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Understanding COVID-19's impact on your mental health

Especially if you’re a millennial woman

By now, it’s no secret that the coronavirus pandemic has had a major impact on our lives — especially our mental health. Maybe you or someone you love lost a job or experienced financial stress, quit a job to take care of kids sent home from school or daycare, worked on the frontlines caring for sick patients, or had a friend or family member die as a result of COVID-19.

Regardless of your experience, it’s important to recognize that the pandemic has been an extremely hard time for many of us. The American Psychological Association’s latest Stress in AmericaTM report External Site sounded the alarm about the national mental health crisis that could lead to serious health consequences for the next several years.

The pandemic has affected people across the globe of all ages. It has had an especially large impact on the health and quality of life for millennials, born between 1981 and 1996, according to Pew Research External Site.

Pre-pandemic, millennial women in particular were 20 percent less healthy than millennial men, according to the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association’s (BCBSA) Health of Millennials report External Site. Data from The Status of Women in the States External Site backs that finding: Only half of women in the U.S. get the recommend amount of exercise per week, one in five regularly engage in binge drinking (the definition of which External Site might surprise you!) and in general, report experiencing nearly five days of poor mental health per month on average. (Again, that was before the pandemic.)

The lingering trauma from the pandemic

In October 2020, 18 months after the first report on millennial health from the BCBSA, the Association noted that millennial health has continued to decline and that the pandemic will likely make health challenges for millennials even worse. A whopping 92 percent of millennials said COVID-19 has had a negative impact on their mental health, and lifestyle behaviors like alcohol consumption External Site, smoking, and recreational drug use have all increased — which can both lead to the development of behavioral health conditions or worsen existing ones.

One other way the pandemic has impacted the mental health of young women: skyrocketing rates of eating disorders External Site — and longer wait times to get treatment. According to the Associated Press, anxiety, isolation, coping mechanisms like binge eating, and comments about "gaining the COVID 19" are behind both new cases and relapses for eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia. Electronic medical records data from around 80 U.S. hospitals shows a 30 percent increase in admissions for eating disorders since March 2020 compared to the previous two years — a troubling sign that shows how the pandemic may impact our health for years to come.

Even though there have been an increasing number of signs that things will soon return to some sort of normal, it’s important now, more than ever, to understand how COVID-19 has impacted your mental health External Site — and adopt strategies to help protect it now and in the future.

3 ways to build resilience and improve your mental health

Think back on your mental state throughout the pandemic. Did each passing day bring additional worry and anxiety? Or were you able to manage the stress and uncertainty? The difference between these two examples comes down to resilience External Site, which is your capacity to withstand and recover from challenging life events.

Building up resilience can take time and support from others but will ultimately help you keep your mental health in check during future crises. Here are three ways you can get started on this journey:

  1. Maintain a regular routine

    Even though COVID-19 likely impacted your normal routine, creating regular order to your day and sticking with it helps provide certainty and anchors your mind in normalcy. If you’re still working from home External Site, for example, make a point to get dressed instead of rocking your “pandemic pajamas” and go for a walk over your lunch break. Don’t forget to implement a hard stop time for the end of the day to keep your work-life balance in check.

  2. Try meditation

    This ancient practice, which helps root you in the present moment by focusing on your breath, can help change your mindset and even rewire your brain to experience more positive thoughts and emotions. If regular meditation seems too daunting, you can start out with these easy ways to be more mindful in real life.

  3. Connect with others

    Because humans are inherently social beings, being told to isolate from everyone hit us pretty hard — both mentally and physically. Studies have shown External Site that feeling lonely all the time can be as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day — yikes! Make a habit of regularly checking in on friends and family just to see how they’re doing, and you might be surprised how these frequent chats help you feel physically and mentally better.

Don’t be afraid to talk to someone

mental health illness symptoms: feeling sad, concentration problems, anger management issues, suicidal thinking, excessive fears or worries, extreme mood changes, paranoia, sleeping problems, excessive use of alcohol or drugs, inability to cope with stress

If you’ve been experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression (or feeling like they’ve gotten worse since the start of the pandemic), starting therapy may be a good option for you. Just having someone to talk to about your struggles can be helpful, but it’s even more so when that person is a licensed health professional External Site who can share coping mechanisms and strategies for healing from mental trauma.

Want to find a therapist, but don’t know where to start?

Log in or register for myWellmark® to find a therapist in your network Secure. You can also talk to your personal doctor to get a specific recommendation if you find the number of options overwhelming. If you have hesitations about adding another time-consuming appointment into your day, virtual therapy through Doctor On Demand® is yet another option.

Since the onset of the pandemic, Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield has seen a 3,000 percent increase in virtual visits for mental health. With Doctor On Demand, you can use your smartphone, tablet or computer to see board-certified medical professional who can treat mental health conditions like anxiety, depression and more in addition to common conditions like the common cold or minor injuries. Before scheduling any visit, virtual or in-person, be sure to check your benefits Secure on myWellmark to see what’s covered.