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Talking, focusing on the present can help with pandemic stress

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As New Mexicans live and work under a stay-at-home order extending into its third week to stem the spread of the coronavirus, stress may rise.

Mental health practitioners in Roswell say the best ways to deal with an increase in anxiety, depression or other mental health issue is to talk about it and focus on the present.

Elizabeth Macias, a clinical therapist with La Casa Behavioral Health, 110 E. Mescalero Rd., said the agency has seen an increase in people seeking help for mental health issues. Appointments are conducted through telemedicine, but patients who need injectable medications are still seen in person, with precautions taken to prevent infection from the coronavirus, she said.

The therapists and community support workers at La Casa are using a “fast track” program called Treat First to help new clients during the pandemic.

“That allows us as a therapist and a CSW to see a client four times before we complete a full assessment with them,” she said.

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“A lot of people are just experiencing depression that has been subsided for awhile and anxiety and traumas that have come back up for them, and so they’re reaching out,” she said.

Dr. Truett Maddox, medical director of Eastern New Mexico Medical Center’s Sunrise Mental Health Center, agreed the pandemic could give rise to mental health issues.

“There’s no doubt when stress is increased in the community, in our families, our lives, it does tend to bring out some of the depression or the different psychiatric symptoms significantly more,” he said.

The census at the ENMMC psychiatric center is high right now, Maddox said, although he said that’s not unusual in normal times. The center draws patients from the region, including Clovis, Hobbs, Artesia and Carlsbad. Maddox said he couldn’t conclude the pandemic was a direct cause of the increase, although some patients had expressed concern about the virus.

A large part of the anxiety and depression La Casa is seeing comes from the uncertainty of the times, Macias said.

“They’re not really sure of the rules,” she said. “Their version and interpretation of listening to the media, to the governor, listening to the president, it kind of gets very construed for them,” she said.

For clients the therapists are familiar with, that often just means explaining the situation in terms the client can understand, she said. Sometimes it’s just letting them vent or helping them see a solution to an immediate problem.

She tells of a military veteran who said he had a war-zone flashback during a trip to a local store.

“What I did was try to reassure him that’s not every store,” she said. She showed him a list of stores that had special hours for the elderly, which he would be able to take advantage of.

“He felt a lot calmer that he could get up the next day and go to (another store) in this time and he wouldn’t experience that,” she said.

Maddox said staying focused on the present can help.

“The key I think is staying out of the future to a certain degree,” he said. “If we get up in the future and start imagining all these kinds of different things that are going to happen, we just get nervous and we get scared. The issue is, nobody is ever able to know exactly what’s going to happen in the future,” he said.

Connecting with loved ones is also important, but for those who might be feeling stress from being around their family more than usual, Maddox suggested activities such as reading, books on tape or gardening for some solitary time.

For those who feel they do need help but are reluctant to see a therapist, Macias suggested calling a hotline. At La Casa, the number for the office, 575-755-2272, becomes a crisis line after 5 p.m. each day.

The agency contracts with ProtoCall Services Inc., the same company that partners with the state for the New Mexico Crisis and Access Line. That number, available 24 hours a day, is 1-855-NMCRISIS, or 1-855-662-7474.

“A licensed therapist answers that phone. That’ll give somebody some guidance or direction, somebody to listen,” she said.

Macias offered some other tips for coping with stress brought on by the pandemic, such as keeping distracting activities on hand.

“We’ve been suggesting that people make themselves little baskets with things that are from around their house and keep them calm — mints, coloring, to-do lists. If you have an old talent like sewing or crocheting, you can bring that back up,” she said.

Macias suggests meditation and especially guided imagery for her clients. Phone apps designed for meditation are available, and she recommends YouTube for videos on guided imagery.

“Meditation is one thing that’s you being in a mindset where you can take yourself to a certain place. But guided imagery is that person in the background talking, and they guide you to a place for sleep, anxiety, for depression,” she said. “That’s why I suggest that to my clients because I’m not there to do that with them.”

Walks outside are also helpful, but Macias advises if you walk your dog to be mindful of the animal as well.

“Don’t overdo it with the poor guy. He’s not used to being walked five times a day. He’s used to being walked once or twice, so that’s hard for them, too,” she said.

Avoiding a constant barrage of news is also important, Macias said.

“If you feel you need to watch the news, pick a certain station and watch it for 15 minutes a couple times a day, or stick to one website,” she said.

Setting a routine and daily or weekly goals can be helpful. Just getting dressed every day can be good for dealing with depression, Macias said.

Above all, talking to someone is important, Macias said.

“Talk it out with somebody. There’s a lot of times once you can get yourself back into reality, your anxiety calms down,” she said.

To keep up with local coverage of the coronavirus, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/covid-19-situation/.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.

 

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