Signs of Distress – The Winter Blues

As I wrote this blog, the east coast of the United States was hit with a major snowstorm. The room that I work in has several windows and I can see the trees and bushes move back and forth, while the wind howls over the top of the house. This is also the time of the season when the days are short and by the time I finish work, it is getting dark outside. For many, things such as the weather, cold, and short days can leave you feeling depressed. In this blog, I would like to share some signs of distress and provide resources where you can seek help. 

Let’s start with what distress is.  A quick search on the internet tells me that distress is an unpleasant emotion, feeling, thought, condition, or behavior. It can affect how you think, feel, and act. In my situation mentioned above, my unpleasant pleasant feeling was related to the weather. This is a temporary feeling that will pass as the weather changes. For some, getting over distress can be difficult and they may not even know they are experiencing distress. 

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According to SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration), warning signs of emotional distress may include:

  • Eating or sleeping too much or too little
  • Becoming inverted and pulling away for others
  • Little to no energy
  • Unexplained aches and pains, such as stomach aches or headaches
  • Feeling helpless or hopeless
  • Spending a great deal of time worrying or feeling guilty
  • Thoughts of harming yourself or others
  • Emotional outbursts 

These are just some of the symptoms of emotional distress. If you are experiencing these symptoms or know someone who is, I encourage you to seek help from a professional counselor. Often, we want to try to overcome this on our own or be a good friend by trying to take on the supportive role. Counselors are trained and have the experience to provide support and assistance. I like to compare using a professional to that of a carpenter. If I try to fix something myself, I often do not have the tools necessary to do the job right. A professional counselor has those tools and resources to help someone get the support they need. With that said, there are some tips from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) to help cope with stress:

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  • Avoid stressors such as continually watching the news
  • Eat balanced meals and exercise regularly
  • Avoid excessive use of substances like alcohol, drugs, and tobacco
  • Identify time to unwind and engage in activities you enjoy
  • Talk with others or connect with community/faith based organizations

Know that you can get through the tough times. If you are in crisis check out some of these resources:

If you live in Maryland as I do, here are some local resources:

Mental Health Insurance Benefits

October conjures up images of fall foliage and Halloween. With the recent passing of World Mental Health Day, which is particularly notable this year as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to shape our lives, October is a good time for a refresher on the mental health benefits you are entitled to through your health insurance policy. 

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The pandemic can certainly add to our burden of stress. Understanding the reasons can help us realize that we are not alone and that there are ways to address the stress in healthy ways. How can we be affected? You might be experiencing one or more of the following:

  • Feelings of loneliness or isolation
  • Fear of illness
  • Disruption in the schedules of daily living, including working, eating, and sleeping
  • Lack of access to preventative or even urgent healthcare

The CDC provides a web page dedicated to coping with the stress of COVID-19. Of course, these stressors are not unique to the pandemic, so identifying them can help us find ways to better manage those causes in general. 

Mental health care is covered by most health insurance plans, so now is a good time to review your health insurance policy so you can feel comfortable using those mental health benefits to get and stay healthy. You can do this through your provider’s website or by checking your Evidence of Coverage booklet.  

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Under the Affordable Care Act, all marketplace and employer-based plans must provide behavioral health and mental health treatment. This includes counseling, inpatient services, and substance use disorder treatment. Even if your coverage is new, pre-existing conditions will be paid for without a waiting period. There are a few short-term policies that do not provide mental health benefits, so it is helpful to check. 

Most importantly, mental health is considered a critical component of overall health and wellness.  Insurance plans cover treatment so cost is not a hindrance to receiving care that improves the quality of your life.