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Impact on mental health a given, trends to be seen

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With less hustling and bustling, there may be more time to reflect upon the simple side of things while being a recluse at home. Yet the stresses of daily life have been transformed and these altered ones will likely have an  impact on overall mental health for some time ahead. 

What drives much of the anxiety amid COVID-19 is uncertainty. Not knowing when life will go back to normal has taken its toll. 

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People are not only concerned for their and their loved ones’ health but also implications regarding financial setbacks, child care/education, housing… the list goes on. 

Annemarie Zanca, MA, LPC has worked in mental and behavioral health for nearly 30 years. She currently works for the Roaring Fork School District,but for the purpose of this story, she shares her own insights as a community member and observer.

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According to Zanca, while there has certainly been an impact on public mental health it is too early to identify and analyze trends. 

Many psychologists point to “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs” as a structure of essentials pertinent for a healthy mind. As a pyramid the lower needs should be met before attaining the higher ones. From bottom to top, it prioritizes: 1) physiological needs, 2) safety needs, 3) love and belonging, 4) esteem and 5) self actualization. 

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Zanca explains that “Esteem and self actualization are what we’re striving for but you’re going to have a hard time getting there without getting the lower needs met.” With the onset of COVID 19, the basic lower needs — physiological and safety — are compromised. Both food and shelter are essential components of physiological needs and at this point many people are anxious about paying rent or as Zanca points out, “Even just going to the grocery store can be tough.” 

It pretty much goes without saying that people’s sense of safety has also been shaken, impeding that basic need in the hierarchy. 

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“Uncertainty has had an impact on everyone,” Zanca explains; it has replaced a sense of control people did not expect to lose only weeks ago. While that loss is significant, Zanca encourages people to focus on what they maintain control over which will boost their overall sense of wellbeing. 

The locus of control is a term used by psychologists to delineate perceptions of control — whether it is internal or external. People with an external locus may be more susceptible to anxiety because they feel their condition is controlled by outside circumstances. Therefore this group’s perceived lack of control is currently exacerbated. 

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According to Zanca, “If your locus of control is outside of you, you expect things to change in your environment but if it’s internal then you focus on the things which you do have influence over, which primarily is your attitude.” 

That leads to Zanca’s next point: mental fitness. According to Zanca a large part of being mentally fit is based on “what you pay attention to.” Thinking constantly about the virus and its unknowns will likely cause stress. On the other hand, “Paying attention to your present moment eases anxiety about the future.” 

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Zanca sums it up by suggesting that individuals should, “Pay attention to helpful thoughts, and avoid thoughts that bring up fear and anger — limiting news consumption for that reason.” She goes on  “Mental fitness does not mean ignoring or denying very real situations, it means choosing to pay attention to thoughts and actions that can help yourself and others.”

Zanca also hopes that friends and family will continue to connect with each other — virtually or socially distanced. “It’s more important than ever to reach out,” she says and further brings up that key “mental health needs are met at the love and belonging level of Maslow’s pyramid.” 

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Residents of Carbondale are especially lucky given we have a community that is not only banding  together to check in on one another but even taking such social events as First Friday to a virtual platform. While fear plagues the newsreels there are also many positive happenings to focus on. 

A great way for youth to stay connected during these times is by tuning into KDNK radio. KDNK’s partner Andy Zanca Youth Empowerment Program (AZYEP), which Zanca founded several years ago, keeps kids connected via the airwaves and “beyond.” AZYEP continues to feature youth broadcasters who call in or record shows from home. 

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So stay connected with the people you care about and focus on  what you’re doing in the present so you can stay mentally fit for the future. 

 Mental health resources

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  • Aspen Hope Center: 925-5858
  • CO Crisis Services: 844-493-8255 or text TALK to 38255
  • Mindsprings Glenwood Springs: 945-2583
  • Mindsprings Aspen: 920-5555