Keeping Your Mind Healthy and Your Spirits High During the Pandemic
With good reason, our country’s fight against the novel coronavirus pandemic has been focused on ensuring everyone’s physical health. Stay-at-home orders, non-essential business closures, regular hand washing, and wearing face masks and other protective equipment in public have all gone a long way toward flattening the curve of COVID-19 cases and making sure we keep ourselves and each other safe. But there’s more to staying healthy than simply protecting yourself and your family from infection; it also means recognizing the stress that the COVID-19 pandemic is placing on our mental well-being.
It can be easy to overlook your mental health when you have to navigate new, stressful circumstances. But it’s times like these that make it important to pay attention to your mental health more than ever. All of these new challenges—worrying about you or a family member getting sick, lack of a regular daily routine, homeschooling your children while you and your spouse are working from home, and potential economic hardships—add up to heightened stress levels and can result in bouts of anxiety and depression. And if you’re one of the estimated 1-in-5 people in the United States who suffer from a mental health issue, these stressors can make your struggle that much harder.
Luckily, there are some simple things you can do to look after both you and your family’s mental health while you weather the storm.
Call Someone Once a Day—Just for a Chat
Maintaining relationships with your friends and extended family is crucial to your mental wellbeing. Even though you can’t physically be with your best friends or your favorite relatives, you can still reach out to them to make sure they’re doing okay. Set some time aside each day to contact at least one of your friends or family members. Plan some time with your friend group for a video conference hang-out. Many workplaces are scheduling virtual happy hours for their employees to talk and have a little fun in isolation. Why not schedule one with your cousins and siblings? Whether it’s people you would typically see often or old friends you haven’t spoken to in a long time, reaching out to each other can help us all feel a little less alone.
Keep Up With Your Exercise
It’s a scientific fact that exercising makes you happier. When we engage our bodies in physical activity—riding a bike, lifting weights, doing yoga, or even just going for a walk—our brains release chemicals such as dopamine and endorphins that make us feel happy. On top of releasing these feel-good chemicals, exercise also helps your brain get rid of chemicals that make you feel stressed and anxious. And when you do feel angry and upset, regular exercise also plays a role in helping you control these emotions.
Once a day, set some time aside to do a physical activity. It can be something as small as running around in the backyard with your kids or a full at-home workout routine. If you feel stuck for ideas, there are plenty of online resources that are focused on ensuring you maintain your physical health while you’re stuck at home.
Establish a Daily Routine
It can be tempting to let the structure of daily life fall apart when you’re stuck at home more than usual. But keeping up a simple routine can make you feel more engaged and in control of the day. Consider waking up at a set time, showering, putting on clothes that makes you feel confident, and eating a good breakfast just like you would if you were going into the office. If you’re homeschooling your kids, set aside the same time each day for lessons and exercises.
Manage Your News and Social Media Intake
It’s important to stay informed about what’s going on with the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the 24-hour news cycle and the constant barrage of social media updates. If you feel like the news cycle is increasing your stress levels, try to limit the time you spend watching, reading, or listening to coverage of the pandemic. Restrict your social media usage to specific times of the day. It may help to only check the news once in the morning, once in the afternoon, and once in the evening, and only check social media when you wake up and right before you go to bed.
If You Have Difficulty Coping, Seek Online Counseling
Living with mental health issues like depression, anxiety, PTSD, or bipolar disorder is difficult during the best of times. With COVID-19, it can be even harder to navigate and find ways to cope. Additional stress can exacerbate symptoms and increase both the frequency and the severity of episodes. If you are currently in therapy, it’s more important than ever to maintain contact with your therapist. Many therapists are offering online therapy sessions to their clients. If you haven’t heard from your therapist in some time, try reaching out.
If you’ve never seen a therapist before, and you feel like things are getting more difficult for you, there are resources like BetterHelp that specialize in connecting you to a licensed therapist through video conferencing.
If you’re struggling and need help, the University of Michigan has put together a free guide to help navigate your mental health during COVID-19.
Remember: You’re Not Alone
Perhaps the most crucial thing to remember during all this is that everyone is in this together. Your family, your friends, your coworkers, and even that neighbor down the street who’s always winning Yard of the Month—we’re all facing the same challenges and having the same shortfalls. It’s good to remind yourself every once in a while that there are people out there who know how you feel. Though we may be isolated from each other for now, we aren’t alone. You’ve got us, and we’ve got you. And soon enough, we’ll all be together again.
For more information on COVID-19, and for tips about how your family can stay safe during this ongoing pandemic, visit our COVID-19 resource page.