Women’s Health: Family Physician Jennifer Bulcock on Protecting Mental Wellness

The Women’s Health series is presented by AdventHealth

March 13 marks two years since Kansas City, along with the rest of the country, declared the state of emergency that changed our lives due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

We’ve all been through a lot in the last two years. Some of us lost loved ones. Others lost touch with friends and family due to social isolation. Some have teetered between working in the office and working from home, leading to burnout. Others are experiencing long-term complications caused by the virus. And it’s been challenging for most of us to keep up with back-and-forth health mandates.

For many, the pandemic seems never-ending, and it’s taken a toll on mental wellness. A survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation in January 2021 identified 41 percent of US adults are reporting symptoms of anxiety or depression—a significant jump from July 2019 when only 11 percent of US adults reported anxiety or depression.   

Jennifer Bulcock, a family physician with AdventHealth Medical Group Primary Care at Spring Hill, says she has seen a significant impact on her patients since the start of the pandemic. “The stresses of the pandemic—whether financial, physical, or emotional—have most certainly taken a toll on the mental well-being of most people,” says Bulcock. “Due to these stresses and the uncertainty of the future, many people have been dealing with worsening anxiety and/or depressive symptoms or new onset of these symptoms.”

Recognizing the Symptoms
Many people are experiencing mental-health challenges for the first time. So, what might indicate that you’re struggling? 

Bulcock says to watch out for a loss of interest in people/activities that used to excite you, feeling down or blue, an inability to sleep or sleeping too much, increased irritation, changes in eating habits, turning to unhealthy ways of coping, becoming socially withdrawn, or feeling a need for constant reassurance.

While both men and women have been reporting higher levels of mental-health issues, Bulcock says that women are more likely to report increasing challenges because of the pandemic.

“During the pandemic, dealing with work or the other duties of life did not go away, and, in many cases, increased,” Bulcock says. “Women may feel that they are responsible for the well-being of others including spouses, children, other family, and friends. This responsibility, paired with stresses of the pandemic, is a recipe for decreased self-care and overall mental well-being.”

Family Physician Jennifer Bulcock

Taking Care of Yourself
If you’re struggling with mental health, Bulcock says it’s important to remember that you’re not alone, and it’s never too early to ask for help.

“Sometimes just talking through your fears, thoughts, and burdens is enough to provide some relief,” says Bulcock. “Medications and therapy are also available and may just be needed short term. While psychiatrists may be of benefit, family practice and other primary-care providers are equipped to handle mental-health concerns and may be more accessible. There’s also no need to wait until your next wellness visit to approach mental-health concerns with your primary-care doctor—we are here to help!”

Also vital? Prioritizing self-care. Bulcock suggests starting with things that bring you joy and setting attainable goals. For example, if you’ve noticed that you’re spending more time on the couch, try making a goal to take a walk each day. It’s small changes that make the biggest difference.

Another thing to keep in mind? It’s OK to grieve what the pandemic has taken from you.

“Grief can also occur with loss of other things that are important to us, and it is OK to grieve over things that may seem small to others but that mean a lot to you,” says Bulcock. “Healthy management of grief starts and ends with the maintenance of self-care and putting your mental well-being first.”

Bulcock recommends starting with increased time outside. Not only does the fresh air create a safe venue to gather with family and friends to fill the social void, but time in the sun also helps our bodies produce vitamin D, regulates sleeping/waking schedules, and can help improve overall mood.

“Move your body and avoid forming bad habits and unhealthy coping behaviors like alcohol consumption, smoking, increasing sedentary activities, or unhealthy eating,” Bulcock says. “It all matters and can make a huge difference.”