Moving for mental health

Staff photo / Allie Vugrincic Elliana Qualls, 3, of Howland rides a scooter in Howland Park on Wednesday afternoon while her mother Stephanie Qualls, follows. Mental health experts suggest exercising, maintaining a schedule and other activities that can give people a purpose as a way to cope with the anxiety during Ohio’s stay-at-home order.

WARREN — With COVID-19 fears, closures and a stay-at-home order limiting people’s social interaction, many are feeling increased stress and anxiety — leading to a spike in people seeking mental health services.

Jody Klase, director of Valley Counseling Services, said the first week of Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio Health Director Dr. Amy Acton’s stay-at-home order brought a “large influx” of new clients.

“Isolation is a big factor of people feeling fearful and anxious. Overall, fear of the unknown and then being at home and having very little interaction is definitely a stress,” Klase said.

With unemployment numbers on the rise, people also are worried about providing for their families and must find new ways to occupy their time.


“I think you really need to make it a point to still serve a purpose,” Austintown counselor Sarah Thompson of Pursuing Change Counseling said. She recommended people find something “to make sure they feel important,” such as volunteering when possible, teaching children new skills or working on projects that produce a tangible result.

Newton Falls native Tyler Luonuansuu, who remotely is finishing up his studies at Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine before moving to Cleveland for a residency at Case Western, said he has been using newfound free time to learn a new skill: cooking.

“I think a lot of people see this shutdown as an inconvenience to their life plans, and I just hope those people will eventually see the new opportunities afforded by this slowdown,” Luonuansuu said. “I really wanted to learn a skill I otherwise wouldn’t have had time for, and so I started to learn cooking. I knew the basics, but I’ve started getting a lot better and it’s really satisfying to know I have that tool now.”

David Karr of Cortland has been using his extra time to make wildflower and sunflower seed starters for his garden. Karr, whose wife is at high-risk for COVID-19 because of an immunodeficiency, said making sure his wife is not exposed to the virus is his priority.

“I only go out to get necessary items, and I try to make it so I only have to go out every couple weeks,” Karr said.

Karr said every year he trays seed starters, which sprout seedlings and stay inside until its warm enough the plants can be transplanted. Usually Karr plants vegetables, but this year he wanted to plant wildflowers to help bee and butterfly populations.

“I have time to do a lot more than I planned on doing, and want to fill my yard with as much as possible,” Karr said. “I find it very relaxing because it’s something you can get very detailed with. It takes my mind off everything when doing it.”

Others have turned to exercise apps and videos, crafts or even driving to friends’ houses to wave to them from the safe distance of the sidewalk.


For some, a vital outlet for coping with stress is getting outside and moving. The Ohio stay-at-home order closed playgrounds, which are high-risk zones for transmission of COVID-19, but kept open parks and walking trails. DeWine urged people to take advantage of those resources.

“I think people need to get out,” DeWine said during a daily news conference. “It’s part of the mental health. We all have to get through this.”

“Eating well and exercising are key on any given day, let alone in circumstances like this,” said Klase, who recommended walking, even if it’s just to the end of the driveway and back.

Many people took advantage of warm weather Wednesday and Thursday to get outside in neighborhoods and parks.

Amy Waid of Cortland and daughter Brook Waid, home from Miami University of Ohio, said they try to walk together every day. Wednesday, they were doing laps in Howland Park.

“It’s absolutely essential for your mental health,” Amy said. “We take the social distancing thing very seriously, but we have to get out.”

“We have a Pelaton (indoor cycle) at home and can do the workout videos, but nothing beats being outside,” Brooke said. She said she was set to run a half-marathon soon in Nashville, but the event has been canceled.

Husband and wife Melvin and Susan Kelly of Austintown spent their afternoon Wednesday exploring new trails in Mill Creek MetroPark.

“It’s very important. It keeps you sane,” Susan said of time outside.

April Caraway, Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board director, said Wednesday as she was working from home, she saw a lot of people walking outside.

“It’s the best thing people can do,” Caraway said. “You’re safe outside. You get vitamin D from the sun. You get away from the cooped-up feeling.”

She said the recovery board is promoting getting outdoors daily — keeping people from low activity, which leads to poor physical and often mental health.


Caraway recommended other forms of self care as well: yoga, prayer and meditation, or spending time doing activities with children or family members.

“It’s all about self-care,” Caraway said.

Thompson recommended playing a board game, watching a funny movie or taking a bath to produce “relaxing chemicals” in the brain, which counteract anxiety.

Maintaining a daily schedule also is important for those affected by layoffs and closures, according to Klase. A regular routine keeps people moving and prevents boredom.

Klase said she encourages people who are experiencing stress and anxiety to reach out. Valley Counseling and many other local services are currently taking clients, and can provide therapy over the phone.

“I think a lot of people think it’s selfish to take care of themselves,” Thompson said. “It’s the least selfish thing you can do. If you are not your best self, then you’re not going to be that for anything or anyone else.”


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