Experts concerned about new COVID-19 restrictions' toll on mind and body

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- As new restrictions go into effect Friday because of the rising COVID-19 metrics across North Carolina, mental health experts are concerned about the toll further isolation will have on the community at large.

Annie Schmidt, executive director of NAMI Wake County, said mental health and physical health are tightly connected and people need to work to have effective coping skills going into the Modified Stay-At-Home order that will last through the holiday season.

"You might not know how this is manifesting in you," Schmidt said of the isolation people have experienced since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak in North Carolina. "It could be that you have trouble focusing on normal tasks, you could just have random body aches and pains, or fatigue, or low energy. You could just be irritable."

Schmidt's local affiliate for the National Alliance on Mental Illness started offering three free virtual support groups every week at the start of the pandemic, providing services to existing patients and about 170 more people who were seeking mental health support for the first time.

"It's going to be scary, it's going to be unfamiliar, it's going to be something you don't want to do," Schmidt said of the new round of restrictions requiring many businesses to close after 10 p.m. nightly and mandating people stay home between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. through the New Year. "But the most important part is you work through letting yourself experience the uncomfortableness and you accept what you cannot control."

Approaching the holidays, Schmidt said she's urging people to keep up with the new routines they've formed since the spring and start new traditions in lieu of gathering in-person with extended family and friends.

Changing how you view the pandemic and restrictions could help you move forward, Schmidt said.

"If we're able to keep that mindset of this isn't a restriction, but this is something I'm doing to help someone else, you're doing this radical act of kindness for people you don't even know," she said.

For those feeling the pressure, seeing how others may seem to be thriving in these challenging circumstances, Schmidt said simply surviving counts as a win.

"Be kind to yourself in this process that it's not going to look the same every day," Schmidt said. "If all you do in a day is breathe, that's fine, too."

NAMI Wake County offers free self-care programming that includes trauma-sensitive yoga, mindfulness practices, affirmation workshops and art-based programs.

Schmidt said regular patients are not attending sessions as often as some might not have access to the technology they need to connect or don't live in a safe situation where they feel comfortable sharing their experiences over the phone.

Lauren Foster, executive director of NC HopeLine, said data from crisis lines show a similar trend.

"Nationally, calls to crisis lines are down with the pandemic and everyone being at home, maybe without a private place to call and talk," Foster said.

You can call or text the NC HopeLine anytime, 24/7. It is free and confidential: (919) 231-4525

More Resources:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-8255)

NAMI Warmlines (not for crisis situations)

Loveland Foundation for Black women and girls

7 cups Active listening free text line
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