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Maintaining mental fortitude in the chaos of COVID-19

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --

The ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic has not only presented itself as a potent threat to the physical health of millions of people, it also has had a damaging impact on their mental health as people grapple with the anxiety of a new disease.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said that in addition to adding stress, the anxiety and fear of a new disease such as COVID-19 could contribute to the worsening of mental health conditions, worsening chronic health problems, increased use of substances such as alcohol and tobacco, and in harmful changes to eating and sleeping habits.

“One of the biggest things is just normalizing,” said Capt. Andrea Krunnfusz, 72nd Medical Group Mental Health Element chief. “It’s normal to feel stressed and anxious about this; it’s normal to have your sleep a little out of whack; it’s normal to crave carbs, sweets and salts at this time; and it’s normal to feel helpless every once in a while.”

During this time, Krunnfusz said it's important for individuals to check in with themselves to keep a realistic assessment of how the stress is impacting them. She said it is also important to check in with others to ensure that they are managing their own anxiety and stress as well.

Krunnfusz said that social distancing itself can have a negative impact on mental health and wellbeing simply because humans are such social animals.

“Isolation at its purest form is toxic to people,” Krunnfusz said. “So what we need to do is not be socially distant, but be physically distant. Reduce your physical contact while maintaining that social connectedness. By doing so and reaching out before it becomes a crisis, that’s how we’re able to manage our own crisis and be there for others.”

While Krunnfusz said that there has been an increase in individuals seeking support due to stress over the current situation, there has also been an unexpected amount of Airmen who have responded with grit and resilience.

“The resilience and the grit of our Airmen has come to light more than anything,” Krunnfusz said.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has said that relieving stress is important to supporting mental health. They recommend several ways to support mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Keep things in perspective. Llmit how much time you spend reading or watching news on the outbreak and keep in mind the positive things in your life that you can control.
  • Get the facts. Find people and resources that you can depend on for accurate health information, such as a local health department or a government agency.
  • Keep yourself healthy. Eat healthy foods and drink water; avoid excessive amounts of alcohol and caffeine; avoid tobacco and illegal drugs; get enough sleep and enough physical exercise.
  • Use practical ways to relax. Practice meditation; use in hobbies; using time off to relax; and pace yourself between stressful activities.

For more information on how the Mental Health Clinic is supporting Airmen during this time, call 582-6603. For more information on the support being offered by the Employee Assistance Program, call 1-800-222-0364.

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