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Discussing Mental Health with Erica Cerquetti, CRNP

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Laura Zabriskie

June 11, 2020
Physical distancing can lead to many negative social impacts such as the the fear of hugging or visiting loved ones. Erica Cerquetti, CRNP, integrative medicine and palliative care nurse at GBMC and Gilchrist, talked with Greater Living Live host, Mary Beth Marsden, about the mental health effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and provided advice for how to cope with the anxiety and loneliness that accompanies it.

“This has been very hard for everyone in the community, but especially for the older population,” Erica said. “Sometimes, functioning in this population isn’t great to begin with, so the added stressors and barriers can be really hard.” She pointed out that technology is one of the best ways to stay connected with friends and relatives – something that is more important now than ever. For those who are struggling with technology, she suggested reaching out to younger relatives to ask for help.

“Lower social engagement can have a negative impact for those with cognitive impairment,” Erica explained. Becoming more forgetful or lethargic may be signs of unrecognized anxiety and isolation. She provided the following tips for dealing with and preventing these negative mental health symptoms:

Keep moving.

Being active is critical for both physical and mental health, but that doesn’t mean intense workouts every day. If strenuous activity is something a person is unable to do, it is okay. Erica emphasized that small activities count. If someone has limited movement, simple activities such as standing up and sitting back down or changing positions every few hours can be extremely helpful.

Practice breathing exercises and mindfulness.

Focused breathing is often thought of as cliché and is overlooked, but it has been proven time and again to reduce anxiety and create inner calm. “Breathing exercises are the only real way you can control your heart and lungs,” Erica expressed. Slowing down and focusing on breathing brings a sense of control and calmness. It is an easy way to slow the heart rate and release tension in the body. “It doesn’t need to be complicated,” she said, “just slowly breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth is enough.” Erica also suggested meditation or yoga and discussed the many free online resources available for people of every experience level.

Consider counseling.

“Humans in general – all of us – have issues dealing with uncertainty. It’s a natural source of stress for everyone,” she reminded viewers. For many people, stress and anxiety in highly uncertain situations cannot be managed with self-care alone. There is still a societal stigma against seeking help for mental health, but it is incredibly important for a person’s wellbeing. Anxiety, on top of existing chronic issues, doesn’t help with healing and often slows the process down. This pandemic has created an opportunity for people to receive care exactly where they are through telehealth. GBMC’s team includes care coordinators, nurse managers, social workers, and mind/body therapists who work with patients to ensure they are getting the care that they need.

Stay socially engaged.

Erica reiterated that social isolation can worsen cognitive impairment and will make anyone feel lonely. “One of the best ways to cope with this situation is to stay involved with your family and friends. We have to, at this point, use technology for everything it’s worth,” she said. Make sure to have regular social interaction through whatever platform is easiest. It can be anything from email and phone calls to video chats. Erica also suggested interactive games and online activities such as virtual museum tours. “Playing ‘Words with Friends’ may not seem productive, but it helps keep the mind engaged in a positive way and allows connection with other people.”

“The mind and the body are truly linked. I like to say: ‘the mind is the body is the mind.’ Maintaining mental health is part of your medicine,” she explained. To learn more about the integrative medicine services provided at GBMC and Gilchrist, call the integrative medicine office at 443-849-6255 or Gilchrist at 888-823-8880.

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