The escalating outbreak of the coronavirus has created a perfect storm for anxiety, isolation, and depression in our communities. Identifying constructive ways to address these mental health challenges is important not just for short-term health, but for long-term health as well. Here are five tips that we can each incorporate into our daily lives to help cope with pandemic-created stress.
1. Remember You Are Not Alone
Human beings are social animals by nature, but the coronavirus has threatened us with social isolation. Especially for those living alone, this absence of human connection can exacerbate stress and create a level of anxiety that is unhealthy. To help bridge the disconnect and foster a greater connection to others, please try:
- Reaching out online. Create or join an online support group that allows you to connect with neighbors and discuss shared challenges, experiences, and interests in an open forum.
- Socializing digitally. Use cellphones, text messaging and video calling to continue to feel connected to friends, colleagues, and family while maintaining safe social distance.
- Regular check-ins. Keeping in contact with the ones you love and having the reassurance—however temporary—that they are okay can help reduce stress in an already stressful situation.
2. Establish Healthy Habits
When we take good care of our bodies, we optimize our ability to think clearly, solve problems, and manage our emotions. Healthy habits that you can control while dealing with pandemic-created stress include:
- Practice good sleep hygiene. Allow yourself enough time to get adequate sleep each night and create an environment that promotes rest. Avoid habits that can adversely affect your quality of sleep.
- Stay active. Exercise is key to maintaining a healthy mindset. Try to start the day by getting fresh air and exercise, if possible.
- Focus on nutrition. Eating high-quality foods that contain plenty of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants help nourish the brain and protect against oxidative stress. Eat right and regularly and be sure to stay hydrated.
3. Don’t Dwell on Grief
Right now, people are feeling grief over the loss of routines, certainty, and a perception of themselves as being generally healthy and protected. Growing uncertainty and an ever-evolving news cycle of bad news have people feeling increasingly unsafe. Here are some thoughts on how you can process grief in constructive ways:
- Practice gratitude. Many of us continue to be safe and healthy. For some, self-isolation means spending time with family that you might otherwise not have had.
- Exploring new hobbies. Broadening your horizons through new interests can prove therapeutic.
- Expressing feelings to friends and loved ones. Having an open dialogue with friends and family can help you process what you are grieving about and reinforces the understanding that you are not alone.
4. Remember to Laugh
There is mounting data to support the positive impact that laughter has on our health, both in the short-term and in the long-term. When you begin to laugh, it doesn't just enhance your mental state—it induces physical changes in your body including:
- Stimulating organs. Laughter enhances the body’s intake of oxygen, stimulating the heart, lungs, and muscles to increase the endorphins released by the brain.
- Activating and relieving stress response. Laughter activates and relieves your stress response, which can increase and decrease your heart rate and blood pressure.
- Soothing tension. A good laugh stimulates circulation and promotes muscle relaxation—both essential for reducing physical symptoms of stress.
When possible and appropriate, try to share a laugh or a light moment with a friend or loved one.
5. Understand Good vs. Bad Anxiety
Some anxiety is productive—it’s what motivates us to wash our hands often and distance ourselves from others when there’s an important reason to do so. But unproductive anxiety can make our mind spin in all kinds of frightening directions. Remember to:
- Focus on the present. Staying grounded in the present prevents our anxiety from spinning stories about the future, like worrying excessively that you or someone you love will become fatally ill.
- Take reasonable precautions. Stocking up on essential supplies and practicing good hygiene and responsible social distancing are all reasonable precautions in response to a pandemic. Avoid the urge to panic.
- Be aware of distress reactions. Trouble sleeping, difficulty concentrating, and a sense of being unsafe are all signs that someone is experiencing a distress reaction.
If you or someone you know are struggling with your mental health amid the COVID-19 pandemic, remember that you are not alone. Consult with your mental health provider to identify resources available to you from a safe social distance. Let’s safeguard our bodies and minds from this pandemic.