Stephanie Cox, Ph.D.

By Stephanie Cox, Ph.D. 

As Mountaineers, we are tough. We are used to persevering despite life’s obstacles; we keep going no matter what. At the same time, all the events surrounding COVID-19 may have thrown you a curve ball. It can feel surprising that COVID-19 can make a significant impact on your emotional and mental wellbeing. In fact, you may be experiencing many different reactions: fear, anxiety, uncertainty, doubt, grief, sadness, or despair.

The impact of COVID-19 can be especially challenging for people who were already vulnerable or at-risk. The stress of current events may trigger new symptoms or worsen pre-existing health and/or mental health conditions. But, by acknowledging and acting upon our experiences, we are able to better support ourselves and one another.

So what are the mental health impacts of COVID-19? While this list is not exhaustive, below are some common conditions that can begin or worsen.

Depression: There have been so many new stressors during this time. You may begin feeling more down and not like yourself. Symptoms of depression can include feeling more sad and down, not wanting to do things you previously enjoyed, disturbed sleep, guilt, increased/ decreased appetite, problems with concentration, and others.

Anxiety: Anxiety related to COVID-19 can certainly be expected. There may be additional anxiety related to uncertainty, financial stress, or wondering what will happen in the future.

Obsessions: If you have previously struggled with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), you may find your symptoms intensifying due to fears of contamination. Even if you have never previously been diagnosed with OCD, concerns about contamination may be intense. Concern regarding contamination is to be expected right now; it is very important to be vigilant and mindful about exposure. Of course, you want to take all the steps to ensure your health and safety. However, when obsessions become unmanageable, it can start to take a toll on your functioning.

Substance Use: We know that during times of additional stress and anxiety, increased use of alcohol, drugs, or other substances can be common.

Traumatic Stress: If you have previously experienced trauma in your life, experiencing additional stressors can often exacerbate symptoms, such as difficulty sleeping, nightmares, feeling that you are on-guard, irritability, and anger.

Disordered Eating: Eating often goes far beyond simply taking in nutrients. Eating behavior is often a way for us to control our world or regulate the way we feel in order to feel better. It can be true that undereating or overeating, binge eating, night eating, or emotional eating may seem to get more problematic during this time.

Loneliness: While social distancing may not be new for some parts of more rural West Virginia, the feeling of being separated and disconnected may be. You may feel more isolated and alone, with fewer social connections than you had before.

It is important to know that you are not alone in how you are feeling and there are steps you can take to start to feel better. Here are some strategies that can help:

  • Manage how you consume information, like the news.
  • Keep the routines that make you feel good and try to modify the ones that you can. Follow healthy daily routines as much as possible.
  • Take care of yourself through exercise and movement.
  • Practice relaxing in the present moment.
  • Do meaningful things with your free time.
  • Stay connected with others and maintain your social networks. Reach out to friends and family.
  • Find an accountability and support buddy.
  • Utilize resources like the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) HelpLine 800-950-NAMI (6264) and crisis support resources. Text “NAMI” to 741741 to chat with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Consider connecting with a mental health provider. Call to schedule an appointment at WVU Medicine: 855-WVU-CARE (855-988-2273).
  • Connect to a spiritual or religious community.
  • More information on these strategies can be found

Part of our strength as Mountaineers lies in acknowledging that we don’t always have to be strong. It is okay to need some extra support during this time. Let’s take care to be gentle with ourselves and one another. We can all get through this together.

Stephanie Cox, Ph.D., is a WVU Medicine clinical psychologist and assistant professor in the West Virginia University School of Medicine Department of Behavioral Medicine.