People are generally afraid of things they don’t know, understand or have control over.

That is why the COVID-19 pandemic and its ensuing emergency orders directing people to stay home, businesses to close and schools to cancel classes are likely causing feelings of anxiety and even depression among the public, area experts said.

“A degree of anxiety is normal, especially with all the unknowns of this pandemic,” said Dr. A. Marcelo Rodriguez-Chevres, a psychiatrist and health director at Emergence Health Network, the region’s provider of mental health and substance abuse treatment services.

“Not having control – and even trying to understand what’s under our control and what’s not – can be very anxiety-inducing,” he said. “We shouldn’t feel bad for feeling anxious or even depressed at times.”

Aside from anxiety over contracting the coronavirus, people also become stressed or depressed if they lose their job due to the pandemic, if they feel isolated from following stay-at-home orders, or if they’re unable to provide food and other basic needs to their family.

Anxiety can manifest itself in excessive fear about your health or the health of your family, changes in sleep patterns or difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite or overeating, difficulty concentrating or increased use of tobacco, alcohol or drugs, Rodriguez-Chevres said.

It becomes more problematic among people who are predisposed for anxiety or depression.

“Their brain is pre-wired to worry, and with a situation like this their anxiety gets taken out of proportion,” he said. “That’s when you should really seek out help. If you’re on medication, stay on them. If you go to therapy, keep going.”

More than anything, Rodriguez-Chevres said, seek emotional support from your friends and loved ones.

“The resources are there more than ever with technology,” he said. “Call up a friend, FaceTime, talk it out.”

Technology can also be a trigger, however.

“We’re inundated with so much information that it triggers us,” he said. “Social media, media, so much information and misinformation out there it’s hard to get away and can get very upsetting. You have to limit your exposure to that.”

Rodriguez-Chevres said Emergence Health Network has seen an increased number of calls it receives and responds to from both existing and new patients.

He said data is still being collected to gauge the increase, but noted all caseworkers, doctors and therapists in the organization, like most other health care workers, are working on overdrive.

“There’s certainly more people to help during these times, more people reaching out for help,” he said. “But that is what we want. We want people to reach out for help.”

The organization is conducting sessions remotely, and taking calls from residents who may need help or support during these trying times, Rodriguez-Chevres said.

Emergence Health Network is also holding daily live conversations on Facebook, where experts will answer questions on specific topics and provide helpful information to the community, spokeswoman Noreen Jaramillo said.

“The order for social distancing means we are home at this time so what better way than social media to stay connected,” Jaramillo said in a statement.

The Paso del Norte Health Foundation is one organization that has pulled together available community resources into one place.

“It can get complex to try and figure out where you’re supposed to call,” said Enrique Mata, a senior program officer with the foundation. “Just figuring that out can cause stress and impact your emotional well being.”

The foundation’s COVID-19 webpage also provides links where you can volunteer or donate, including a response fund in partnership with the United Way of El Paso County that works with organizations that serve the most vulnerable in the community. Among them are Project Vida, the Salvation Army, YWCA Paso del Norte, Child Crisis Center and the Opportunity Center for the Homeless.

“We are trying to get assistance to folks who might not otherwise have it,” Mata said. “Those providers who do this regularly are overwhelmed as more people are out of work and face mounting needs themselves.”

Mata said giving and lending a helping hand also goes a long way in maintaining our own mental wellness.

“We have to maintain some schedules, some degree of normalcy. Include physical activity in your day, watch your screen time and talk with your kids – don’t talk at them,” he said. “And, always default to kindness. Kindness and caring can go a long way for those giving and certainly those receiving it.”

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