There is more focus on mental health strategies – that is one positive emerging from the stress and grief we’re experiencing due to COVID-19, said a University of Washington assistant dean who is offering a free webinar.
At 6 p.m. Wednesday, the Next Generation Medicine lecture series is scheduled to host the public webinar by Anne Browning, assistant dean for well-being at the UW School of Medicine. Browning also is founding director of the UW Resilience Lab, which promotes mental health and well-being.
Browning will present “Well-Being and Resilience During COVID-19,” offering ways to counter grief over the loss of normalcy while developing coping skills needed to deal with anxiety, stress and uncertainty. Online registration is required at uwmedicine.org/nextgenmed.
“It’s been an incredibly challenging time from the end of February to now,” Browning said in a recent phone interview.
“We’ve gone through a trajectory from anticipatory stress of not knowing what would happen to now with the potential to see how a bit of exposure, our masks and physically distancing has worked, but also then grieving the loss of everything we anticipated for the spring and potentially the summer.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected us in multiple ways – including our way of life, economy, individual health and safety and that of loved ones. All of this has negatively impacted many people’s sense of security and well-being, she said.
UW cites a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation in which nearly half (45%) of adults in the U.S. reported their mental health has been affected due to worry and stress over the virus.
As the pandemic continues, feelings of despair will likely increase under continuing measures to slow the COVID-19 spread – including physical distancing and stay-home orders – which can create increased feelings of isolation and financial distress, Browning said.
The multiple stress factors add up, so she encourages people to recognize their emotions to what is happening – big and small – then “to pause and choose our response.”
“In the talk, I’ll talk quite a bit about understanding how stress works, the macro-stresses and micro-stresses, the everyday stresses,” she said. “As the macrostressor of COVID-19 is all around us, the microstressors in our everyday environment suddenly affect us even more; our fuses are shorter, and our emotional reserves are taxed.”
That ranges from parenting decisions to navigating haircuts in the current environment.
“All these things add up, and we’re spread so thin. I’ve seen an uptick in myself and others in terms of reactions, fuses that are short, so it’s good to take a pause between the emotion and the response and choose how do we respond in the moment?”
She also plans to discuss coping with grief, from the loss of normalcy to how many graduates and others looking forward to major life events won’t have what was expected. Even now, plans for the summer seem tentative.
“It’s been a challenge on our well-being because the horizon line of what we can plan for and look forward to keeps moving,” she said. “We’re at this phase where we managed to address the arc of this, and we’re trying to figure out what’s next.”
She also encourages time to reflect on new patterns of behavior and any positive changes we do want to take into the future after the stay-home orders. For many people, they’ve had more time with family and nature, she said
Perhaps it’s meant creative use of devices to check in regularly with elderly relatives but less overall use of smartphones.
“What is possible right now that we can do, and can we think about how we want to build that into the future? There’s an opportunity also to put a critical lens on how we’re living. It might allow us to come out of this experience of COVID-19 as healthier people engaging with others in a healthier way.”
Overall, she said the webinar also addresses strategies for emotional intelligence, resiliency and self-compassion as counterbalances to neurobiological responses to stress and failure. For coping tools, it helps to find “practical things we can do and think about.”
“One thing I’ll also mention is to think about what you’re consuming in terms of media and being thoughtful, asking yourself before you click on any article whether or not if it’s good for you and your well-being. Don’t passively engage.”
The Next Generation Medicine lecture series is presented by the UW School of Medicine – Gonzaga University Regional Health Partnership with the support of partners: Providence Health, MultiCare, Harborview Medical Center, UW Population Health Initiative, Spokane County Medical Society and Spokane Regional Health District.
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