They talked about the importance of confronting anxiety "head-on" rather than ignoring it.

By Faith Brar
May 06, 2020

Bebe Rexha hasn't been one to shy away from sharing her mental health struggles. The Grammy nominee first told the world that she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2019 and has since used her platform to start much-needed conversations about mental health.

Recently, in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, the singer partnered with Ken Duckworth, M.D., a psychiatrist and chief medical officer for the National Alliance On Mental Health (NAMI), to share tips on how people can keep their emotional well-being in check while navigating the stress of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The two kicked off the conversation in an Instagram Live video by talking about anxiety. ICYDK, 40 million people in the U.S. struggle with an anxiety disorder, explained Dr. Duckworth. But with the widespread stress of COVID-19, those numbers are expected to rise, he said. (Related: 5 Steps to Working Through Trauma, According to a Therapist Who Works with First Responders)

Of course, anxiety can affect multiple aspects of daily life, but Dr. Duckworth noted that sleep, in particular, can be a huge issue for people experiencing anxiety during this time. Approximately 50 to 70 million Americans already have a sleep disorder, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH)—and that's before coronavirus upended everyone's lives. Now, the stress of the pandemic is leaving people with weird, often anxiety-inducing dreams, not to mention a whole host of sleep issues, from trouble staying asleep to sleeping too much. (In fact, researchers are starting to investigate the long-term effects of coronavirus anxiety on sleep.)

Even Rexha shared that she's been struggling with her sleep schedule, admitting there was one night recently when she only got two and a half hours of sleep because her mind was racing with anxious thoughts. For those battling similar sleep issues, Dr. Duckworth suggested creating a routine that calms your mind and body before bed—ideally, one that doesn't include a ton of news feed scrolling. Yes, staying up-to-date on COVID-19 news is important, but doing so excessively (especially at night) can often just add to the stress you might already be feeling from social isolation, job loss, and impending health concerns, among other issues, he explained.

Instead of being glued to your news feed, Dr. Duckworth suggested reading a book, talking to friends, taking a walk, even playing games like Scrabble—pretty much anything to keep your mind off the media frenzy around COVID-19 so you don't bring that stress with you to bed, he explained. "Because we're already anxious [as a result of the pandemic], if you reduce the media input, you're promoting the chances of having a good night's sleep," he said. (Related: 5 Things I Learned When I Stopped Bringing My Cell Phone to Bed)

But even if you're getting the rest you need, Rexha and Dr. Duckworth acknowledged that anxiety can still be overwhelming and disruptive in other ways. If that's the case, it's important to confront those feelings, rather than push them aside, explained Dr. Duckworth. "At some point, if you're really having serious interruptions in your life because of anxiety, I would not try to deny that and [instead] get the help that you need," he said.

Speaking from personal experience, Rexha highlighted the importance of advocating for yourself when it comes to mental health. "You have to be your own best friend and kind of work with yourself," she said. "The one thing that I've found with anxiety and mental health is that you can't go against it and fight it. I find you have to go head-on with it." (Related: Why Is It So Hard to Make Your First Therapy Appointment?)

In a perfect world, everyone who wants access to professional mental healthcare right now would have it, noted Dr. Duckworth. Unfortunately, that's simply not a reality for everyone. That said, there are resources out there for those who don't have health insurance and can't afford individual therapy. Dr. Duckworth recommended looking into services that offer behavioral and mental healthcare to economically disadvantaged individuals for free or at a nominal cost. (Therapy and mental health apps are also viable options. Here are more ways to go to therapy when you're broke AF.)

For mental health emergencies, Dr. Duckworth directed people to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, a free and confidential emotional support platform that helps individuals in suicidal crisis and/or severe emotional distress. (Related: What Everyone Needs to Know About the Rising U.S. Suicide Rates)

Rexha ended her conversation with Dr. Duckworth by offering emotional support to her fans during these uncertain times: "I know times are tough and it sucks but you have to be your own cheerleader," she said. "Talk to your family members, talk to your friends, just get out your emotions. You are strong, and you can get through anything."