHIDS aligns with SAMHSA, Mental Health America, the Centers for Disease Control, American Psychological Association, and the American Psychiatric Association to make the following recommendations:

  1. Connect with people: Reaching out to people you trust is one of the best ways to reduce anxiety, depression, loneliness, and boredom during social distancing, quarantine, and isolation. Make phone calls frequently, use software such as Zoom, Google Meet, FaceTime, and text messaging to stay connected.
  2. Relax: Calm your body often by doing things that work for you—take deep breaths, stretch, meditate, pray, or engage in home-based exercise including yoga. Pace yourself between stressful activities and do something fun after a hard task.
  3. Get outside in nature–if feasible: Parks are a safer option than indoor meeting spaces when looking for recreation. We encourage you to use the City’s Parks and Recreation resources in ways that are safe and that comply with current City guidelines.  Being outdoors in spaces such as FDR Park, Fairmount Park, and the Wissahickon Valley Park, or just a walk to your local park, can help boost your mood. Just remember to wear a mask, practice social distancing and wash or sanitize your hands frequently.
  4. Do not ignore your health; talk to your doctor: Continue to schedule remote tele-health appointments for mental health, substance use, or physical health needs.
  5. Stay informed using credible sources: This helps us stay grounded and centered with accurate and timely information. For Philadelphians, we recommend visiting the City of Philadelphia’s COVID-19 webpage. You can also text COVIDPHL to 888-777 to receive updates to your phone. The City has also set up a 24-hour helpline (1-800-722-7112) if you need to speak with a healthcare professional.
  6. Consider limiting media exposure: While it is important to stay informed, constant monitoring of news and social media can trigger anxiety and stress, so it is equally as important to create a healthy balance to minimize overexposure.
  7. Make time for yourself: For parents of young children who may have to balance work with homeschooling, try to plan scheduled “me time” when you can unplug and do something you enjoy and find relaxing – just for you. The same recommendations apply for caregivers.
  8. More tips for children and young adults: Check out these tips on schooling during COVID for students and college-age youths from Mental Health America.

In addition to these tips, we encourage you to visit other pages on where you can find COVID-19 Mental Health Awareness & Resources.  This is a free website powered by DBHIDS that provides behavioral health resources and a free, quick and anonymous mental health check-up to gauge your emotional well-being.

We also encourage people to take care of one another and check in with those around us who might be facing challenges during this uncertain time, so together we can stay well. Remember, you are not alone!