Keep calm and connected: Locals talk importance of mental health amid COVID-19 concerns

Maddie Vincent
The Aspen Times
Empty store shelves, including this one in the Carbondale City Market last week, are cause enough for anxiety for some people.
John Stroud/Post Independent


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledges that crises like the global novel coronavirus pandemic can increase stress, anxiety and depression. Here are a few tips from the CDC and local mental health experts on how you can stay healthy mentally and physically:

-Avoid excessive exposure to media coverage of COVID-19. Make sure the the coverage and information you do consume is credible and based on facts, not on rumors or speculation. Also limit exposure to social media if not used to communicate and connect with loved ones.

-Take care of your body. If your gym or normal exercise facility is closed, get outside or do an at-home workout. It’s easy to throw healthy routines out the window during emergency situations, so make sure to eat healthy, drink lots of water, wash your hands and sleep well.

-Connect with others. If you meet in small groups be cautious of your interactions and follow public health guidelines, but keep in contact with friends, family and neighbors electronically or in-person if they are not sick. Call and FaceTime people over text and email to maintain as much human connection as possible.

-Maintain a positive sense of hope and positive thinking.

-Focus on aspects of your life you can control and don’t dwell on negative, hypothetical situations.

Toilet paper. Disinfecting wipes. Bleach. Hand sanitizer. Ingredients to make hand sanitizer at home, like aloe and alcohol.

This is a short list of the items that were low or out-of-stock at most of the Aspen area grocery stores and pharmacies Friday and had been for at least the past week.

Though store staff in Aspen said they restock daily or at least multiple times a week, they also said the increase in traffic and demand for goods, especially those related to cleaning and hygiene, is the new normal.

“We believe that everyone deserves to have access to fresh, affordable food and essentials, especially in times of uncertainty,” a City Market news release states.

“That’s why our teams are working so hard to keep our stores clean, open and stocked.”

This increase in traffic and demand isn’t just happening in Aspen area stores —it’s just one of the nationwide and global responses to the novel coronavirus spread, as people rush to stock up on food and supplies in a way that’s been referred to by economy experts as “panic shopping.”

But as everyone from families to individuals to employers to public health entities work to mitigate the spread of the virus and promote good physical hygiene in Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley specifically, a handful of locals also are looking at how to take care of the community’s mental health and well-being.

“Though this is a physical threat it’s really more of an emotional threat right now because there’s this focus on what happens if all of these things take place or we’re not prepared,” said Christina King, a local licensed professional counselor and founder of Aspen Strong, referencing negative hypotheticals people may grow anxious about becoming reality as the virus spreads.

“The fact of the matter is we can’t do anything about it, the virus has hit us and we can’t change that, but we can change our perspective on it.”

For King and other local mental health experts, this perspective shift means turning anxiety and stress into compassion and action that helps others in need, and comes from keeping strong connections with friends, family and neighbors.

“We need to address and talk about the fears and anxieties. It’s OK to talk about them,” King said. “Just acknowledging it in itself is what’s going to decrease anxiety and the fear and that’s very impactful … encouraging us as community members to say, ‘how are you? Emotionally, how are you doing? Talk to me, vent,’ is important. We need to lean on each other, 6 feet apart.”

Both the World Health Organization and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have acknowledged stress and anxiety can be generated as a result of crises like the global novel coronavirus pandemic.

During or after a crisis, it’s natural to experience different and strong emotions like stress, anxiety and depression, the CDC says, and everyone reacts differently in emergency situations depending on the social and economic circumstances of the person and their community.

In Pitkin County and Snowmass Village specifically, Senior Pastor Robert de Wetter of the Snowmass Chapel said while he’s noticed some locals have become “panicky” and others under-reactive, he’s also been very impressed with the mitigation response from area leadership.

“I think leaders are really being thoughtful and non-reactive and are trying to respond based on knowledge and wisdom, not emotion,” de Wetter said.

Prior to pursuing ministry, de Wetter was a licensed psychologist in California and Texas, receiving a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Based on his experience as a pastor and mental health practitioner, de Wetter said he feels it’s important for people to be proactive in reaching out to others who may be emotionally and/or physically affected by COVID-19 concerns, especially people in self-isolation or who already struggle with depression and anxiety.

And because the response to COVID-19 is different from other widespread crises like natural disasters in that it requires non-congregating strategies like social distancing to mitigate, de Wetter said it’s even more crucial to ensure locals maintain connection and mental well-being.

“Isolation is the best friend of mental illness, and I don’t mean that in a positive way. I mean that it serves to deepen depression, increase anxiety and further precipitate loss of perspective,” de Wetter said.

“Therefore, it’s incumbent upon practitioners and faith communities to really go the extra mile to reach out to those known to be struggling and encourage the community at large to let people know when they know someone is struggling.”

At the Snowmass Chapel and within the village community, locals have already formed “care teams” to help bring self-isolated and homebound people groceries and supplies, connect with neighbors regularly over the phone and via video apps like FaceTime, and generally ensure people are coping with coronavirus concerns and impacts in positive ways.

Similar actions are being carried out in Aspen as well, with entities like Aspen Strong and the Aspen Hope Center ensuring people know how to access mental health services remotely and implement positive social distancing strategies (see fact box).

The Aspen Hope Center in particular hasn’t seen an increase in crisis calls, but has helped support the group of 10 Australians with “presumptive positive” cases of COVID-19 — plus three others who refused to be tested — in isolation.

“We’ve absolutely been involved in calling and checking in, seeing how they’re doing,” said Michelle Muething, executive director of the Aspen Hope Center. “We love calling to talk with them because we love their accents and they’re in great spirits considering what they’re going through.”

As the county moves to conduct less COVID-19 tests and focus more on social distancing and community-based strategies to mitigate the virus spread, Muething, King and de Wetter said people should keep up-to-date on the information put out by public health officials but also exercise creativity to keep their daily lives and close connections with others as unchanged as possible.

“We live in a world of social media where people can connect via technology without being in the same room … so keep up with people if you can’t be in the same room but no one is saying you can’t have coffee with a neighbor,” Muething said.

“We just need to be cautious and remember we’re probably at our core more resilient than we give ourselves credit for. People just need to pull from that inner strength and realize as a community we’re going to get through this whether we’re 6 feet a part or holding hands.”

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