Posted on: October 29, 2020 Posted by: Glacier Staff Comments: 0

Struggling to maintain your mental health? If you’re feeling anxious about COVID-19, you’re not alone.

Moraine counselor LaToya Johson-Foster recommends methods for coping with anxiety and depression.

Overcoming negative ways of thinking starts with being present in the moment, according to Moraine Valley counselor and author Latoya Johnson-Foster, who has advice and coping mechanisms to ease mental health challenges students are facing. She suggests asking yourself questions such as, “How do you feel right now?” and noticing if you’re experiencing any symptoms.

 “To change anything about yourself, you have to acknowledge that something is off with you, whether that be mentally, physically or emotionally,” Johnson-Foster said. The first step is to reach out for help, whether it is a therapist or a trusted family member or friend, she said, explaining that it’s important to let someone in and allow them to understand what is happening in your life.

According to the ADAA, “Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1 percent of the population every year.” 

To address anxiety, change the ‘what-ifs’

When students are dealing with anxiety, Johnson-Foster recommends seeing a therapist. Moraine Valley provides free counseling services for students.

If anxiety goes untreated, it can interfere with your personal, social and work life when the disorder becomes advanced and diagnosable. 

“If you do have anxiety and you find it difficult going to work or being around friends or family, or if it’s affecting your personal life, that’s something to definitely address with a professional,” Johnson-Foster said. 

Even if it does not interfere with the three major areas in your life, anxiety can create symptoms. To help reduce and control them, you should go to a therapist to address your negative thoughts.

According to the ADAA, “Anxiety disorders develop from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events.”

Johnson-Foster reveals battling the “what-if” factor is related to anxiety. To overcome these types of negative thoughts, she says to think positive what-if statements to replace the negative questions. For instance, if you find yourself thinking, “What if someone I love will get sick?” replace that question with “What if he/she doesn’t get sick?” 

“It’s really about learning how to read your own negative thoughts and put positive statements behind the what-if questions because the same way that a negative thought is a result then there is a positive result for a what-if question,” she said.

Johnson-Foster also recommends staying grounded by doing 5-10 minutes of breathing exercises and mediation.

“I do grounded techniques, so I look around the room like, ‘What do I see, smell, hear, feel, and taste?’ I  really use those coping skills to keep me in a place where I am mentally okay and not fearful or anxiety-ridden because of all the what-ifs that could happen.” 

Dealing with depression: ‘It’s okay to not be okay’

When experiencing symptoms of depression, Johnson-Foster says you should seek a professional if it is severe enough to infer with major areas in your life. She reminds her patients, “It’s okay to not be okay. I think all of us want to appear strong but sometimes you’re not strong and that’s okay too.”

“We are trained to provide these services, so I just want college students to know that this is a normal part of life and it doesn’t make you weak, it doesn’t make you different from anyone else, it makes you human,” she said.

In fact, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, “Major depressive disorder affects approximately 17.3 million American adults, or about 7.1% of the U.S. population age 18 and older, in a given year.”

Unfortunately, although anxiety disorders are highly treatable, according to the ADAA, most people who suffer do not receive treatment.

During COVID-19, many therapists are conducting sessions online, making it a good time to have appointments through video from the comfort of your own home.

“If you have insurance, you can contact your insurance company and they can find therapists in the network that accept your insurance that can begin seeing you. Do a simple Google search for a therapist in your area. We’re pretty much everywhere,” Johnson-Foster said.

If you are unable to get a therapist or are uninsured, there are organizations that provide low- to no-cost therapy for individuals experiencing mental struggles. Some therapists even provide sliding scale fees, working within your budget.

To read about Johnson-Foster’s book, which was inspired by her own mental health struggles, see our story here.

Most therapists offer free 15-minute consultations. To help your therapist help you, Johnson-Foster recommends figuring out what event has triggered you, tracking your patterns of behavior, and writing down what symptoms you experienced and how long they were present.

If depression goes untreated, symptoms can worsen and affect your daily life. Signs of needing professional help include uncontrollable rapid thoughts, changes in sleeping and eating habits, and isolating yourself from friends and family. 

“It is detrimental for your mental health to let depression and anxiety go untreated for long periods of time,” Johnson-Foster said.

According to Our World in Data, “Studies suggest that for an individual with depression, the risk of suicide is around 20 times higher than an individual without.”

If you are feeling suicidal, talk about it with someone within your household or a trusted friend. To help someone who is feeling this way, contact the national suicidal hotline at 800-273-8255, or visit their website at, or take them to a hospital.

Johnson-Foster says to be a support and say, “You’re not alone, I’m here for you and this is how we are going to get through this.”