Health professionals urge individuals to keep mental health a top priority

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PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) – 17 months after Hurricane Michael destroyed our community, Panhandle residents are once again feeling triggered by circumstances beyond their control.

With bars, restaurants, businesses, and schools shutting down, maintaining a healthy mental state is something individuals need to keep as a top priority.

Certified Traumatologist, Kenneth A. Finch, from Finch and Finch Consulting talked about mental health concerns and coping mechanisms.

“As you know, because of Hurricane Michael, we are still in recovery. It’s like the amygdala part of our brain (the amygdala is the alarm center), got triggered when this hurricane occurred and now with this pandemic, people are more hyper vigilant,” Finch said.

“This can lead to high anxiety and when anxiety gets to a certain level, there’s a lot of obsessing and numerating fears and we call it an “amygdala hijack” where there is so much trauma and sometimes we don’t act in a healthy way,” Finch said.

For a lot of people, social distancing can feel more like social isolation. Tim Bedford, CEO of Emerald Coast Behavioral Hospital and Clinical Director, Ted Liberty, said the clinic has no plans of laying employees off or slowing down their services.

“Presently we are still doing face to face. We are screening everyone that’s coming in and out of the facility on a daily basis and as needed,” Bedford said.

“We’re also doing Skype and Zoom sessions for interviews and some of our medication management will be done by telepsych,” Bedford said.

With no end in sight, individuals need to take personal mental health concerns seriously and Bedord says it’s going to be up to you.

“Long term is going to be up to the individuals. This causes anxiety which comes from the category of the unknown. The landscape is changing every day and we try to provide some tools on how to reduce that anxiety,” Liberty said.

Liberty suggests to lower your expectations.

“When our expectations are high and then reality comes in and changes those, it produces that anxiety and stress,” Liberty said.

“Basically, take care of yourself. The best way to take care of yourself is to make sure you are doing everything possible for your own mental health,” Liberty said.

Dr. Finch said individuals need to work to stay calm.

“In the amygdala hijack, we don’t really think well and we do irrational things,” Finch said.

Finch suggested if a person is feeling triggered, they should ask themselves the following questions:

  • What am I thinking?
  • How am I feeling?
  • What do I do now?
  • How am I getting in the way?
  • And, what do I need to do differently, now?

As a traumatologist, Dr. Finch recommended doing the following things to help you cope:

  • Recognize a positive event each day. What is something good going on in your world?
  • Savor the event and log it into a journal or tell someone about it.
  • Start a daily gratitude journal. What are you thankful for?
  • List a personal strength and know how to use it.
  • Set an attainable goal and note your progress.
  • Report relatively minor stress and list ways to deal with it in a positive way.
  • Recognize and practice small acts of kindness everyday.
  • Practice mindfulness and focus on the here and now.

With children being out of school until at least April 15th, parents might be concerned with the possibility of their own children developing anxiety and depression. Liberty said that most of how our children react has a lot to do with what they observe from their own parents.

“We have to remember that kids react to our actions. It is how we deliver in our expectations that we place on the children,” Liberty said.

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