Developing Healthy Ways To Cope With A Global Pandemic That Has Upended Our Daily Lives

Published by Tobacco Stops With Me on April 21, 2020

Heath Hayes

Heath Hayes, Senior Director of Communications and Strategic Engagement, Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services

Guest Blog by Heath Hayes, Senior Director of Communications and Strategic Engagement, Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services

Buckle Up

At the beginning of every plane flight, the flight attendants cover the safety procedures of air travel. At a certain point, they talk about what to do if the airplane loses cabin pressure and the oxygen mask drops from the ceiling. When this happens, they tell you, “First, secure your mask, then help those around you.”

As we deal with the last six weeks of turbulence to our daily lives brought about by the COVID-19 global pandemic, much about our daily lives has been upset. Social distancing and quarantine actions have placed us in an unprecedented place where we can begin to feel alone and anxious, and perhaps in a place where we feel like the world is collapsing down upon us.

Traumatic Events and Health

At the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS), we recognize traumatic events like what we are all experiencing can have long-lasting effects on our health. That’s why we are rolling out a series of self-care activities and actions that all Oklahomans can take to help fight off the anxiety and worry, and instead spend that energy in productive ways.

We are no strangers to this work. For the last four years, ODMHSAS has been operating the Employee Assistance Program for all state employees. By leveraging the resources we developed for Oklahomans in our mental health treatment programs, we have been able to focus and drive self-care as a way to help process and survive challenging events in the world around us.

As part of a system of work that includes our TSET health initiative, we focus on individual self-care as a preventative way for people to avoid needing more intensive levels of care. This framework also promotes a wellness perspective, which enables individuals to implement a maintenance strategy to stay well and improve upon their health. Within this framework, we encourage better nutrition, physical exertion through physical activity, and tobacco cessation, which has become increasingly important given the potential for COVID-19 to damage a person’s lungs and breathing capacity.

Ultimately, our goal is to get people into a mindset to take care of themselves through a whole-body approach, including physical/mental health and wellbeing.

Why Self-Care?

Self-care is a critical thing in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic because of the anxiety that is generated from social isolation and quarantine. In light of social distancing constraints, we are focused on building e-learning platforms and materials that will allow Oklahomans to get information, tools, and tips about ways they can get and stay connected, and how to help their loved ones and others. Staying connected to your community is vital for human beings. We all need to connect, and these resources can help do that.

Why Is This Necessary?

A lot of people feel isolated, helpless, and maybe even out of control with all the things going on in the world because of the pandemic. One of the ways to move forward is to center and ground yourself. Focus on what you can and do have control over. We have control over our attitudes, our health, and our safety. Being physically active and eating healthy are often within our control.

We also know there are a lot of folks who have gotten out of their normal routines, including those routines that keep good habits going. For some people, being out of a routine has thrown off our healthy eating or exercise practices. The current joke going around is that the 19 in COVID-19 stands for the pounds you gain while being socially isolated.

In those cases, it’s time to get back on track because what we put into our bodies and being physically active will help raise our energy level while reducing anxiety. In some ways, these resources are designed to help us get back to basics – to slow down and be mindful amid fast-moving, uncontrollable things.

And what we know is that if we don’t take care of ourselves, we can’t take care of our families, our kids, or others in our community.

Where to Find Help?

Housed on the ODMHSAS website here, sign up for a free account to access to e-learning modules focused on tips and tools to help manage and mitigate stress and anxiety. They include several short animated videos that talk about the concepts to manage self-care from social and emotional focus.

Where Does the Information Come From?

All the things we develop are pulled from research and evidence-based practices. Our specific packaging is designed to connect with Oklahomans because we know Oklahomans. A lot of research is generalized, but we can take the research and add in the Oklahoma-specific social and emotional support groups that  are available to our citizens.

Poor nutrition, lack of physical activity, and tobacco use affect Oklahomans’ mental health. Because we understand this, we can speak to Oklahomans about how improving our health can, among other things, improve our immune systems, which will help us, should we get sick with COVID-19.

Be Encouraged

I wrote this to some colleagues, and I share it with you because it’s true –and I hope you will carry this thought as you work on your own mental health through self-care.

“Focus on the things that really matter to you and know that this unprecedented time with the pandemic too shall pass. We don’t have to know when the end will be. Just know that it will come and that we will be stronger because of it. Oklahomans have made it through harsh times before – the Great Depression; the Dust Bowl; the Oklahoma City bombing; horrific tornadoes, floods, and other natural disasters; and we will make it through this – together.”

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