The coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis is unprecedented, and affects not only our physical health and daily lives, but also our mental health. The first case of COVID-19 was discovered in China’s Wuhan city, and has since been spreading worldwide. The severity of the illness and rapid rate of transmission has quickly caused the most significant global health crisis of our lifetime.
A pandemic of this type is surely enough to cause widespread anxiety and even panic. The crisis can impede our ability to think carefully, communicate thoughtfully, and make effective choices. In addition, worries about getting sick, being forced to stay indoors, facing financial strain and distancing yourself from loved ones can make it overwhelming.
Without a sense of belonging and connection with our close friends, relatives, and workplaces, anxiety can worsen. Additional uncertainty regarding the evolution of the COVID-19 epidemic can amplify anxiety in those currently suffering from it. Job losses, university closures, and resource scarcity further make matters worse. The stress we are experiencing can also change our relationship to alcohol or other substances, and strain otherwise healthy relationships in unpredictable ways. A significant portion of people alive today have never been in a similar predicament.
Reducing Stress During COVID-19
Our minds work in unique ways due to a combination of genetic factors and previous experiences. The ways we handle stress can also be particular to us as individuals. In addition, during COVID-19, it may be difficult to predict what we can or can’t tolerate since we are largely in uncharted territory. There are however some essentials in thinking about handling stress in any situation, that are applicable during COVID-19. Here are some ideas on how we can manage and better regulate stress during these challenging times:
1. Get Back to Basics
Before the health crisis, were we sleeping too little, not eating well enough, or not getting enough exercise? How often did we stop to think about the effect our behaviors had on our mental health before COVID-19? We have an opportunity now to step back and focus again on the basic foundational elements of good mental health: quality sleep, good food, social interaction, and regular exercise.
Start tracking your sleep with an app to see what can be improved. Wake up at the same time every day. Carve out an hour in your day once or twice per week for an extra walk or light exercise outdoors. Make sure you’re enjoying a variety of foods, limiting alcohol and tobacco use, and connecting in a meaningful way every day, with others.
2. Communicate With Friends and Family
Friends and family are important social supports for us. During COVID-19 however, this is especially true. Take a moment to call a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while. Reach out to family to see how they’re doing. Call a neighbor to see if they need anything.
It’s never been easier to connect with others in a meaningful way, and the resources to do so at our fingertips. Take advantage of them now – it may have a lasting positive effect on your well-being.
3. Find a New Hobby
Finding ways to occupy your time and maintain structure is important during COVID-19. If we are feeling increasingly isolated, a hobby or new interest can be a refreshing way to tap into our creativity, explore or uncover something new about ourselves, and to maintain structure during your day.
Hobbies and personal interests are important ways to maintain a healthy work-life balance. As we age, it can be tougher to maintain this balance as our lives become increasingly full. In fact, if you have more time now due to loss or postponement of a job, developing a new interest may be easier than ever.
Think back to earlier times in your life, and rediscover lost interest. Did you spend hours drawing, or doing artwork as a child or younger adult? Perhaps another way to express yourself artistically could be valuable to you now. Or think about what you would really like to explore today- it can help you relax and stay busy. Try a new activity, and keep searching until you find something that you like.
4. Limit Your Consumption of News
When in the throes of a challenging emotional experience, bad news can affect you more negatively than it otherwise might. We may wish to step back and ask ourselves some important questions: for example, is necessary to consume all the news available to us today? Can we be well-informed but not overwhelmed with information?
It may help to avoid some news sources and follow constructive stories. Try turning off your mobile notifications that alert you to trending headlines. Attempt to get the facts, and try to avoid rumors and speculation. Equip yourself with quality information from reputable sources. It may help lower anxiety, improve your sleep, and improve your sense of control and well-being.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers frequent updates on the COVID-19 crisis. The World Health Organization also provides many useful resources that are widely available to the public. In addition, the National Institutes of Health has published recommendations regarding social distancing, and has excellent research-based information on the COVID-19 crisis.
5. Talk to a Counselor
Counselors can help us navigate the emotional distress that the current health crisis is causing. Support groups or individual counseling can be very helpful during times of intense stress and uncertainty.
If you have had experience in counseling before, and are having significant anxiety, mood, or other symptoms, it may help to reconnect with your counselor, and explore your options. You may be able to do so from the comfort of your home, by utilizing telehealth services now commonly available.
If you have never had counseling, and feel that you may benefit from talking to someone about your experience, explore your options. Finding the counselor that you’re comfortable with will be important. And, the relationship you establish with a counselor now could also help with readjusting to a more regular work-life balance as COVID-19 passes.
6. Consider Medications
Do you feel that the emotional distress that you are experiencing as a result of COVID-19 is worsening a pre-existing mental health condition, or causing serious disruptions in your life? If you are experiencing a major change in your mental health or sense of well-being, talking to a psychiatrist could help.
Discussing the details of your experience, reviewing your symptoms, and coming up with a plan to manage them, either with or without the use of medicines, can help you feel better. If you choose to move forward with the medicine to help manage your mental health, you can discuss all relevant details of available medicines with your prescribing physician, before making a choice as to what may be helpful for you.
Often, using medicines to help treat mental health symptoms can accelerate your progress in counseling. As we start to feel better by taking a medicine, it becomes easier to talk about painful experiences in counseling, and the effect that symptoms have on us begins to feel less severe.
OptiMindHealth is a multidisciplinary practice offering psychiatric and psychological care services for those with mental health and wellness challenges. Our providers are focused on providing mental health solutions for our patients and their families, and we are ready to help you navigate the mental health challenges related to the COVID-19 epidemic. Reach out to us by requesting an appointment or contacting our office for more information about what treatment options are available to you.