Unprecedented times require unprecedented management of our mental health and it has never been more important to recognize that mental health is an essential component to one’s overall health and wellbeing. During the pandemic we are all managing and coping to the best of our abilities and it’s important to note that we are all in this together and it will get better. It is okay to have days that feel tough, stressful, and anxiety producing, but knowing how to manage and process those feelings is critical. Activity, exercise, connection, and access to resources are effective tools to help manage the stress and anxiety we are experiencing in every corner of our community.
In June, 2020, a few months after the start of the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted a study that revealed 40% of adults in the United States reported struggling with mental health or substance use. The CDC followed up on the same study in August of 2020 and reported a consistent trend in the percentage of adults struggling with mental health or substance use.
Here in Vermont and nationally, we have also seen an increase in overdose and in deaths from overdose. Connection to one another and resources is especially important during this period where we are often more isolated.
In the age of the COVID-19 pandemic, public health initiatives with accurate and effective communications can make a difference between life and death. Providing people with information about physical distancing and other ways to prevent infection is important. And with four-in-ten adults reporting mental health and related issues, helping people understand the potentially serious emotional and mental health effects of the pandemic, and offering resources and support, is key. Staying active, engaging in exercise, being connected, and keeping informed are important cogs in managing mental health and identifying effective ways to cope with pandemic-related stress.
Neuro-scientific research suggests that engaging in various hobbies can help relieve stress, release natural endorphins, and actually create new neural pathways. Participating in the arts is a wonderful way to de-stress and because things like drawing, painting, knitting, and other arts and crafts require minimal materials they are particularly accessible. During the pandemic we have seen some of our clients and community members explore creative avenues and also develop a sense of curiosity and enthusiasm about others and their work, an enthusiasm that is helping to create and maintain personal connections and friendships.
“Art is my Sanctuary. It grounds me and gives my life meaning. Art is the light in my day!” These are lines from a poem that was co-written by the 20 members of Howard Center’s Arts Collective for an exhibition pre-pandemic at the Amy Tarrant Gallery in Burlington.
The Collective has been meeting and showing their artwork together at public venues since 2014. Since the pandemic though, one of their studios has closed, and in-person gatherings for coffee and visits to galleries and museums have been put on hold. But the energy and enthusiasm for being together as artists has not waned.
The World Health Organization supports daily physical activity to help support positive emotional, mental and physical health. Just three-to-four minutes of physical exercise or stretching can help improve blood circulation, improve flexibility, and relax your muscles.
Regular physical activity has more lasting effects such as increasing bone and muscle strength, lowering blood pressure, managing weight, and reducing the risk for heart disease, stroke, type-2 diabetes, and various cancers.
In addition to these positive outcomes, exercise can be fun and a welcome change of pace to our daily routine.
A colleague at one Vermont Care Partner agency shared, “Unless it’s raining cats and dogs I get out every day for a walk. Getting my heart pumping and breathing deeply wakes me up and makes my worries seem so much less important.”
Making and Keeping Connections:
One of the most common challenges of the pandemic has been keeping in touch with family and friends. Travel restrictions, limits on gathering, and remote work make it more difficult to connect in-person with our family, our neighbors, co-workers, and the rest of our community. But there are still opportunities to connect that are deemed safe. By wearing a mask and practicing physical distancing outside you can go for a walk, a bike ride, or skiing with friends and family.
When meeting in person isn’t possible, technology is the next best thing. A survey by the Pew Research Center estimates that 53% of people say that the internet has been an essential tool in staying connected during the pandemic. The emergence of online platforms like Zoom have allowed employees to connect with co-workers, students to continue their education with classmates, and families to ‘face-time’ with loved ones wherever they may be.
Here in Chittenden County, members of the Arts Collective meet weekly for a community call on Zoom. They share progress on recent artwork ‘on screen’, provide feedback and encouragement to one another, and nurture each other’s artistic development.
Members often reach out to one another during tough times, and at meetings sometimes talk about issues with which they are struggling. The moral support and encouragement offered between members has become an invaluable aspect of the Arts Collective community and in the words of one member during a call, “the group has become my lifeline since the beginning of this pandemic.”
Keep Yourself Informed
At Howard Center we reach out to our community in many ways, including through the sponsored content provided here. It’s another opportunity to reinforce access to support and resources. The pandemic is challenging all members of the community but exercising, staying active, and keeping connected can help in dealing with the effects from COVID-19. Staying informed and connecting to resources is also an effective strategy. It’s ok to ask for help if you are struggling. Treatment and support is available at Howard Center in Chittenden County. Contact information and many resources are available at www.howardcenter.org and all across the state at your local Vermont Care Partners member agency. As Howard Center’s tag line says, “Help is here.”
Additionally, Howard Center offers free and open to the public community education events including lectures, films, and panel presentations on timely topics. This winter-spring, our Community Education Series will include conversations on policing and community relationships, alcohol use, and hoarding behavior. These free events always include opportunities for questions and discussion.
Howard Center’s annual conference brings national and international experts and thought leaders to Vermont for the benefit of the entire community. Presenters include a mix of scientists and clinical experts along with people with lived experience and their supporters.
Our 2021 annual conference Perspectives on Connection, Compassion, and Belonging will be an online event featuring speakers Dr. Laurie Santos, V (formerly Eve Ensler), and Rev. angel Kyodo williams on March 30, 2021. Registration will open on February 1, 2021 at howardcenter.org.
The pandemic is weighing on all of us but by keeping active, engaging in exercise, staying connected, and keeping informed, we can better manage our anxieties and support our mental health until restrictions are lifted. A member of our community summed it up eloquently, “Being active helps me breathe. It keeps me sane and brings my curiosity alive! Most of all, being part of this community during the pandemic is keeping ME alive.”
ABOUT HOWARD CENTER: Howard Center has a long and rich history as a trusted provider in the community. With a legacy spanning more than 155 years, we have been providing progressive, compassionate, high-quality care and supports to those in need. Today, we offer an array of mental health, substance use, and developmental services across the lifespan. As Vermont’s largest social service organization, our 1,600 staff help more than 19,000 people each year in over 60 locations throughout Vermont in collaboration with hundreds of community partners. Howard Center’s 24/7/365 crisis service, First Call for Chittenden County, is available to meet the needs of Chittenden County children, adults, and families in crisis by calling 802-488-7777. Howard Center has been designated as a Center of Excellence by Vermont Care Partners and is a funded agency of United Way of Northwest Vermont. www.howardcenter.org. Help is here.
This series is a collaboration produced by members of the Vermont Care Partners.
Vermont Care Partners is a statewide network of sixteen non-profit, community-based agencies providing mental health, substance use and intellectual and developmental disability support. To find an agency near you visit https://vermontcarepartners.org/agencies/.