woman looking out window-with depressed expression

COVID-19 Mental Health Q&A

ThedaCare’s Behavioral Health experts offer guidance for navigating these challenging times

If you are struggling mentally or emotionally to deal with some of the changes brought about by COVID-19, you are not alone. Adjusting to this new normal has been difficult on many of us, but as ThedaCare Mental Health Clinician Katie Normington and Certified Substance Abuse Counselor Nicole Hooley reveal, there are steps we can take to cope more easily. Read on as our experts answer some of the most frequently asked questions surrounding mental health in the age of COVID-19.

1. I’ve never struggled with mental health issues in the past. Why is this situation so different?
This situation is absolutely, different. COVID-19 was largely unexpected and has left many of us wondering how to appropriately respond for our own safety and stability. Anxiety, is often alleviated by information, and we simply don’t have this information now. If you have never struggled with mental health issues in the past, and feel as though you are today, consider that this circumstance is unlike anything many of us have ever experienced before. Having emotional struggles now, is expected. Give yourself grace, and try to observe negative and anxious thoughts, feelings, and behaviors with compassion.

2. How do I know when it’s time to seek professional help?
This is a common question when someone experiences a trauma, or difficult life situation. As a general rule, if the sadness, anxiety, emotions or substance use you are experiencing is interfering with your day-to-day functioning, consider speaking to a counselor. If you continue to be unsure, seek out a consultation with an expert who can determine whether or not your symptoms are severe enough to warrant additional services, or if your needs might better be met by other resources. Allow the professional to ask the right questions and offer suggestions on next steps. This could likely even be done by phone, prior to an appointment being made.

Counselors recognizes it takes courage to come to counseling and will do their best to ease your anxiety and listen to your needs. Click here for a list of services available through ThedaCare Behavioral Health and the surrounding community.

Please seek urgent help if you are having thoughts such as, “I wish that I was dead,” or thoughts of killing yourself. Sometimes, people avoid seeking help out of fear they will be immediately hospitalized. While hospitalization can be necessary at times, far more frequently individuals are able to work with their counselors and primary medical providers to remain safely at home. Suicidal thoughts are an indicator that you need additional support and help to alleviate your distress. Going to your local emergency room for an immediate assessment and services is one option. Individuals can also call or text the confidential numbers listed here.

Crisis Text Line: 741741
(This is a great option if you prefer to text, and not talk.)

Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

Nowmattersnow.org is also an excellent website that talks more about suicidal ideation, what to do as thoughts arise, and when to seek help.

3. I had a mental health/substance abuse condition before this started. How can I make sure I maintain the treatments I need?
It is imperative to maintain communication between yourself and your counselor. Keep track of your appointments, as well as your goals and how you’re working toward them.  Let your counselor know if something isn’t working or you find yourself needing additional support. Also, make sure you can be focused on your sessions when they occur. This is vital now that many sessions are being conducted by phone or telehealth.

4. What actions can I take on my own to help ease the anxiety I’m feeling?
You have control over where you direct your attention and energy. What do you value the most in your life? These things, whatever they are, likely drive where you put your energy day to day. Consider physical health and wellness, spirituality, community, creating art, spending time in nature, recreation, one’s marriage, parenting, etc. Keep in mind, you can value a multitude of different things at the same time. Small, meaningful actions, directed towards those things that are most important to you, is the goal.

5. How can I stay in-the-know without getting overwhelmed with information?
As you are watching the news, or reading articles online, stay in tune with how this information is impacting your mood. If you start to notice anxiety, ask yourself, “Is this helpful?” If not, turn it off. Establish a limit for how many times per day you look at the information, and stick to it. Limiting your time on social media can also help. Finally, be certain the information you read is from reliable sources. There are excellent articles on the web to help you determine this.

6. How can I help a loved one cope with mental health issues related to COVID-19?
Ask your loved one, “What are a few ways I can nurture and care for you now? I see your struggle, and I want to help.” Your loved one may be able to identify some things, or they may not. Sometimes we can’t pinpoint what we need or how to alleviate the distress we feel. You may also be greeted with silence or an “I don’t know” response as they try to process what they’re feeling. If they do open up, be careful to listen to the underlying messages. Instead of responding with attempts to change his or her mood, simply repeat back what you hear. “You are really worried about the finances” versus “Honey, everything is going to be fine.”

Distraction can be incredibly helpful. Take him/her for a walk outside. Go for a drive. Cook together. Encourage time in nature, and listen to music! Doing something to help others can also be incredibly powerful to boost one’s mood. Encourage your loved one to seek out support in others, such as family, friends, and coworkers. Finally, if his or her distress is impacting your own, it may be wise for you to seek out a counselor for guidance and support. They can offer insight to help you maintain emotional wellness while you’re helping your loved one cope.

7. What are the best ways to stay connected to people I care about while social distancing?
Lean on technology to call, text, and video chat. You can even suggest scheduled meetings via video applications. You can also write a letter or send a card to someone you’re thinking about.

8. What are some simple ways I can take short breaks throughout the day to recharge?
Build break time into your work day, if you have not done so already. You can walk away from your work station, complete a short meditation, go for a short walk, watch a short funny/ interesting video, or call a friend.

9. How do I maintain hope without a definite end in sight?
Living life and achieving happiness with COVID in our community is a true challenge. Looking ahead contributes to anxiety, so learn to take one day at a time, and when possible, practice the following behaviors:

Pay Attention. Slow down and try to appreciate the little things, even something as simple as observing the rise and fall of your pet’s chest while they peacefully nap in the sun. Pay attention to your surroundings and truly take in the beauty.

Embrace the moment. Treasure these observations and precious moments as they arrive. When your child gives you a hug, feel the love, and hold on just a minute longer. Challenge yourself to stay with those feelings of awe for just a few more seconds.

Recognize feelings of gratitude and joy. “I am grateful for the sun today!” Consider starting a gratitude journal, or a simple list of things that bring you joy. Research shows this can train your brain to see them more often, with happiness as a result.

Experience mastery. Pick 1 to 3 relatively simple tasks you would like to achieve each day. Happiness arises when we can cross things off of our “to do” list.  These lists, however, should not be long, as distress arises when tasks are left undone.

Do One Thing at a Time. Focus intently on doing one thing at a time. When you recognize you are trying to multitask, give yourself permission to slow down, and devote your attention to a single action.

Turn on the tunes. Allow music to enter your space, and carry you away. Music, like very few other things, can lift one’s mood in minutes.

See the good, and pass it on. See the good in the news. There are multiple examples of people showing up to help one another every day. Then, consider what you might do today to pass that positivity on to someone else.

Nurture Yourself.  Engage in self-care. Nourish your body with healthy foods. Take walks if you can. Allowing yourself to rest, when needed, is also important.

Get outside. Nature can be the best medicine. With stay at home orders, there are many things one cannot do, but nothing is preventing you from taking in some fresh air.

Consider, “I can…” This virus has limited us, but as you approach your days, challenge yourself to identify the many things you CAN do. “I can still enjoy my morning cup of coffee.” “I can still help others.” “Even now, I can create this amazing piece of art.”

Add to this list. What is it that brings you joy? Do it today.


Katie Normington
Mental Health Clinician


Nicole Hooley
Certified Substance Abuse Counselor