Local help is available for all who need it

AUSTINTOWN — With mandated closures and social distancing spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, therapists and counselors are finding themselves with more and more clients.

Austintown counselor Sarah Thompson of Pursuing Change Counseling said the fear weighing on so many people is the “what ifs” — worst-case scenarios people build in their minds.

“We start pulling from past experiences and worrying about the future, and then make them that much worse,” Thompson said.

She said people’s increased stress in a time of pandemic like the one in which we are currently living comes down to brain chemistry and a fight-or-flight mode.

“What your body is doing is producing chemicals to take on that threat. That’s why people are triggered so easily,” she said.

She said people’s bodies are producing adrenaline and other chemicals to combat a perceived threat.

She said this response has lead to panic and, yes, hoarding — which is something that makes people feel more in control in a situation that is largely out of their hands.

The way to combat those feelings is by creating relaxing chemicals in the brain by doing calming activities like yoga, baths, board games or watching funny movies.


Phyllis Yeropoli, a therapist at the Liberty office of Valley Counseling Services, said many of her clients have been experiencing increased anxiety since the COVID-19 pandemic came to Ohio and began causing closures and job losses, as well as isolation — which is necessary to stop the spread of the virus, but can be a source of serious stress.

She said helping her clients starts with acknowledging or validating how they’re feeling.

“It is what they’re feeling right now. It’s a normal, valid response to what’s going on in the world,” Yeropoli said.

She said from there, managing COVID-19-related stress involves reviewing Centers for Disease Control recommendations, working on positive affirmations and finding diversion activities.

“I’m recommending they live in the moment,” Yeropoli said.

Another way to reduce the anxiety of isolation is to think of it as physical distancing, instead of the commonly used “social distancing, according to Jody Klase, director of Valley Counseling.

“There are other ways to socially interact — calling an old friend you haven’t talked to in a while, going out for a walk,” Klase said.

“Isolation is difficult for people,” April Caraway, executive director of the Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board, said. “There’s this whole movement toward making sure people are connecting through video conferencing and in other ways.”


Lydia Stroup of Warren said her new rescue cat, Ella, has been helping her “stay sane” through the COVID-19 outbreak.

“I had to wait a few weeks to get her after putting in my application at Animal Welfare League. It just so happens that the day she was released after her surgery to get spayed was the day some orders started being put in place; restaurants being reduced to take out and social distancing really started taking place,” Stroup said.

Stroup, who deals with anxiety that is heightened by the outbreak, said having a cat to take care of has helped her stay focused on getting through the day-to-day.

“Someone depends on me so I must get up and keep moving through this,” Stroup said.

A baker for the past four years, Stroup also has been keeping busy by baking do-it-yourself cookie boxes for kids to decorate cookies — helping keep them and parents busy, too.

Barbara Vingle of Liberty said she and her husband have been spending time driving to Lake Erie and coming home on new roads to discover new places.

“We love the lake and beach. My husband loves finding the new places we never knew existed,” Vingle said.


Yeropoli said another way to reduce stress is to not “binge” the news.

“I think that can be unhealthy, too. Daily updates, I think, are important … but some people have the news on all day because they’re at home.”

Caraway recommends limiting media exposure — and also getting information from a trusted source.

“We are encouraging our community members to visit the website corona virus.ohio.gov for the most up-to-date information. The Centers for Disease Control (and Prevention) is also a trusted source. These sites have real facts on what is happening in Ohio and in the rest of the country,” Caraway said. “When rumors arise, these can be helpful resources to get the facts and prevention procedures for you and your family.”


Caraway said resources are out there for people experiencing severe stress and anxiety.

“You can get help for stress if you need it by calling the national Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 or by texting “TalkWithUs” to 66746. Local help about where to access mental health or addiction services, food, housing and community resources can be reached by dialing 211, the local call line of Help Networkof NE Ohio,” she said.

For more information about the Mental Health and Recovery Board and all of the behavioral health resources in Trumbull County, visit its website at www.trumbullmhrb.org.

Many local counseling agencies also are taking new clients.

Yeropoli said she has been working to share with her clients employment opportunities, food distributions and ways to entertain children who are at home due to COVID-19 closures — including museums offering virtual tours.

“Managing stress overall — definitely this will take on a new face. Even for us therapists because we have to deal with it, too,” Yeropoli said.

She said she is coping with the added stress by doing many of the things she recommends clients do: talking with friends and family, deep breathing, getting exercise and using positive reinforcement.

Caraway said the Mental Health Board is trying to promote places that are hiring.

“I know that the unemployment applications have skyrocketed,” Caraway said. She said she is encouraging people to apply for unemployment as quickly as possible so they can have a check coming in.

“I think the message I want people to continue to embrace is that this is going to be a short-term problem and they need to just take it in little pieces so they don’t get completely overwhelmed,” Caraway said.



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