COVID-19 Response: Optimizing Our Nation’s Emotional Health

Critical information to protect your emotional health during the pandemic.

Posted Apr 09, 2020

The COVID-19 global pandemic is a defining moment for each and every one of us. With the existence of this highly lethal, highly contagious virus that has spread across the globe, life as we know it has radically changed. 

Physical and social distancing, foreign concepts to most of us until just a few short weeks ago, significantly compound the challenges that many of us face. In order to combat the virus, we are being asked to alter our entire way of life by confining ourselves to our homes and staying indoors. Humans are social beings by nature who enjoy being productive and interacting with others, so being asked to stay in our homes for an indefinite period of time is definitely challenging and can obviously lead to “cabin fever” or a feeling of being cooped up.  

Yet, there are those who face their own set of unique challenges posed by continuing in their professional roles outside of the home—namely first responders and health care workers. We want to acknowledge the potentially traumatic experiences that our first responders and health care workers may be facing in neighborhoods, ambulances, emergency rooms, and intensive care units across the world by being exposed to extraordinarily high levels of morbidity, mortality, pressure, and stress. The fear of “going into battle” is a real concern, especially given that we are implicitly asking first responders and health care providers to put their own lives, and even the lives of their family members with whom they live, on the line as they provide the much needed medical care to people infected by COVID-19.

The ubiquitous mortality threat of the novel coronavirus is enough to incite fearfulness and anxiety in all of us, the seriousness of which has psychological implications for all who inhabit the planet. Perhaps for the first time, this pandemic has caused many of us to face our own mortality. And, unfortunately, there are thousands in our world who are now faced with the reality of the loss of loved ones due to this pandemic. The level of grief that we as a society will face will be extraordinarily high, especially in light of the fact that we are unable to hold traditional wakes, funerals, and other similar rituals to celebrate the lives of those who have passed away. This is further compounded by the fact that those who are dying (whether COVID or non-COVID deaths) are likely dying alone in isolation, which is very different and difficult for many families. 

We believe it is important to acknowledge the many complex emotions, including fear and anxiety, that this pandemic evokes and also to acknowledge the feelings that arise in response to extreme situations such as social isolation, working under tremendous pressures and dangerous conditions, and dealing with issues of tragic grief and loss. Here are some useful tips that everyday Americans can implement today to successfully manage the emotional aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our recommendations fall into three categories: taking preventative measures to maintain your emotional health, addressing social isolation, and treating mental health conditions—preexisting or newly emerging. 

Taking Preventive Measures

  • Create a plan for each day and stick to a daily routine
  • Select nutritious, fresh foods and stay adequately hydrated
  • Exercise daily (i.e., 30 to 60 minutes of cardio and weight training)
  • Practice mindfulness daily (i.e., 10 minutes of deep breathing exercises)
  • Get fresh air daily (e.g., open a window, step out on a balcony, etc.)
  • Obtain eight to nine hours of restful sleep each night to preserve sleep/wake cycle
  • Plan and enjoy fun activities at home (e.g., card games, dancing to music, etc.)
  • Keep a gratitude journal
  • Stay abreast of public health information and recommendations from the government but limit exposure to pandemic coverage (online, TV) to only 30 minutes a day, and avoid coverage immediately before bedtime
  • Call utility and loan servicers to relieve financial pressure

Proactively Addressing Social Isolation

  • Use video chat apps such as FaceTime and WhatsApp to “virtually visit” with friends and family
  • Take part in virtual, community-wide social events (e.g., attend a virtual concert hosted by a favorite artist, join a virtual listening party)
  • Utilize neighborhood app’s to connect with neighbors
  • Play online games with friends, join online exercise communities
  • Attend video and/or conference calls with houses of worship and members of your faith community
  • Reach out regularly to your loved ones via email and phone—especially those who are elderly or ill

Treating Behavioral Health Conditions

For those with an established diagnosis and established providers:

  • Stick to your treatment plan (keep scheduled appointments, continue with medications as prescribed, manage the refill process in a timely fashion)
  • Access treatment remotely—many private insurances are waiving co-pays at this time to make care more affordable and more accessible
    • Telepsychiatry, teletherapy
    • Text-based therapeutic solutions
    • Phone consultation
  • Telepsychiatry, teletherapy
  • Text-based therapeutic solutions
  • Phone consultation

For those with newly emerging symptoms needing to access services for the first time:

  • Call your primary care physician
  • Access resources from your employee assistance program at work
  • Reach out to your health insurance company to obtain referrals to behavioral health providers
  • Access help from your local public mental health authority
  • Identify relevant community resources and support groups

We speculate that the emotional consequences of this pandemic will be far-reaching and have a worldwide impact. We hope that these tips will help you optimize your emotional health during this pandemic. We are all in this together.