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How To Safeguard Mental Health As Pandemic Becomes 'A Really Long Haul'

Dr. Jessi Gold is an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at Washington University.
Dr. Jessi Gold

It was one thing to navigate the initial stress and disruptions of the coronavirus pandemic. And early on, as people looked for ways to guard mental well-being amid big changes, many realized that it helped to have a sense of horizon in sight.

“I can shelter in place for a month” and “One semester at home is manageable” were common — and useful — mindsets.

But with weeks turning into months and maybe even years of new normals, frustration and anxiety may be mounting. On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, Dr. Jessi Gold of Washington University offered strategies and insights for safeguarding your mental health at this time. 

Gold, an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry, said that for many of her patients, the coronavirus crisis has been “a really long haul” already.

“I think at the beginning everybody was just getting adjusted, and coping was a short-term coping. And now it’s just, ‘How do I keep going, and what is that going to look like? And is this going to keep going indefinitely?’

“And [for] college students that’s, ‘Am I ever going to go back to college in person?’ And today a lot of colleges announced that they were going to be online for the fall, and I think that’s a really big change for a lot of people.”

One of the most common challenges right now, Gold said, is accepting a new normal and finding ways to live well within a lengthening period of uncertainty. One strategy for doing so involves acceptance and commitment therapy, something often associated with the recovery community.

“‘God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change and the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference’ is a pretty good thing to say right now for all of us,” Gold said.

She noted that some people may also be beating themselves up for enjoying parts of this new age, and that they shouldn’t.

“Joy, or enjoyment, is an OK feeling,” Gold said. “I think that it’s hard when the world is really hard and other people are struggling, that we can feel any sort of enjoyment. You know, if it’s your birthday and you had an OK day, you’re allowed to have still have had a good birthday. It’s OK that that happens even though there are people dying and there’s racism and the world is hard.

“And if we go through every day and all we think about is the negatives, it’ll be really hard to get through this. Because there are a lot of very hard things.”

The doctor also offered suggestions for accessing mental health care, for new grads job searching, and for balancing news consumption with other activities.

Listen to the conversation:

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Evie is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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