Summary: The COVID-19 Pandemic is an unprecedented event that requires a rift in the societal fabric in order to stop its spread. This forced isolation, along with the threats on financial and health security, can create pressures on those already with a history of depression and anxiety and lead to challenges in those that don’t.
Here are seven tips to nurture your mental wellness and create resilience during this uncertain time of social distancing. Not only will these strategies help you to maintain some normalcy through these times, they just might help you excel.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been responsible for widespread upheaval. Literally overnight, we have been asked to change our behaviors, stay at home other than essential trips out, and wait for this pandemic to pass. Trips, social events, religious gatherings, and restaurants have been canceled or closed. We have been asked to work from home and hold teleconferences instead of physical meetings. For many of us, these are the very ways that we define our social and support network.
Constant reporting of new case numbers and new virus-related deaths has been both emotionally distressing and overwhelming throughout the world. When paired with shelter-in-place orders and the inevitable time spent confined at home, this unprecedented global event has placed tremendous stress on some of the population’s most vulnerable. Current events are making it harder for everyone to protect and promote mental health. Absent of key resources and often unable to receive the same support and social engagement that’s typical of their daily lives, those with diagnosed and chronic mental health issues are finding themselves in an increasingly dangerous space. The good news is that even in times like these, there are still multiple ways to create the conditions for resilient mental health.
Who’s At Greatest Risk Of Experiencing Mental Health Issues During The COVID-19 Pandemic?
Right now and for the foreseeable future, everyone is at risk of experiencing deep depression, anxiety, and stress. So much of what’s going on in the world is impossible for people to control. This sense of helplessness invariably fosters feelings of hopelessness, even in many who have formerly enjoyed consistently good mental health, general mood balance, and overall high life qualities.
However, there is also a very large number of people who are especially prone to mental distress at this time. This includes people who by choice or by circumstance were already spending significant amounts of time alone and in virtual isolation such as elderly adults with age-related mobility issues, those with agoraphobia or fear of leaving the home, and disabled individuals who largely live in confinement. Those at greater risk for mental and emotional distress at this time additionally include people who are presently battling drug or alcohol addiction, those who have dealt with substance abuse or addiction in the past, recent divorcees, widowers, those grieving close friends, and those with a history of trauma and who may also be living with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Stressors to Mental Health During Quarantine:
A recent review article from Lancet by Samantha Brooks et al. entitled The psychological impacts of quarantine and how to reduce it discussed several risk factors that provoked a greater risk of mental health issues. It is with hopes that identifying the triggers to depression and anxiety can help us to construct ways to mitigate these risks.
- Longer duration quarantine (>10 days) or duration uncertain: Associated with poorer mental health, e.g. PTSD, avoidance behavior and anger.
- Fears of Infection. In one review, those who were concerned tended to be parents with young children or pregnant women.
- Frustration and Boredom. A change in usual behavior even routine things like shopping or social networking can create a sense of boredom and isolation.
- Inadequate Supplies Concerns. This includes the ability to get regular medical care and prescriptions.
- Inadequate Information. In studies, participants raised the greatest concerns when there was unclear messaging from public health authorities or a concern for lack of transparency. Some concern with adhering with quarantine protocols was a predictor of post-traumatic stress disorder in one study.
- Financial Factors. Many people have been asked to modify their work routines such as working from home and, in certain cases, have even lost their jobs. Those with a lower financial safety net, such as those with high debt to income burden, are particularly at risk.
The seven simple strategies that follow can benefit anyone who’s feeling the pressure of world and economic events, and who’s struggling to maintain mental health in the face of prolonged and mandated social distancing and social isolation.
- Get Outside And Get Moving
Most shelter-in-place orders that are presently being enforced are not intended to prevent people from going outside entirely. Instead, these orders have been designed to limit gatherings and activities that bring large numbers of people together. Moreover, in addition to not restricting solitary outside activities, or outside activities involving two people or fewer, many of these orders have been issued by municipal bodies that are actively encouraging people to get outside and exercise. The general understanding is that too much time spent indoors and leading a highly sedentary lifestyle is not beneficial for anyone at any time.
Pick a time each day to get outside and get moving. This can be as simple as taking a short walk around your neighborhood or going for a ride on your bike during the early morning hours or late afternoon. Although there are fewer recreational areas still open for enjoyment, there is also far less traffic on the streets. You can use this as an opportunity to better appreciate your neighborhood without the hustle and bustle of moving vehicles and busy consumers.
A short walk or bike ride will lift your spirits and give you the opportunity to re-center your thoughts. It can also make you feel more connected to the world around you. Outside exercise can even be as simple as taking your yoga mat out into the yard or onto a patio or balcony. It might be a good time to get outside to a local park and practice the calming art of Shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. In addition to benefiting from conscious and structured movement, you’ll have a dose of fresh air, sunlight, and a restored sense of normalcy.
- Continue Interacting With Others Via Social Media And Other Online Platforms
Now is a great time to start making use of social networking platforms. If you haven’t leveraged them before, these are great spaces for reconnecting with distant family members, childhood friends that you’ve lost contact with, and loved ones that you normally communicate with in other ways. Video chat platforms such as Skype can give you the benefit of both speaking to and seeing the people who normally fill your life, and who provide you with the social stimulation and engagement that’s absolutely essential for maintaining good mental health.
- Brighten Each Day With Exploration, New Learning, And Other Enriching Activities
For many, the COVID-19 pandemic has provided a very bittersweet silver-lining: massive amounts of free time. For those who are no longer working or having to physically commute long distances to their jobs, as well as those who are no longer attending in-person classes at school, this event offers countless opportunities to engage in new forms of learning and exploration. If you’ve ever wanted to make your own sourdough starter, crochet a blanket for a brand new or aging family member, teach yourself a new language, or pick up the cello, piano, or guitar, now is a great time to do it. These activities are personally enriching. More importantly, efforts to promote personal growth often give people greater hope for the future.
- Engage In Art Therapy
Now is also a time to break out your adult coloring books, or, better yet, start with a tabula rasa mentality and create your own work. Art is one of the most therapeutic activities that you can engage in. It’s immersive, cathartic, and relaxing. When you’re focused on drawing or coloring in the lines, choosing complementary colors, and achieving a very specific aesthetic, you cannot simultaneously dwell on all the outside problems that are beyond your realm of control. Creating art in any form can be both meditative and restorative. This is additionally a good time for art appreciation. Take advantage of online museum tours, free or discounted art or cooking classes, and other arts-related resources. Use online videos to start practicing and exploring martial arts, or start reading and writing poetry. Keeping a journal is also a great way to begin organizing your thoughts, analyzing your own emotions, and venting about your personal discomfort among other things. If you ever dreamed of writing your memoirs, the present moment is offering the perfect opportunity.
For those of you interested in using this form of expression and participating in an ongoing exhibition of art inspired by these current times, see the art that is posted on Instagram Hashtag #Cov19_art. I would like to compile the art, poetry, photography and writing into book that documents the psyche of these times and celebrates our perseverance.
- Unplug And Unwind
For all the resources, information, and assistance that the Internet is able to provide during this crisis, it can be just as harmful as it is beneficial. This is especially true when people spend too much time on the web, and when they spend too much time immersing themselves in activities and ideas that foster stress. While staying informed is vital, you must limit the amount of news that you’re reading. Nothing is currently so dire that it requires minute-by-minute updates. Set a special time for logging in and gathering essential information from trusted news sources. Then, set a special time for turning your phone off, logging off your computer, and turning off your TV. Whether you have diagnosed mental health issues or believe yourself to be in excellent mental health, too much information can lead to overload and can leave you feeling deflated, detached, depressed, or excessively anxious.
- Make Sure That You’re Getting Enough Quality Sleep
Getting poor-quality or insufficient sleep at this time is a bad idea. Not only will this undermine your efforts to maintain good mental health, but it can also lead to a flagging immune system. If you had a nighttime ritual before, try to stick to it. Moreover, don’t try to mute your emotions or lull yourself to sleep with increased indulgence in alcohol. Some areas under quarantine are reporting as much as a 40 percent increase in alcohol consumption since the institution of stay-at-home orders. Rather than promoting good sleep, alcohol actually reduces overall sleep quality, and shortens the amount of time that people are able to remain asleep.
Try reading a book or meditating before going to bed, taking a warm shower, and turning off all electronics and Internet-connected devices. If necessary, sip a warm cup of chamomile tea or a large mug of warm milk and honey. Making deep and restful sleep a top-priority is one the best things that you can do to promote physical and mental health at this time.
- Practice Mindfulness And Conscious Directing Of Your Thoughts
No other world event has highlighted the value and importance of mindfulness than the COVID-19 pandemic. With so much going on around you, it can be difficult to not let feelings of anxiety and panic set in. There is enough fear and stress in the present movement to exhaust anyone’s ability to mentally process current world circumstances. As such, there is no need, reason, or benefits in worrying about possible problems that might lie far ahead in the future. Practice focusing on the moment. Enjoy what you have you right now and work on fostering a mindset of gratitude. If you’re tired of being stuck alone at home, remind yourself that there are some people who have no homes to take shelter in. Give yourself permission to only worry about and deal with the problems that you’re immediately facing. Practicing mindfulness can help alleviate negative emotions about past events, while also limiting anxiety about what the future might hold.
The state of your mental health should be a key concern right now. Actively promoting good mental health and proactively protecting your general sense of well-being is critical. With greater mood balance, proper stress management techniques, and a focus on enriching and expanding yourself, you can successfully survive the mental and emotional ravages of this global pandemic, and any other unexpected life events.