Mental Health Tips for All Ages

Local experts provide advice for employers, parents and elderly caregivers looking to lower stress during this difficult time

Perspective Health

Good mental health is always important, but during COVID-19 it’s been a particularly hot topic as most people have had their employment situation change — either losing employment or transitioning to a work-from-home environment.

The latter situation has forced managers to change tactics.

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“Initially, you think, ‘We can deal with this for a few weeks, and we’ll do what we have to do,’ and then the normalcy of it starts to sink in,” said Amy Bakay, founder of HR NOLA, a New Orleans-based consulting firm that provides human resources services to small businesses. “We’ve seen people starting to transition out of the panic/crisis mode now into, ‘OK, let’s see how we can make this work now for us.’”

Bakay said managers’ concerns are now moving from focusing on the logistics of maintaining business operations into focusing on employee engagement and well-being in the longer term.

“The question now is, ‘How can I keep my people motivated and engaged,?” she said. “How can I keep them well when I can’t physically be near them to assess that they appear to be well?”

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Bakay said she normally advises managers to stay out of employees’ personal business, “but now is different,” she said. “You need to get involved in their personal business. You need to talk to them and see how they’re doing and see what plans you can put into place to keep them well from a holistic perspective.”

Managers might not be able to do a daily huddle with each of their employees, but Bakay said at minimum they should check in with employees once a week to have a conversation that includes, “Here’s what we expect this week; here’s how we’re going to operate this week; here’s what I’m going to do for you; and is there anything else that I can do to support you with these initiatives this week?” She added that managers might have to set new expectations for employees.

Most of the issues that are causing stress right now can fit into the broader categories of fear and uncertainty — fear of the virus,
fear of losing a job, uncertainty when it comes to protecting oneself and loved ones, and not knowing when this will all end.

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Dr. Bruce Wilson, an internal medicine physician at West Jefferson Medical Center, noted that “control is everything” in times of uncertainty, and one easy way to take control is to make a to-do list and set goals.

“Seize this moment, because it may not come again,” said Wilson. “Who are you going to be after quarantine?”

Exercising and eating a healthy diet are two things that individuals can control; they’ll also help you physically feel better. “Exercise increases energy, it increases mood, and it helps curb infection by increasing the immune system,” Wilson said. “So now you’re taking control over your ability to be infected by the virus. Everybody wants to know, ‘How can I beat this thing?’ Staying healthy is the best way to beat this.”

Staying healthy, Wilson added, includes controlling your mindset.

“We are a thermostat and we can control our mood,” he said. “Looking on the bright side actually releases endorphins, helping
to prevent that mood of uncertainty and fear, and now you start having a mood of enlightenment, a mood of increased energy.” Wilson advised that now is a great time to start a meditation practice to help with mental and physical well-being. He recommended starting small — just a minute of closing your eyes every day — and then allow yourself to grow into it and watch how meditation relieves stress and keeps you calm.

Stressing that self-care is important not only for individuals, but for all those around them, Dr. Diane Franz, director of the psychology department at Children’s Hospital, said children are very in tune with what’s happening around them, so it’s important for parents themselves to self-monitor.

“If you’re struggling, that impacts your kids,” she said, “so take care of yourself as much as you can.”

Franz advised parents to “try to have a schedule, predictability — those things are helpful for little kids, and older kids. Even if you have a different routine, just try to have a routine.”

Finding a way to contribute might help relieve some stress.

“We’ve seen all these homemade efforts to make masks or donate food or make cards for people in nursing homes,” said Franz. “Any small thing that kids can do to feel like they’re helping, it’s obviously helpful to the people they’re giving those things to, but it also helps us.”

Maintaining social distance from family is especially stressful if someone has a relative in an assisted living facility.

“People in a facility are already alone or they’re no longer living with their children,” said Scott Lovitt, owner of Audubon Care Homes in Metairie. “They’re already isolated and already more or less alone and this just amplifies that, makes it a hundred times worse.”

In an effort to keep residents connected to their loved ones while social distancing, Lovitt has introduced patient engagement technology at his facility, utilizing a 70-inch touch screen for various activities.

“Residents can paint pictures, do puzzles, and play ‘Jeopardy!’” Lovitt said. “They can Skype and video with their family members, take yoga classes, watch old TV shows and movies. It’s a huge stress reliever.”

Mark Francis is the VP of special projects at Schonberg Care, which has retirement communities throughout Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina. He said he’s overseeing a number of projects aimed at keeping older adults and their loved ones connected.

Schonberg Care has set — and continues to achieve — a goal of each resident having what they call “quality touch” with their friends and
family three times a week.

“In addition to Skype, Zoom and FaceTime, we’ve had porch visits or gate visits, where we’ll have family members on one side of the gate in the courtyard social distancing, but still able to have a conversation,” said Francis. “We’ve facilitated window visits where families can be inches apart and have a wonderful conversation and really feel that closeness. I think that’s what they want more than anything.”

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