Mental health professionals offer advice for weathering pandemic

To help those who are having trouble coping with isolation with current circumstances caused by the global pandemic, Rio Grande City hosted a virtual mental health summit Wednesday, offering tips and resources to deal with that newfound stress.

The summit featured Rio Grande City Mayor Joel Villarreal, a licensed professional counselor; Dr. Matilde B. Alaniz, licensed professional counselor, physical therapist, national certified counselor, and certified anger resolution therapist; Elma Compean, a licensed professional counselor who works for the special services department for the Rio Grande City school district; and Alex Sarabia, a licensed professional counselor and psychology instructor at South Texas College.

For people who are working from home, Compean offered advice on how to manage stress, particularly around children.

“When we are stressed, there are other feelings and emotions that come along with that — low tolerance, we become easily annoyed, we can become frustrated to the point of possibly even anger, our behaviors change,” Compean said, “so we, as adults, need to be more cognizant of our own behaviors so that our behaviors don’t trickle down and then change the behaviors of our children.”

She also stressed the significance of self-care and said that when feeling stressed, it’s important to recognize that before that stress begins to affect behaviors.

Best self-care practices, Compean said, include eating healthy meals, getting plenty of sleep, avoiding an overwhelming intake of news, and refraining from use of alcohol or drugs.

They all also advised partaking in exercise.

Alaniz said she incorporates exercise into a daily routine for her and her children which she was important to have to give them something to look forward to every day.

“Right now we would be working or in school,” she said. “The kids have a routine and so do we.”

Despite the need to by physically distant from one another, they all emphasized the importance of staying socially or emotionally connected with one another.

“Social distancing does not mean emotional distancing,” Sarabia said. “Any person, any family member or friend is just a phone call away.”

Connecting with others can also be vital for people experiencing symptoms of depression such as experiencing the following for at least two weeks: feelings of guilt, hopelessness, loss of interest that they once enjoyed, mood swings, and sadness, according to Sarabia.

Other symptoms include changes in sleep or appetite, irritability, excessive crying, and social isolation.

Sarabia listed available resources for those who may be experiencing those symptoms such as some free mental health apps:

>> notOK

>> What’s Up?

>> Happify

>> MindShift

Sarabia also listed a suicide hotline which he said was free and confidential: 1-800-273-TALK.

A local resource is Border Region Behavioral Health Center in Rio Grande City, a clinic that offers services through telemedicine.

“They have a licensed social worker, a nurse practitioner, a psychiatrist, and also an LPC that can provide these services,” Sarabia said.

Their phone number is (956) 487-3748.

In summary, Villarreal, the Rio Grande City mayor, urged people to obtain information from credible sources and not listen or spread rumors.

“We have to avoid that because that only creates and adds more anxiety,” he said.

Villarreal also echoed previous advice to limit the amount of news consumption.

“Get information, absolutely, get educated but there’s a point where too much information is not good for us and not good for our children,” he said.

He also encouraged people to mentally reframe their current circumstances.

“I challenge you, instead of feeling stuck and have that mindset, we can easily reframe it to ‘I can finally focus on my home and myself and my family,’” he said. “So looking at it from that perspective and doing just one productive thing per day can lead to a more positive attitude.”

Another piece of advice he offered was for people to take a self-survey of how they’re feeling and acknowledging stress they may be experiencing.

“What exactly are the behaviors that are showing and pay attention to that because these can serve as warning sign that something is wrong,” Villarreal said.

“Do acknowledge how you’re feeling — it’s ok to feel afraid and to be sad, to feel lonely, for us to feel powerless over this situation,” he said, advising that they confide in friend or confidante whenever they are going through those emotions. “But it’s alright to acknowledge these feelings that we are experiencing in this moment in time with this global pandemic.”