Pandemics are stressful. To help Bristol Bay community members address their stress, mental health experts from around Bristol Bay shared tips for managing wellness during the COVID-19 pandemic during a live, on-air panel.
“Kind of wanted to talk in general about signs and symptoms of the stress that we’re experiencing,” said Jamie Gale, the clinical director of Behavioral Health at BBAHC.
“The collective experience that everyone is having not just in Bristol Bay, but around the world,” she said. “Which kind of makes this unique. Because, I think maybe some people aren’t giving credit to COVID where it’s due for how they’re feeling or changes that they’re experiencing.”
Gale said some signs of stress could include daily fatigue, agitation and a loss of control in your life, which could all be due to pandemic- related precautions.
To counteract that stress, she says people can try to focus on gratitude.
“Like shifting our attention to what we do have; what we are grateful for? Is it a person? Is it your physical wellness? Is it a roof over your head or having food every day,” she said. “But really spending even just one or two minutes a day, intentionally thinking about things that you do have in your life around you right now.”
Gale said people should focus on things they can control or accomplish in a short period of time, instead of ongoing tasks. Finish a book, sew something, or go hunting.
She also emphasized taking breaks from hard news cycles.
“So don’t read news 12 hours a day, every day,” Gale said. “Take time to engage in the things you were doing before COVID that you still can with social distancing. Get outside, talk to people and don’t just sit stuck in the news cycle all day.”
Gale also reminded people to be kind to themselves and others, and to actively seek out positivity in their lives.
Tiffany Webb, another member of Behavioral Health, was also part of the panel. Webb pointed out that the pandemic is disproportionately affecting Alaska Natives, including in Bristol Bay. The CDC published a study in August that examined how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting Native Americans and Alaska Natives.
“And some of that has to do with some of the trauma that has occurred,” she said. “We’ve been impacted by pandemics in the past. And then the cultural impact of having your language, and your dances, your ceremonies erased and kind of vilified. We already sort of suffer more of the impacts.”
Webb shared some ways that Native people can take care of their mental health.
“It’s not going to be the same for everyone,” she said. “But in general connecting with our ancestors and connecting with our own spirit and connecting with the land around us. The things that we do for subsistence. Those are all parts of caring for ourselves and caring for each other and caring for our mental health.”
AJ Knittel is the Dillingham City School District’s behavioral and mental health counselor. Knittle teaches kids about how to cope with stress.
“The more that you use it the better that you get at it,” she said. “With any coping mechanism; mindfulness, guided meditation; progressive muscle relaxation; it’s about practicing those and practicing those intentionally.”
Knittel uses a self-care wheel created by the Canadian Mental Health Association. The wheel breaks down self-care into six sections.
“And it talks about taking care of ourselves in a physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, personal, and professional manner, and being intentional in the way that we do that,” he said. “We’re doing different activities we’re affirming ourselves, taking walks, fishing, hunting, we’re hiking.”
People can find more resources on the CDC’s website under Mental Health and Coping During COVID-19. Behavioral Health at BBHC can be reached at 907-842-1230. Services are available after hours, holidays and weekends by calling 907-842-5201.
Contact the author at email@example.com or 907-842-2200