Welcome to the newest feature of the SVSU PMHNP program - our blog! We are excited to reach out to those who are interested in becoming Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners and those who are currently practicing in that capacity. Our goal with this blog is to share information about different aspects of the prevention and treatment of mental health conditions and substance use disorders. We plan to discuss a range of topics, including evidence-based treatments, recovery options, current hot topics regarding mental health, and stories from students, faculty, and those recovering from addiction. Plus more!!!
This blog is going to be a new adventure for us. We invite you to follow along and hopefully gain important insights that can help you better serve those with behavioral health conditions.
If you have any comments on our content or suggestions for future topics, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and share your thoughts with us!
By Virginia Downey, FNP-BC, PMHNP student
Traumatic events and disasters can heighten a person’s anxiety. The COVID 19 pandemic with its tsunami of new infections, national surges and severe disruption of normal day-to- day routine creates increased stress in families. To weather these tumultuous times well and strengthen our emotional health, parents and caregivers must 1) assess their own stress levels and behaviors, 2) practice self-care, 3) recognize stress and anxiety symptoms in their children and 4) help them manage their fears in healthy ways. Equipping parents to care well for the mental and physical health of their children and themselves in the midst of the COVID 19 pandemic is my passion.
Signs of Stress in Adults
Sleep disturbances are common symptoms of stress and anxiety. This includes difficulty falling asleep, frequent awakenings, or inability to stay asleep, with daytime fatigue. Altered appetite and eating patterns may occur, with decreased appetite or eating for comfort. “Stuck thoughts” about the health of oneself and loved ones or worsening of one’s own chronic health problems may arise with increasing anxiety or stress (i.e. worsened Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), Asthma, COPD, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s Disease, Hypertension and Heart Disease, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, etc.). Sometimes adults increase their use of substances when stressed (tobacco, alcohol, prescription drugs, marijuana and/or illicit substances).
SELF-CARE for ADULTS
Creating A Family highlights the importance of caregivers’ self-care, using the metaphor from the airline industry: in an emergency, an adult should place the oxygen mask on themselves first, and then help their child. Daily exercise, healthy meals, frequent hydration, reducing or avoidance of caffeine, alcohol and other mind-altering substances, regular time of sleep every night, with limited screen time about the pandemic are all healthy, self-care behaviors. Mindfulness, prayer, meditation, breathing exercises (slow and controlled in and out), plus neck, shoulder and body stretches (Yoga or similar) can reduce physical tension in your body, further reduce anxiety, and provide emotional strength for helping your children.
SIGNS OF STRESS AND ANXIETY IN CHILDREN
Children are not “little adults. They express anxiety and stress in developmentally distinct ways. Preschoolers may revert to thumb-sucking, toileting accidents and fear of parental separation. Crying for no reason, irritability, anger outbursts, excessive sadness and disinterest in toys may be their behavior. Physical symptoms (stomach ache, headache), and lack of appetite commonly arise. Preschoolers may mimic their parents’ stress emotions. They may draw faulty conclusions from what they hear about COVID 19, such as a fear of dying, guilt for someone becoming ill, or “something bad is going to happen to me.” Primary school children may struggle with concentration, require more parental attention or regress in their self-care abilities (dressing, hygiene, etc.). Sleep problems are common in all ages. Middle and high school-aged
children may display indifference or a “cool” attitude (“I’m doing okay”) when they actually have physical symptoms of stress: headaches, body aches, and increased irritability. Acting out and poor concentration are common. They might lose interest in activities that previously brought them enjoyment. When older teens are feeling stressed, they are at risk for trying alcohol or other substances. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provide resources for understanding how children from infancy through adolescence express stress and anxiety, as well as healthy ways adults can help them cope in stressful times.
Parents and Caregivers ARE “first Responders,” Helping children manage Their stress and Anxiety
The over-arching purpose of helping children manage anxiety and stress in disaster or pandemic situations is to restore safety, security, love and predictability to their lives. Creating a consistent daily routine while schools are closed reduces stress by restoring security and predictability for children. Be sure to incorporate meals, chores, academic work, recreation, reading and family fun into the schedule. Visuals help younger children follow the daily routine. Incorporating older children’s ideas into the schedule provides a sense of control over parts of their life when much else seems uncertain.
Exercise daily and outdoors whenever possible, while still following CDC guidelines regarding “sheltering at home” or social distancing. Intentionally ask your children how they are feeling and reassure them that you get similar feelings. Share facts about COVID 19 in age appropriate language. National Public Radio (NPR) posted facts in comic form. Teach them healthy self-talk, with singing or listening to uplifting music, prayer, grounding activities such as the 5 Senses, and relaxation exercises for lowering stress and anxiety. Creatively connect with loved ones, neighbors, school or sports friends, using social media, phone calls, handmade cards and “snail mail.” Limiting COVID 19 media exposure reduces anxiety for everyone. Frequently remind your children that expert adults are working hard to keep everybody healthy and the safest place to be is in your own home. Model for your children confidence, compassion for others, and how to find good in the uncertainty.
WHEN CHILDREN OR ADULTS NEED MORE…
If you or your child feel overwhelmed by your emotions due to this pandemic or the death of a loved one, speak with a local mental health professional or visit the
SAMHSA Helpful Resources Helplines or the
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Wickes Hall 230
Program Coordinator - Dr. Kathleen Schachman
Wickes Hall 131-A