How to Keep Your Mental Health in Check During this Stressful Time, According to Clinical Psychologists Who Teach at WP

Between social distancing, quarantine and curfews; fear and anxiety about our own physical wellbeing and the wellbeing of our loved ones; job loss or lost wages, and learning how to transition to online education and working from home, the psychological hurdles are abundant today, according to clinical psychologists and William Paterson University professors Michele Cascardi and Jan Mohlman.

Cascardi is director and Mohlman serves as core faculty of the University’s doctorate program in clinical psychology.

“Accept this is a frightening time,” Cascardi says. “Try to keep perspective and know this is temporary.”


Tips for handling the new norm

Above all, both psychologists recommend that people follow the Centers for Disease Control, World Health Organization, and government recommendations for minimizing virus exposure, which will both help keep us physically healthy and allay some of our fear and anxiety.

“It is important not to feel like things are hopeless, or that we are helpless. We are still in control of many aspects of our lives,” says Mohlman, a licensed psychologist in New York, whose research and clinical work focus on anxiety disorders across adulthood. 

“I recommend scheduling regular check-ins by phone or video with different people from different areas of one’s life—in other words, some friends, some relatives, some neighbors, some work colleagues, some mentors or mentees, and so on—so that one can still take on different and meaningful roles in daily life,” Mohlman says. “Don’t let the virus rob you of who you are. You are a multifaceted and dynamic individual.”

Mohlman also recommends that people limit the amount of time they spend watching television and movies “since these are not interactive activities and can contribute to feelings of loneliness,” she explains. Instead, she recommends taking up a new hobby or reading those books you “always meant to read.”

Similarly, Cascardi suggests taking part in online games that can be played with others you know, or even those you don’t, as they offer both interactivity and socialization.

Learning new skills such as cooking and basic home improvement, which provide us with control over some aspects of our daily life, are also great, Mohlman advises. “Then, when this is over, you can have friends over to admire your nice home and dine on your great culinary creations,” she says. “It is very helpful to have things to look forward to, for when we move out of this phase of the situation.”


How much fear and anxiety are normal?

“We cannot be paralyzed in our lives due to the situation, nor can we devote every waking minute to health management activities,” Mohlman says.

Some signs that a person may need help, according to the psychologists, are:

  1. Experiencing unmanageable or overwhelming distress that cannot be calmed with facts and/or support from others
  1. Experiencing an inability to carry out necessary daily tasks, including self-care, due to fear or one’s attempts to manage fear
  1. Putting oneself in even greater risk in response to the pandemic (seeking crowds, not following hand-washing guidelines, etc.)
  1. Receiving feedback from family, friends, classmates, or colleagues that one’s anxiety has gone too far

It is important to set goals for each day and work toward them, even if they are small, such as ‘Do 15 minutes of indoor yoga,’ Mohlman adds. “It can be helpful to stick to a routine or schedule even if sheltering in place.” 


When home isn’t the best place to be

For some people, being home fulltime—or in the case of some college students: returning home fulltime—may be stressful, or perhaps even abusive. “Not every home environment is a safe or healthy place,” Cascardi says.

She notes that all of the extra stresses brought upon by the pandemic may make managing relationships within the home more difficult and volatile. “More worrisome is an increase in abusive and controlling partner behavior during this time of isolation,” she explains, urging people faced with such a situation to review the safety tips provided online by the New Jersey Coalition to End Domestic Violence

  • For 24/7 domestic violence support, those in need can chat online with an advocate by going to the National Domestic Violence Hotline and clicking on “Chat Now.” Or, you can text LOVEIS to 22522. The New Jersey Statewide Domestic Violence Hotline is also open 24/7 at 1-800-572-SAFE (7233); staff there can help direct survivors to the resources closest to them.


More vulnerable: Young adults and teens

“Watch for signs of despair and hopelessness that may represent risk for depression, especially in young adults and teens,” says Cascardi—a licensed psychologist in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, whose research is focused on relationship abuse in teens and young adults. “They have less experience managing these types of emotions than adults, and many of these disruptions are unprecedented overall, or have not occurred for a number of generations.”

For this age group, a sense of “grief and loss” are commonly experienced from their feelings of missing out, Cascardi continues, citing such now-canceled milestone events as sports competitions, arts performances, birthday parties, and graduation ceremonies. “Plan creative alternatives to fill the void where it can be filled, and accept loss and disappointment where it cannot,” she adds.

Furthermore, “adapting to online education may be challenging, particularly if access to resources or quiet space for study is limited,” Cascardi explains. “For students who rely on employment to help support families or education, these may be especially stressful times due to more acute economic strain. All of these factors may contribute to hopelessness and worry about the future. If the feelings become too overwhelming, or usual coping falls short—eating well, sleeping enough, getting exercise, taking time for relaxation and recreation—it is important to reach out for extra support.” 

How to find mental health support

  • Through NJ Mental Health Cares, New Jersey residents feeling the emotional toll of COVID-19 can receive free, confidential support at 1-866-202-HELP. Calls are answered by trained specialists from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week. Additional information can be found on the NJ Department of Human Services website.
  • New York residents are offered the same through that state’s Office of Mental Health (OMH) Emotional Support Line at 1-844-863-9314. For more information, visit the OMH website.

“It is a scary time, but we are all in this together in the bigger picture,” Mohlman says. “Engage in the best possible self-care, exercise, keep your mind and your senses active, and know that this situation is temporary.”