Dr. Alddo Molinar: 8 Mental Health Hacks for Students Amid the Pandemic
(Photo : Dr. Alddo Molinar)

Over the last two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a significant increase in mental health problems. In particular, students are facing increased levels of stress while also finding it hard to cope with change and disruption. We spoke with Dr. Alddo Molinar, one of the world's leading experts on mental health and Chair of the Department of Anesthesiology at East Ohio Regional Hospital.

Dr. Molinar noted that many of his patients have been struggling with anxiety or depression caused by the Coronavirus pandemic.

"Many of them are struggling with either helplessness over their situation, or uncertainty around their schools, businesses, and jobs," he says.

However, mental health issues are particularly increasing among students and teens since the onset of COVID-19. He says mental health issues are far more common in students and adolescents than you may imagine. The increased learning pressures and social challenges mean that more and more people are experiencing depression during their teenage years.

Although mental illness can occur at any time in our lives, the symptoms are often different between teenagers and adults.

Symptoms of Teen Depression

Over the last two years, COVID-19 restrictions have reduced social interactions and group activities, such as sporting activities, academic performances, and graduations.  Although the availability of COVID vaccines promises a return to normalcy, the challenges of the last two years continue to affect teens.  Sadly, many students bottle up their feelings and conceal their depression. These emotions can hurl them into a state of despair that can be difficult to escape.

Dr. Alddo Molinar advises parents and teachers to continue checking children for signs of anxiety or depression.

Though many times teenagers may exhibit some of these signs occasionally, persistent or continued demonstration the following signs may be an indicator of teen depression:

  • Anger and irritability

  • Negative thoughts

  • Sulking

  • High sensitivity to criticism

  • Inability to concentrate

  • Feeling misunderstood

  • Feeling restless

  • Feeling lonely

  • A drop in academic performance

  • High-risk behaviors like drug and alcohol abuse

  • Trouble sleeping or sleep disturbance

  • Suicidal thoughts

  • A change in eating habits like eating less or more than usual

  • Unexplained pains and aches like headaches

  • Withdrawal from friends and family

  • Lack of interest in daily activities

 If it seems like depression may be the issue, there are many things you can do to deal with the symptoms-and step out of depression.

Below, Dr. Alddo Molinar discusses a few ways students can boost their mental health and wellness during the pandemic.

 Alddo Molinar student mental health

Dr. Alddo Molinar Shares Tips to Boost Mental Health amid the Pandemic

If you're struggling with anxiety and depression, here are expert suggestions to boost your mental health and regain control of your life.

1. Acknowledge Your Mental Health Issue

If disturbing headlines, school closures, and social isolation make you feel anxious, you're not alone. "In any case, that's how most of us feel," says Dr. Molinar.

"Anxiety is a healthy and normal function that causes increased alertness and helps us to protect ourselves," he explains.  But, it isn't something to be scared of.  

"Anxiety can actually help you make the right decisions-cleaning your hands regularly, not touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, and not staying in large groups". It is anxiety that tells you to keep yourself and others safe.

If you're concerned about experiencing COVID symptoms or the potential risks of contracting the disease, Dr. Molinar recommends talking to your parents and teachers about it.

"Remember COVID-19 illnesses among children and teenagers are generally more mild," says Dr. Molinar. "Most symptoms are treatable, and most patients can recover with supportive care," he adds. He recommends speaking to a trusted adult if you're feeling unwell.

2. Eat Healthy Foods

Some individuals with anxiety experience a greater appetite. Others experience less hunger when they experience anxiety. But the food we eat affects our mood and energy. That means you need to eat healthy foods to manage your anxiety and depression. For most patients, that means eating plenty of fruits and vegetables.

It also means making sure that our diets are balanced and providing the right nutrition.  We do not have to eliminate all of one type of food in favor of another.  Eating carbohydrates can actually stimulate your brain to produce the mood-lifting hormone serotonin," says Dr. Alddo Molinar. So instead of avoiding them completely, consuming the right kinds of carbs can actually help you manage your anxiety.

Also, avoid skipping meals. Keep healthy, energy-boosting snacks and fresh fruits on hand. Drink plenty of water, but avoid caffeine and alcohol-which could aggravate your anxiety and cause panic attacks.

3. Get Enough Sleep

A lack of sleep can leave you feeling irritable, unfocused, and exhausted. Without enough sleep, the body cannot release enough dopamine and serotonin to keep depression, stress, and anxiety at bay.

To enjoy a good night's sleep, Dr. Molinar recommends turning off all devices. Bright lights from a smartphone, computer, or TV can cause your mind to stay awake.

4. Exercise

Regular exercise can help you manage your stress, anxiety, and depression. It also improves your blood flow and boosts blood circulation.

Dr. Molinar recommends simple exercises such as walking, jogging, cycling, and swimming. Get at least half an hour of exercise each day to help maintain focus and clarity.

5. Engage In Your Favorite Activities

With anxiety and depression, your sense of creativity and fun may wane. But it's important to do something that will help get your creative juices flowing.

Dr. Molinar suggests activities such as painting, drawing, writing, dancing, playing with a pet, or even chatting with a friend. The key is to find something fun to do. That will help turn your stress and anxiety around.

6. Live in the Present Moment

Obsessing over past events or fixating on future challenges can be overwhelming. These habits can prevent you from enjoying the present moment.

Instead, Dr. Alddo Molinar suggests giving your undivided attention to the present moment. Focus on your achievements and avoid fixating on past failures. Try to engage in positive thinking. Focus more on yourself and find ways to spend your newfound time to boost your mental health.

7. Be Kind to Yourself

If you're experiencing depression, be kind to yourself. When you're going through a difficult time, it's important to remember you're not alone. Make sure to show yourself some kindness and compassion.

More importantly, we should learn to be patient with ourselves and others. Depression can take weeks, months, or even years to heal.  It is okay to acknowledge that it may not be easy.

8. Build a Strong Support Network

As the coronavirus pandemic drags on, Dr. Alddo Molinar says we must all support adolescents' mental and emotional well being.  "It is important for young people to know they can seek the support of friends, parents, and teachers," says Dr. Molinar.    

Reaching out to other people can help you overcome feelings of loneliness and isolation. A good support network can include family members, friends, neighbors, teachers, and any other trustworthy person. Keep in touch with everyone in your support network online or in person.

If you're practicing social distancing, you can turn to social media to connect with friends. However, it is a good idea to limit your screen time and choose supportive social media with positive messages.

"Having unfettered access to social media is not healthy as it can increase your anxiety," warns Dr. Molinar. He recommends working out a healthy screen-time routine with your parents.

Mental Health Awareness and Seeking Help

If you or someone else is experiencing anxiety or depression, it's important to seek help.

Also, teachers should educate students on signs of and support for depression and other mental health issues.

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