How to Take Care of Your Mental Health During a Pandemic
When we ringed in the new year, would you have imagined that 2020 would bring with it a complete upheaval of our social lives, our health, and our economy? The world as we know it is extremely different than what it was on December 31, 2019. Health issues, unemployment, debt, loss of loved ones, poverty, lockdown, social distancing, and other changes have had a massive impact on the population’s mental health during this pandemic.
Amid the adversity and uncertainty of the present, we are also harboring anxiety and fear of the future. According to a report published in JAMA, “Large scale disasters are always accompanied by increases in depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance use disorder, and a broad range of other mental and behavioral disorders. For example, 5% of the population affected by Hurricane Ike in 2008 met the criteria for Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) in the month after the hurricane; 1 out of 10 adults in New York City showed signs of MDD in the month following the 9/11 attacks.” This report highlighted that the SARS epidemic was also associated with increases in PTSD, stress, and psychological distress; this affected the general population, as well as patients. The impacts of such trauma can not only present immediately after the event, but they can also persist for a long time.
We know that regular exercise, a healthy diet, enough sleep, and participating in hygienic practices can help us to maintain our physical health but, do we know how to maintain our mental health? Below are a few tips to hope you take care of your emotional and mental health during this challenging time.
1. Live in the Present
If you are depressed, you are living in the past,
if you are anxious, you are living in the future,
if you are at peace, you are living in the present
– Lao Tzu
Among an abundance of lessons, this pandemic has taught us the importance of living in the present. Worry is truly the root of all evil. We often catastrophize and obsess over the worst-case scenario, when even we know that these scenarios are extremely unlikely. Moreover, even in the case that the worst-case scenario will happen, what good will worrying about it do? All worry can effectively do is gravely hinder our peace and happiness.
If you make more of a conscious effort to be present in the current moment, you will be able to focus on what is important and become more solution-oriented. In other words, being in the present is better for your future.
The best way to train yourself to focus on the present is to practice mindfulness and meditation. This will help you observe your own thoughts and get past the negative rumination. Watch the video below where spiritual teacher and best-selling author, Eckhart Tolle, speaks with Oprah and introduces two exercises that will help one embrace the power of now.
2. Focus on What You Can Control
You can’t calm the storm, so stop trying.
What you can do is calm yourself.
The storm will pass.
– Timber Hawkeye
You may feel frustrated because of the various restrictions we are experiencing because of this pandemic. Since most libraries, community centers, gyms, cultural events, playgrounds, parks, and gyms are closed, it becomes challenging to do the activities that previously helped you alleviate your stress. It is extremely normal to feel frustrated, angry, sad, or anxious. However, at this time it’s extremely important to focus on what is in YOUR control.
You cannot change the public health restrictions and you cannot make this pandemic go away. What you CAN do is focus on improving your mindset, controlling your emotions, and taking care of your mental health. Do things that you enjoy, restart the activities that you didn’t have time before, or find a new hobby. Check out this article on sixty ways to pass your time during COVID-19 in a way that maximizes your enjoyment and/or productivity.
If nothing works, get a pet! That will bring a whole new bundle of excitement and joy into your life, just when you need it the most.
All that you can control right now is yourself so make that your number one focus.
3. Stay Informed
Work smart, stay informed,
never give up, and great things will happen
– Ziad K. Abdelnour
A pandemic is truly a once in a lifetime experience and many may live to never experience it. None of us have a manual on how to go about this experience and therefore, we are overwhelmed with uncertainty. Furthermore, inadequate or misinformation creates fear and anxiety. The best way to tackle all of these emotions is to inform yourself using accurate sources.
Rely on your local health websites, CDC, or WHO websites for this information. Do not overwhelm yourself by spending too much time watching/getting this information, just spend a few minutes during the day to seek important updates.
If you show any symptoms of COVID-19, do not panic, and simply follow your local health authorities’ guidelines. Be prepared and have a plan for any emergency so that you can handle any and every difficult situation more efficiently.
4. Stay Connected
Family and friendships are two of the greatest facilitators of happiness
– John C. Maxwell
Just because we need to be physically distant, it doesn’t mean that we need to be socially or emotionally distant from those around us. Stay connected with your family, friends, and your extended community by making good use of technology and social media. Text, facetime, skype, message, WhatsApp, and zoom with your family and friends. If you want to try something different, mail them a letter or a card to let them know that you are thinking of them.
There are a ton of ways to spend time with your friends. You can catch up, play online games, and even watch movies together! Netflix Party allows you to watch videos with your friends even if you are not with them. You can start the videos together and it even allows for a group chat option! You can also call them on Facetime during the movie, so it really feels like you are watching together. Also, remember to stay connected with your larger community – many people are experiencing the same things that you are.
Lastly, you can use virtual media to enjoy a lot of the same activities you would have participated in before. You can watch virtual concerts, attend virtual safari tours, watch virtual tours of the world’s best places, and playback recordings of your favorite sports games within the comfort of your home.
There are a million and one ways to connect with the outside world without stepping outside your home – don’t let the pandemic be an excuse to isolate yourself.
5. Take Care of Your Physical Health
If you don’t make time for exercise, you’ll probably have to make time for illness
– Robin Sharma
Your mental health is directly related to your physical health. When at home, try your best to keep a normal sleep schedule. As hard as it can be, this routine can make a significant impact on your health. Sleep, wake up and eat your meals at a designated and appropriate time. Remember that poor sleep and/or a poor diet can be directly related to anxiety and other mental health concerns.
It is also extremely important to stay physically active. This will help you establish a healthy immune system while also releasing endorphins, the “feel-good chemicals” to your brain. There are a number of creative ways to stay active – you can do cycling, hiking, dancing, yoga, stretching, or any strength training exercises. You can also try different YouTube workout videos or fitness apps to help you exercise if you have no equipment or access to a trainer at home. Try to do the things that motivate you to restore your physical and mental health!
This pandemic will undoubtedly leave a very deep and lasting impact on our lives. Long-term uncertainty, lockdowns, and social distancing will have an adverse effect on people’s psychological health. Life after COVID-19 will be different than what it was before and this will lead to frustration, fear, irritability, sleep disorders, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. So, it’s necessary that prioritize our mental health now so we can face future challenges effectively. Note that if you are suffering from anxiety, depression, or any other significant mental health concerns, it may be time to seek professional help.
On a system-level, governments need to prioritize the need for mental health services and increase the availability of resources. Everyone should be able to should have timely and cost-effective access to mental health services, including tele-mental health counseling and virtual visits with psychologists and social workers.
Just remember that a healthy lifestyle and a positive outlook about life will do wonders for your mental health. Always remind yourself that this time will pass, and things will be better. Have gratitude for what you have, stay connected with positive people, and have compassion for yourself and others. When you have time, practice relaxation techniques like meditation, massage, and prayers to help yourself restore your mental energy and internal peace.
If you have lost a loved one during COVID-19, I strongly hope that you find peace and hope during this difficult time. This post will help you to cope with grief in a healthy way.
Lastly, it’s important to remember that helping others will help you. Look around you and pay attention to the needs of your loved ones. Provide them with the emotional support that they need. You can also choose to volunteer your time with a non-profit group, as a way of giving back to your community. Now, more than ever, we need to work together as one community and use solidarity as our weapon against this global challenge.
Mental health is not a destination, but a process.
It is about how you drive, not where you’re going.