HILLSDALE - While stress compels many to adapt to a new environment or lifestyle change, spending too much time on high alert can have damaging health effects.

Experts say the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a physiological response that can help either flee or fight the threat or stressor.

Prolonged, unwanted and unmanageable stresses like the ones so many people are facing during the pandemic can take a toll, causing anxiety, irritability, nervousness, sleeplessness and digestive upsets. Locally, there are various organizations to help people deal with stress.

In February, the Hillsdale County Suicide Prevention Coalition held an event called Islands of Wellness. Co-director Lori Nichols said the event was designed to help families learn how to manage stress and take care of their family's mental health. While it was held before the lock-down for COVID-19, Nichols thinks it actually helped prepare participants for what was coming.

Nichols said the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Hillsdale County has not met as a group since the Islands of Wellness event on Leap Day, but the Depression Support Group has met remotely, communicating through a group message.

"Recently we added Zoom Meetings on Thursday’s and we've had five people from a group of 10 participating," she said.

Nichols said people seem to be doing good emotionally with a few concerns.

"However, it always helps people to talk about themselves with others listening in a non-judgmental setting," she said, noting these have not been opened up to the public, just the group that is already established.

Ruth Brown, a founder of the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Hillsdale County, said even though the group hasn't met, she has been working on ideas for future events in Hillsdale.

"I have stayed active with the Jackson Suicide Prevention Coalition and with the Michigan

Association for Suicide Prevention that includes efforts on the state level," she said. "Some people handle staying home, and the effects of staying home, better than others do. I have noticed an increase in stress and anxiety as well as domestic assault cases. There has also been an increase in attempted suicides and in completed suicides in Hillsdale County during the pandemic."

Brown said she has participated in numerous virtual meetings on topics, such as coping skills for loneliness and isolation, as well as self-care during this time of isolation.

"May is Mental Health Month and there are many resources available online that focus on resilience and other tools to help people not just survive, but thrive," Brown said. "I share this information with others locally and find that some people find connections at this time particularly valuable. Many people in Hillsdale County and throughout the State of Michigan have lost their jobs and found themselves struggling financially while waiting for unemployment to come through, which places a great deal of stress on individuals and families. The unknown of how long the 'stay home stay safe' order is going to last is unsettling for some people. Staying connected and knowing that you

are not alone is very helpful."

Brown added there are blessings and silver linings to what is going on around us and recognizing those provides a bright spot.

"I have been on a few webinars that discuss positivity and what people are doing while isolated that have been refreshing," she said.

Even so, public health emergencies such as COVID-19 have significant impacts on the entire

mental health treatment system.

Over the past weeks, the Lifeways team has been working tirelessly on ways to continue to provide services while prioritizing the physical health and safety of clients, patients, employees and community partners.

“LifeWays is still offering services to those in need and any service that can be operated remotely has been changed to a telehealth model," Maribeth Leonard, CEO of LifeWays Community Mental Health said. "LifeWays has been encouraging self-care and providing coping skills to the public through our Facebook page and website. There is also an online COVID-19 support group that meets twice a week; information about this group can be found on the LifeWays Facebook page. As always, LifeWays is here for the Hillsdale community with it’s 24/7 Access Crisis Line at 1(800) 284-8288."

For tips on coping skills and managing stress, visit the Facebook page @LifeWaysCMH or visit the website at https://www.lifewayscmh.org/COVID-19-Updates.