Tips for dealing with pandemic-induced stress levels, mental health.

Byline: Michaela Paukner,

There has been a lot to lose sleep over lately skyrocketing COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin, contested election results, the racial inequality that permeates so many parts of society.

But when you find yourself actually having trouble with sleep, it might be time to seek out some help.

In late June, the Centers for Disease Control surveyed approximately 9,900 U.S. adults about their mental health. Forty percent reported struggling with mental health or substance use, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The study found reports of anxiety, depression and thoughts of suicide greatly increased from 2019. Thirty-one percent of the respondents said they had experienced symptoms of anxiety, triple the rate in 2019. Likewise, 31% reported suffering depression, four times the rate in 2019.

Dr. Beth Lonergan, director of behavioral services at UW Health, said she and her colleagues have seen an increase since the beginning of the pandemic in the number of people seeking help with their mental health.

"These are a lot of layers that are piled on already such a demand for performance in the workplace," Lonergan said.

Well before COVID-19, relentless competition, pressure to perform and perfectionism in the law was tied to high rates of depression, suicide and substance abuse among lawyers. Lonergan, who joined UW Health after a stint working with lawyers and high-level executives as an organizational consultant, said many attorneys had enough stress in their lives without having the additional worry of a global pandemic. Now some are finding themselves pushed over the line into unhealthy and destructive behaviors.

"For people who may be doing pretty well at baseline, they're beginning to experience more distress," Lonergan said. "For people already potentially struggling, it can certainly exacerbate that."

Working from home can also harm people's mental health, especially legal professionals. Although telecommuting might allow for a highly efficient use of time, it also can also result in isolation.

"An intense level of competition in law might result in discouraging people from connecting and recognizing that maybe we're all struggling," Lonergan said.

Paying attention to how you're feeling physically and mentally can help you know when stress is taking its toll. Lonergan said poor sleep and changes in diet such as reaching for more junk food when you normally eat healthy are telltale signs...

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