Managing Anxiety and Distressing Feelings During COVID-19

An interview with Sasha Kelley, Director of Outpatient Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Services

Many people are experiencing mental health challenges due to the public health crisis caused by COVID-19, or coronavirus. Following is an interview with Sasha Kelley, Director of Outpatient Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Services at Skills of Central PA. Sasha discusses the emotions people may be feeling during the pandemic, and how to cope with these feelings while following social distancing guidance.

What kind of emotions are people feeling due to COVID-19?

People are experiencing a wide spectrum of emotions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as worry, anxiety, fear, panic, sadness, increased stress, and many more.

How has COVID-19 impacted people’s mental health, both those who have with diagnosed mental health challenges and those who do not?

Most people can identify a way in which COVID-19 has impacted their lives, and probably some level of increase in stressors. For many, this has presented new experiences related to mental health and influenced feelings of anxiety or possibly depression. For many individuals already experiencing or struggling with mental health disorders, this has really caused an increase in symptoms.

What are some of the effects of social distancing practices on mental health? Do you have any tips on staying connected to others while social distancing?

A lot of times, in mental health treatment, there is an emphasis on identifying and using healthy support systems, getting out of the house and engaging in activities, and practicing a healthy level of social engagement. Oftentimes, these practices aid in reducing mental health symptoms. The current practices of social distancing really can create a sense of disruption to anyone’s “normal” routine, but especially when it interferes with the coping strategies that have helped someone achieve healthy emotional wellness.

I encourage everyone to try and stay connected the best that they can during this period of social distancing. That can mean using videochat (Facetime, Skype, etc.) with friends/family, making more phone calls, engaging on social media platforms, watching gym or church video postings, etc. This is an important time to get creative with connecting, and using alternative resources to feel connected while we cannot physically be near one another. We are fortunate to have some additional means of communication in today’s world, thanks to the benefits of technology.

What are some specific techniques or actions people might do to cope with this stress? Alternatively, are there things people may wish to avoid doing in order to protect their mental health?

People should really pay attention to and be mindful of possible factors causing even more stress, such as watching too much news, or reading too many articles related to the crisis. These would be important things to reduce or limit in order to help protect themselves. This is a really a time in which we need to focus on basic self-care in the midst of this crisis. This can mean focusing on getting enough sleep at night, staying hydrated, trying to eat well balanced meals, and planning essential trips such as to purchase groceries.

In addition to some of these more basic needs, we can focus our attention not on what we can’t do, but rather what we can do to cope, including reaching out to supports, reading, watching a lighthearted movie, taking a walk in nature, putting together a family puzzle, creating a family game night; the list is endless.


If COVID-19 has you or a loved one feeling anxious or overrun with emotions, call the PA Department of Human Services’ Support & Referral Helpline at 1-855-284-2494.

The helpline is available 24/7 to counsel Pennsylvanians and refer them to community-based resources that can further help to meet individual needs. Talk to a trained professional today!

For TTY, dial 724-631-5600.