As we enter this new and unprecedented phase of the pandemic, we are inundated with guidelines about how to keep ourselves and our families healthy and virus-free. Yet a key item in those guidelines, long-term social distancing, poses challenges to our mental and emotional well-being and requires some options to keep in check mental health during COVID-19. The World Health Organization has alerted about the rising cases of anxiety, stress, and overall mental health problems that have gotten worse with the pandemic.
Before we begin, just know we’re not here to tell you you shouldn’t even worry about COVID-19 or that you shouldn’t plan for it. In fact, the first thing you need to do is make a treatment plan with your family, and discuss it frequently to be prepared if the virus strikes your inner circle. Remember always to contact your health professional before you start any self-treatment for COVID-19. Having a plan will help deal with anxiety.
One big source of anxiety is feeling like you’re not in control of a lot of potential threats or just events in your life. So planning is essential to lower your anxiety.
Then, recognize the signs of distress for you and your loved ones' mental health. Common signs are changes in appetite, energy, and activity levels; difficulty concentrating or making decisions, which is usually a result of problems with sleeping or nightmares; physical reactions like headaches, body pains, stomach problems, and skin rashes. If you have a worsening chronic health problem or an increase in your consumption of alcohol consumption, tobacco, or other drugs, this could also be a sign of distress. You need to avoid consuming any of these, especially now during the pandemic.
You will need to take care of your emotional and physical health as well. Taking care of your emotional health will help you think clearly and react to the urgent needs to protect yourself and your family. One vital aspect of your emotional health is your social interactions. Stay connected with your family, friends, and other support networks (faith, hobbies, etc.). Having someone to talk to about your needs and feelings is vital for mental health. Commit to contacting at least one person per day for constant social connection through telephone, email, video conference, and social media. Consider asking one person to be your support buddy and have daily check-ins. If you are a peer support group member, stay connected through the telephone or a video platform such as Zoom. Many groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, are moving meetings to digital platforms.
And don’t forget to take care of your body by eating healthy, well-balanced meals, exercising daily —walking, running, a few weights at home, or even yoga—, drink plenty of water, and sleep from 7-8 hours a night.
While on the topic of sleep, one of the more important — and often overlooked— coronavirus lifestyle tips is just making yourself comfortable at home. The other essential tip is to create a safe and comfortable environment. That could be a single room or your entire home. A relaxing space is a place where you can easily unwind and feel safe when in it. To set up this “safe” space it may first require thorough cleaning or reorganization. This can be done on a one time or a biweekly cleaning schedule through services like Rain City Maids. We offer a convenient method for creating a more comfortable area on your schedule.
Make time to unwind and remind yourself that strong feelings will fade. Try taking in deep breaths or practicing meditation and maintain activities you usually enjoy. Stick to regular routines as much as possible. You may need to create a new routine to account for working at home, exercising indoors, caring for children/grandchildren, cleaning, and other daily activities. Integrate old and new enjoyable hobbies into your daily routine.
And we know the news can cause stress, but being informed can help give you a sense of control. So, stay informed whenever you feel that you are missing the latest updates in your community, state, or the world. Also, be aware that there may be rumors during a crisis, especially on social media. Always check your sources and turn to reliable sources of information like your local government authorities. But avoid too much exposure to the news– take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories. It can be upsetting to hear about the crisis and see images repeatedly. Try to participate in enjoyable activities and return to normal life as much as possible and check for updates between breaks.
Seek help when needed– If stress impacts activities of your daily life for several days or weeks, talk to a clergy member, counselor, or doctor, or contact the Substance Abuse Mental Health Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) helpline at 1-800-985-5990. It’s critically important for you to stay in touch with your counselor, therapist, or psychiatrist if you have an existing mental health condition or substance use disorder. Telemedicine—video or phone chat—is currently the safest way to have such an appointment in the current environment.
And last but not least, altruism helps not just your mental health, but your soul. Helping others gives us a sense of purpose and feelings of control during these uncertain times. Helping others can be done safely through peer-support phone calls, neighbor checking from a safe social distance, and even childcare for medical personnel restricted in hospitals fighting against COVID-19 when safe to do so. The feeling that the entire community is in this together, can do wonders for your anxiety and stress. Like we’ve already mentioned, having a support group helps, but it goes both ways and that means supporting others as well.
Try as much as possible to be positive and relish the simple things in life. So many people across the country are helping their neighbors and communities during this crisis. After this pandemic is over, let’s hope that we will be stronger, kinder, and more connected with each other.