The outbreak of coronavirus has changed daily life for people across our country and around the world. For many, the pandemic has taken a physical, emotional, and financial toll which can make our mental health feel like it’s being stretched. It’s entirely normal to feel increased stress and anxiety during times of uncertainty, especially as social isolation practices continue but maintaining your mental wellbeing is essential to weathering any storm. Here are a few ways you make your mental health a priority during COVID-19.
Disruptions to Daily Routines
Under most circumstances, we know what to expect out of our days and we have arranged our lives to create a routine around these expectations. Whether that’s getting ready to go to work, transitioning through a class schedule during the school day, or socializing with friends and family in the evening, routines help us feel safe and secure. Additionally, there’s strong evidence to demonstrate that daily habits can be incredibly beneficial to managing mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and substance use. So what happens when entire communities are forced to drastically change their routines?
How Stress and Uncertainty Impact Mental Health
Along with social distancing recommendations and shelter-in-place orders, the spread of coronavirus has caused health officials and legislators to require remote work set-ups, school closures, and business closures to “flatten the curve.” Whether you live with family, roommates, or by yourself, quarantines introduce new challenges to many households, especially in terms of establishing daily routines. This can take a serious mental toll.
For most people, stress and uncertainty are fueled by a lack of control. The COVID-19 outbreak has caused people to feel powerless as they are asked to make significant, unprecedented alterations to their lifestyles, directly touching on three key elements of mental health: autonomy, competency, and connectedness. It’s important to recognize that strong emotions like fear, sadness, confusion, anger, and irritability are all common reactions to stressful situations. However, there are tools you can use to make sure your mental health needs are being met both during and after periods of quarantine.
Meet Your Own Needs
Although helping others during times of crisis is a wonderful way to reach out and build community, making sure your own needs are met should be a priority. This is particularly important for people such as medical professionals, first responders, and workers supporting grocery stores who have been deemed essential during stay-at-home orders. Everyone deals with stress differently, but here are some steps you can take to mitigate the negative mental health effects of the situation.
Check-In With Yourself
Just like you would when you call a friend or family member, take a few moments each day to ask yourself how you’re doing and determine what you need. Maybe you need a break from your new work-from-home setup or maybe you need to get outside in the sun for a minute. Stopping to acknowledging your feelings and addressing your needs can be a powerful tool against feeling out of control or helpless.
Establish a Routine
One of the most effective strategies for regaining a feeling of normalcy is to establish a routine. This can even be built based on your previous routines. If you’re used to waking up early every morning and getting ready for work, continue to follow that pattern, even if you’re working remotely and your commute has been put on pause. For parents and caretakers, this will also mean incorporating a schedule for children who are also likely feeling lost and confused without their normal structure. Breaking up the day will help reduce monotony and increase productivity, but don’t feel like you have to stick to a strict routine. Find something that works for everyone in your home.
Exercise Benefits Mental Health
Exercise is a great way to release pent up energy and reduce levels of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. Even relatively short periods of activity can impact your mental and physical health. The good news is that even though fitness centers are closed and outdoor activities are limited, there are still plenty of options for staying active at home. Here are a few things you can do to incorporate more activity into your day based on your abilities:
- Light Stretching
- Bodyweight Exercises
You can find exercise videos, fitness apps, and online workouts without needing to leave your home or acquire new supplies.
Manage How You Consume Information
As the conditions of the virus develop and new information is circulated, it can be hard to avoid checking the news every hour. However, it’s important to find a balance between staying informed and feeling overwhelmed. First and foremost, minimize the chances of receiving and spreading misinformation by getting your updates from trusted sources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), and your state and local health departments. Watching or listening to the news too much can increase stress more than simply reading the news because you’re able to control your intake more easily. Another strategy for limiting your news consumption is to set aside fifteen minutes each day to check the news, that way you can focus on other tasks and priorities throughout the day.
The quantity and quality of our social interactions play a huge role in our mental health, so it’s no surprise that social distancing has led to many people feeling disconnected or cut off from “the real world.” Staying in touch with friends, family, and coworkers is a key element in minimizing feelings of isolation and protecting your mental health. Even if you can’t meet face-to-face, there are still ways to stay connected:
- Call, text, or email loved ones
- Hold work meetings via video conferences
- Follow friends on social media
- Play virtual games with friends
- Plan virtual meetings like happy hour or coffee
- Play multiplayer online video games
- Join an online exercise class
Staying in touch with spiritual or religious groups through video meetings or phone calls is also an important way to maintain your regular routine and sense of community. These are wonderful places to find comfort and support during difficult times.
Spend Your Free Time on Meaningful Activities
Oftentimes, difficult situations present us with potentially uplifting opportunities. One of the silver linings some people might identify during times of quarantine is the feeling of life slowing down, allowing for more time to reconnect with friends, family, and ourselves. Without the daily hustle and bustle of work, sports, school, chores, and other responsibilities, you might find yourself with more free time than ever before. This is a great chance to find ways to relax through meaningful activities. Whether there’s a book you’ve been waiting to read or a project you’ve wanted to start, now might be the time.
What to Do When You Need More Mental Health Support
Attending to your mental health is essential for everyone, but this can be much more challenging for people with preexisting mental health conditions who might be more susceptible to the negative impacts of COVID-19. Luckily, modern technology has created plenty of avenues for people to get help without needing to compromise your physical health. Telehealth has made it easy for people to continue talking to their doctors and professional therapists via online chat, phone, text, and video.
If you need extra support prioritizing and protecting your mental health during this time, there are resources and people who can help you today. Contact us at the Jefferson Center to learn more about our services or call us if you have any questions.
If you are in a crisis, please call us at 303-425-0300 or by calling the crisis line at 844-493-8255. The 24/7 crisis walk-in center and withdrawal management program is open at 4643 Wadsworth Blvd, Wheat Ridge, CO 80033.