York Hospital and Sweetser Share Tips to Relieve Pandemic-Related Anxiety and Depression

York Housing often creates community-building events for residents to ensure neighborhoods remain connected.  After the pandemic, it has become more important than ever. York Housing staff members Laura Dehler and Libby Hutton worked together to bring in guest speakers, massage therapists, chair yoga and meditation instruction, a variety of social connection and gratitude exercises, and a healthy lunch for all at the Wellness & Vitality Retreat, held Thursday, May 26, in the Baldwin Center on the York campus.

“Watching the news during COVID became too scary, so I followed baseball instead and I often still feel the need to disconnect,” shared one resident during the engaging program, which was attended by approximately 30 people.

The York Hospital Center for Older Adults and Sweetser, a Maine-based nonprofit community mental health provider, shared resources and information with residents who wanted tips about how to reconnect after a prolonged period of social isolation. Jamie Baburek, a Clinical Supervisor at Sweetser, asked the group to share both a positive and a negative outcome from these past few years. Responses included joyful reminiscing about adopting pandemic pets, enjoying a slower pace with more the time to listen to music, and gratitude for being part of York Housing, where they felt connected and looked after as a community.

“My wife and I feel so lucky that we moved here just before the pandemic. We all had each other here, and that made the stress of COVID more bearable.”

When asked about the hardest parts of emerging from the pandemic, many agreed being isolated from family was the most difficult. “I miss my children. It is tough to know what to do now. . . most of us haven’t hugged our family or friends in almost three years,” shared a resident. Another commented, “It has been depressing. I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression over the years and COVID made this an extra challenging time for my mental health.”

Jamie Baburek, Clinical Supervisor at Sweetser engages residents at the York Housing Wellness and Vitality Retreat on May 26, 2022.

Sweetser’s Jamie Baburek shared tips for resuming routines and maintaining a positive outlook. “Self-care is important, so do what makes your heart sing. Walk with a friend, visit the grandchildren, take that vacation, or go to a concert. But trust yourself and go at your own pace. Wear a mask if you feel safer, get your food delivered if you’re not ready to go into the crowded grocery store, and know that there are things you can do, like exercise, stretching, deep breathing, healthy eating, getting restful sleep, and practicing mindful meditation to help relieve anxiety,” Baburek said. She also added that mental health professionals are a resource for anyone experiencing deeper worries about anxiety and depression. “We’re here to help, so don’t be afraid to call.”

Medical providers help manage both physical and mental challenges, and one resident shared that he has “come to grips with my diagnosis of early stage dementia. I see a wonderful doctor at the York Hospital Center for Older Adults. Dr. Elizabeth Castillo is helping me with medications and meetings to discuss progress. I don’t know where I’m going to be in a few years, but right now I’m happy living in the moment with my beautiful wife of over 60 years. My anxiety is growing weaker while my understanding and acceptance grow stronger. COVID helped make me more aware of my own feelings and how I can impact the feelings of others.”

Another resident shared concerns about his fellow veterans as the Memorial Day holiday nears: “As a veteran, I try to look after other veterans here. I’ve called a few to try to get them involved in York’s Memorial Day Parade, but they haven’t responded to my calls. Sometimes veterans isolate. But I won’t give up on them, I’ll bring them lunch and check in on them, and hopefully they’ll join me in the parade on Monday.”

The York Hospital Center for Older Adults provides a comprehensive outpatient consult service with an interdisciplinary team, which includes medical, nursing, rehab, nutrition, pharmacy and behavioral medicine for our older adult population who have begun to experience functional decline within the past year and/or are beginning to struggle at home. The York Hospital team offers extended services to help older adults who could benefit from a consultation and those who have trouble traveling to their provider’s office due to functional or cognitive issues. To learn more about the Center for Older Adults or to schedule an appointment, call 207-351-2371, Tuesday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., or visit https://www.yorkhospital.com/services/older-adult-care/.

Sweetser mobile crisis intervention services are available 24/7 by calling 1-888-568-1112. For all other services, call the Sweetser PromiseLine at 1.800.434.3000.

Special thanks to the Maine Health Access Foundation for supporting this educational outreach.