The American Psychological Association is warning that mental health concerns will be serious and long-lasting across the nation due to the pandemic, falling economy, and social unrest. According to the organization’s latest survey, feelings of fear, frustration, and anger have been steadily increasing in the general public over the last three months.
These are stressful times, no question. But how do you know if your stress has become something more, like anxiety? When do you know to seek help?
According to Russell Loeber, MD, PhD, Chair, Department of Psychiatry, Saratoga Hospital Medical Group – Inpatient Mental Health, the transition from stress to anxiety can grow gradually, making it difficult to detect.
“The bottom line is to ask yourself, are you able to function? Are your feelings getting in the way of your daily life?” Dr. Loeber says. “If you can’t get through your day, it’s important you seek care from a mental health provider.”
Everyone at some point experiences the following signs and symptoms, but the more frequent and intense these feelings are, the more likely it is time to seek help. These signs and symptoms may include, but are not limited to:
- Shortness of breath;
- Racing heart;
- Taut nerves;
- “Butterflies” in your stomach;
- Hypersensitivity, such as feeling jumpy or on edge;
- Trouble concentrating, can’t think clearly;
- Breaking down into tears easily;
- Escalating use of alcohol or drugs;
- Exhaustion; and
- Normal daily activities are left undone.
Dr. Loeber says anxiety can manifest into almost any kind of physical reaction, including an increase in your usual pain level. It is not uncommon for people to think they are having a heart attack, but it’s actually a panic attack. The good news during that emergency room visit is the discovery that your heart is fine, but the bad news is that panic attacks can cause serious real physical distress that could lead to heart damage, such as stress cardiomyopathy or “broken heart syndrome,” if not addressed.
“Even worse, untreated anxiety can lead to people feeling trapped, that there is no way out,” Dr. Loeber says, “which, in turn, leads to suicidal thoughts. It can occur so gradually that people don’t even realize that it’s happening. Seeing a mental health provider for regular check-ups, just as you would see a primary care provider for a physical, can catch these issues before they become dangerous or life-threatening.”
Given the heightened stress people are feeling due to COVID-19 and current events, now is the time for people to let go of any stigma they may feel around seeking a psychiatrist or other mental health provider.
“The reality of it is, this may be our new norm for a while,” Dr. Loeber says. “We just don’t know. That uncertainty is one more anxiety trigger upon all the other triggers out there. People can stay ahead of their mental health by seeking care now, rather than risk that health by waiting.”
Here at Saratoga Hospital, we offer behavioral health services through our Primary Care practices, including medication management and counseling at Saratoga Community Health Center, or Inpatient Mental Health services (for those at risk of harming themselves or others), as well as substance abuse and behavioral health counseling through our Addiction Medicine services. Learn more at SaratogaHospital.org.
- Suicide Prevention Coalition of Saratoga County: 1-800-273-8255
- National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8225
- Saratoga County Crisis Line Hot Line: 1-518-584-9030
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)