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Psychologists suggest coping mechanisms, online services

In a time of social isolation amid the pandemic, local mental health experts say people should take the time to focus on their minds along with their bodies.

Lindsay Sauers, Psy.D, psychologist at UPMC Williamsport Divine Providence, and Dr. Kylie Oleski, Psy.D, psychologist at Geisinger Mount Pleasant, agree that mental health is critical as the virus continues to affect social gatherings.

“Mental health is of the utmost importance,” Oleski said. “Social isolation naturally leads to increased anxiety and depression, and it can worsen and increase over time.”

“It is critical that, as we are talking about physical health, we also talk about emotional and mental health,” Sauers said. “I know we have to separate them in practice, but they influence each other.”

Both Geisinger and UPMC health systems are offering in-person and teleconference appointments for therapy, help with medication, stress management, behavioral health and all questions and concerns year-round, but especially during the pandemic.

Sauers and Oleski said they each have seen an increase in patient attendance with the addition of over-the-phone and telehealth video visits.

“I have certainly noticed it is an adjustment,” Sauers said. “We think of it (therapy) as something you do in-person. It (COVID-19) has taken a toll on some folks, but our building is a safe place. It is an opportunity to work through the fact that this doesn’t feel safe. I encourage people to reach out to any practitioners or offices.”

The increase in patients not only shows that the need is present and growing, but that people are taking advantage of the help available, she added.

“Right now, we have a lot of uncertainty,” Sauers said. “There are a lot of changes and having to adjust what we know and expect to identify what will work or how things can work. It takes a lot of energy — physically, cognitively and emotionally.”

“This is a radical change of life and of space, and change can be anxiety-provoking,” Oleski added. “We are all being asked to adapt to this increase in nervousness for the first time. There is this very big change and it’s a lot to process and a lot to handle. Some might have a new-found restlessness that can fuel some anxiety — now we are working from home or are laid off, now we have this down time and what do we do?”

Dr. Sauers encourages readers to create a routine while at home that will not only include structured time with specific chores and things to do but unstructured time with relaxation and physical activity, such as yoga.

“Unstructured time can be helpful,” she said. “This is the opportunity to try something that you have been thinking about trying.”

Nourishing your body with water and healthier foods can also help establish new habits and a healthier lifestyle, she said.

Oleski agrees that exercise is a great way to combat nervousness, alongside bringing old hobbies back into one’s life.

“Now might be a time to clean or do arts or house projects or get back into hobbies,” she said. “And adding relaxation, deep breathing, yoga, mindfulness and other relaxation strategies are the best way to combat anxiety.”

Both experts are pushing for people to maintain a positive outlook, whether at home or at work during the pandemic, because a positive outlook invites better moods.

“You don’t have to have a mental illness to be feeling these things,” Oleski said. “A positive approach can make our time more manageable, not catastrophic.”

“It is important to have time to process and talk about it and leave space,” Sauers added.

“Focus on gratitude each day, there is a lot of negatives,” Oleski said. “It is a great time to be thankful and to try to maintain a balanced perspective.”

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