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Ask a Mental Health Expert: Coping During COVID-19

UW Medicine mental health experts have helped many of our patients maintain their well-being during the pandemic.

But what are these providers doing in their own lives to cope?

Here, our experts share how they take care of their own well-being and what they want others to know about mental health.

Allie Franklin, LICSW, Administrator, Behavioral Health Services

Allie, her family and cat
Left: Franklin (center) and her family. Right: Franklin’s cat, Cee Cee.

During this time, I have been making sure to take regular walks in nature, limiting my time watching and reading the news, having more snuggle time with our kitty and connecting more with my family who live out of state (through phone calls and video chats).

Ramanpreet Toor, MD, Psychiatrist, UW Neighborhood Clinics and Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

Ramanpreet Toor
Ramanpreet Toor.

Last year has been tough emotionally for most of the people, including providers. More people have experienced burnout, including me. Work, changes in home life, loss of family and not being able to be with them during this tough time was not easy. Like a lot of people, keeping track of the COVID-19 situation in the U.S. and other countries where my parents and siblings are located was emotionally exhausting.

I have started practicing self-compassion, which I always tell my patients to try but did not practice myself. I am trying to be kind to myself. I did UW course “Care,” which was helpful and reinforced that.

Rosie Rogers, LSWAIC, Harborview’s Emergency Department

Rosie Rogers
Rosie Rogers in Wales.

When it comes to managing my mental health, there is no better feeling than looking at a calendar riddled with plans from game nights to dinner reservations to weekend camping trips to morning yoga classes to solo movie nights with takeout. When I make an effort to schedule activities I enjoy as well as time to take care of myself, I feel a better sense of control over ways in which I can actively support my well-being. By making plans in advance and physically adding them to my calendar, I’m able to lock in certain days or nights to look forward to, while also creating a visual for how I’m spending and balancing my time outside of work. Ultimately, this technique has served as a great way to maintain my energy throughout the workweek and commit to a balanced lifestyle in my free time!

Carson Robinson, LICSW, Harborview Mental Health and Addiction Services

I’m a DBT (dialectical behavior therapy) therapist and teach mindfulness, emotion regulation, distress tolerance and interpersonal skills to my clients. So my main self-care strategy has been to take my own advice. I participated in a 10-week mindfulness-based cognitive therapy group for therapists, and I resumed a daily (well, almost daily) mindfulness practice. When I’ve felt like I’m about to totally lose it, I’ve taken shots of Tabasco sauce (I have a bottle in my office drawer) to calm myself with a rush of endorphins and submerged my face in cold water to up-regulate my parasympathetic nervous system. I’ve also been running, doing yoga and dancing all night (at venues that require proof of vaccination). My self-care practices have much room for improvement, and, like everyone else, I’ve been doing the best that I can.

Cindy Delamaza, LICSW, Psychiatry Consultation Team at Harborview

Cindy Delamaza
Cindy Delamaza biking “Going to the Sun Road” in Glacier National Park, MT.

It definitely has been a hard time; mental health is so important and often neglected.

In terms of taking care of my own mental health, I think I would sum it up with “feeding my senses.” Cycling and cooking are my passions. I always feel better after a bike ride. The physical movement is a big part of it, but also exploring neighborhoods, socializing with a riding buddy, enjoying the scenery and different smells (flowers, freshly cut grass, morning bacon cooking, afternoon barbecue, etc.), or saying hello to people out for a walk.

In addition to the smell, taste and touch of cooking, I really appreciate the process of following a recipe and ending with a final product — and if I can share it with friends, family and co-workers it’s even more rewarding. Connecting with friends and family was also really big: being able to talk when feeling down or stressed was so helpful. We scheduled Zoom dates and outdoor socially distanced get-togethers. Zoom was good but seeing each other in person was even better.

As a social worker working in mental health, it can be even harder to see/hear from the ones you love when they’re struggling. Talking and listening is one thing, but from time to time I also sent out cards to friends. Their surprise and appreciation made both of us feel good.

I work with a lot of patients who are admitted to the hospital after a suicide attempt. What I hear a lot is how alone and hopeless people feel. There are three things I want people to know about taking care of their mental health.

  1. Talk to your supports. Tell them what’s going on, how you’re feeling and what you need. Sometimes when people get really down, they lose touch of who cares about them and/or they fear burdening them — so make a list of who to call. The county crisis line is also a great option if you want to talk with someone outside of your life.
  2. Get up and get out. Activating yourself by getting out in nature and moving are a great way to boost your mental health.
  3. Alcohol and drugs may temporarily make you feel better, but in the long run worsen the problem.

Access mental health services and support

As the delta surge continues and we head into fall, it’s understandable if you’re feeling burnt out, frustrated or weary. Know that you aren’t alone, and there are mental health and well-being resources available to help you.

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