These are incredibly challenging times. Globally, people are experiencing radical changes in how they live, work, and play because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The speed and scope of the changes due to COVID-19 may have you feeling overwhelmed like you’re losing control and uncertain about the future. It’s crucial to protect your mental health during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Stay-at-home orders, homeschooling, daily routine changes, and fears about health and safety are stressful. Worry about finances because of a layoff or the result of the economic fallout can cause high anxiety. For some, food insecurity with concerns about where the next meal will come from is part of a new reality.
Conflicting health and safety guidelines from governments and health organisations early in the COVID-19 outbreak may make you uncertain about what to do and add to your anxiety.
New research in the United States, Germany, and China show that people have more fear, anxiety, and depression since the pandemic. Some people may be more vulnerable to the mental health effects of the pandemic. They include those who become sick with COVID-19 or have lost loved ones to the disease and those at increased risk of severe illness due to underlying health conditions. People who already have anxiety or depression, health care providers, and other essential workers are also more vulnerable.
Mental Health Self-care during COVID-19
These simple strategies can help your mental health during this pandemic:
Get the facts. Become knowledgeable about COVID-19 risk and how you can keep yourself, your family, and the community safe. Misinformation is widespread on social media, so it should not be your source for facts about the disease. Arm yourself instead with COVID-19 information from unbiased, reliable sources such as the CDC and the WHO websites. It can reduce the stress of trying to make sense of the barrage of misinformation.
Limit your exposure to media. Avoid watching, listening to, or reading things that are distressing or increase fear and anxiety. This includes social media, continuous news channels, and print newspapers. Children, in particular, can be very vulnerable to upsetting material.
Have a daily routine. Develop a daily routine that accommodates your new “normal” whether you’re single or married with kids. Even as communities re-open, you may have one or more adults working from home. Now that the school year is over, you may also have kids at home all day with little to do. Concerned for health and safety, the limited or non-existent options for child summertime activities have many parents opting to keep children home.
- Get enough sleep. Going to bed and getting up at the same time every day helps.
- Create a daily work schedule with frequent short breaks for walking, stretching, or jumping in place. Stop to hug your child or spouse.
- If you’re juggling work and childcare, try to have a balanced schedule.
- Avoid unhealthy snacking, eat healthy meals, and exercise regularly.
- Have fun and creative family time.
- Set aside quiet “me” time to relax and recharge.
Staying connected is essential. Feeling isolated and powerless due to the pandemic can bring on sadness and depression. It can be especially challenging if you require extra vigilance with social distancing, because of age or underlying health conditions. Make an effort to maintain social contact with friends and family who don’t live with you. Strong, healthy relationships are good for emotional and physical health. Thankfully it’s easier than ever to stay connected with today’s technology – phone calls, video calls, texting, emails, and social media.
Be open about your feelings. If you’re feeling very stressed, overwhelmed, or depressed, talk to someone. The COVID-19 pandemic is a global crisis, and everyone reacts differently. There’s no shame in struggling emotionally at this time. Talk to someone you trust – a good friend, a counselor, or a health worker. Be open about your struggles so you can get the help you need.
Alcohol and drug use. Don’t use smoking, alcohol, and drugs to calm fear and anxiety, or deal with anger, social isolation, and boredom. COVID-19 is a lung disease, so smoking will only increase your risk of severe disease. Drugs and alcohol limit your ability to cope appropriately with the crisis. Learn about healthy stress management strategies that help you to cope better. If you’re active in a faith-based community, use it as a support system.
Screen time. Limit how much time you and your children spend in front of the screen. Even if it’s more convenient to use a computer, tablet, or phone to ease boredom, keep children occupied, or for distraction. Read books, play board games, physical games, or have storytelling time. Go walking outside and get involved with helping others in your community. Use this extra time you‘re at home for personal growth and to build deeper bonds with family.
Cut yourself some slack. This is a very challenging time for most people, and it may be natural to focus on all the things that are wrong with the world. Instead, focus daily on the positives – all the things that you’re thankful for – and you’ll find that it improves your mood. Every day, think about someone you can encourage with a call, text, email, or card and do it. Thank the essential workers around you. Take the focus off your problems and help others – it feels good!
Social media is awash with people using this time to become a master bread maker, gardener, or home organizer extraordinaire. Don’t feel any less worthy because you have zero motivation to do anything more than get out of bed in the morning. Don’t create long daily to-do lists. Instead, have a couple of reasonable goals each day and celebrate every step you complete that brings you closer to your goals.
Children get stressed too. It’s vital to explain the Coronavirus pandemic to your children in simple age-appropriate language. They’ve had to deal with seismic changes to their world – online homeschooling, loss of social contact with classmates, friends, and family, and a frightening, seemingly unending pandemic. Your children need your love, time, and attention, a listening ear, and lots of reassuring words and hugs. Teach them that they can help slow the spread of the disease with handwashing, social distancing, and wearing a mask when in public. Encourage them to come up with creative ways to enjoy this time together as a family.
This pandemic and the challenges it presents to governments, organizations, communities, and individuals are all uncharted territories. No one alive has ever experienced anything quite like this! Be patient with yourself and others as we all try to figure things out. Good mental health will help you cope better with whatever the future brings.
Toju Chike-Obi, MD