In a Time of Physical Uncertainty, Do Not Forget Your Mental Health.
With the global pandemic of COVID-19, daily updates on the length of social distancing, and working from home becoming the new normal, it is more important than ever to remember that the mind needs as much care and attention as the body does. “The scale of this outbreak as a traumatic event is almost beyond comprehension,” said Yuval Neria, the director of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder at the New York State Psychiatric Institute and a professor of psychology at Columbia University Medical Center. With the added stress of financial concerns over job security, potential job loss, economic concerns, and the ability to get basic essentials, the isolating feeling of being required to stay away from loved ones adds an emotional toll.
In light of that, here are some tips to help give attention and care to mental health to help prevent overwhelming feelings of anxiety, isolation, and fear.
- Establish a routine that is feasible and comfortable. Dr. Aarti Gupta, PsyD the Founder and Clinical Director at TherapyNest, A Center for Anxiety and Family Therapy in Palo Alto, California states that routines are of the utmost importance because they help keep people mentally focused and prevent the mind from wandering, especially down negative mental spirals. Structured routines allow people to stay more active and focused on goals by establishing clear timeframes for work, chores, exercise, and downtime. Finally, establishing a strong routine will allow people to reacclimate to their regular routine once the time to return to work comes.
- Get Sunlight as Often as Possible. Vitamin D, which can be absorbed into the body even during a cloudy day, directly affects the mind and body together. “Vitamin D activates genes that regulate the immune system and release neurotransmitters (e.g., dopamine, serotonin) that affect brain function and development.” Vitamin D’s positive effect on mood and hormone levels explains the common phenomena of “seasonal affective disorder” where people mentally struggle through the winter months of the year. To combat this, experts suggest going on walks as often as possible or completing an at-home workout outside, as walks and workouts can allow for social distancing while still getting some fresh air and sunshine. As an added bonus, Vitamin D helps boost the immune system and immune strength, which is important now more than ever.
- Keep Up with Your Workout of Choice. For many, going to the gym and getting a workout in was a source of “me time” and a mental release in addition to the physical benefits of exercise. While gyms across the nation are closed, the importance of exercise is now greater than ever. According to an article published in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, Doctors Ashish Sharma, Vishal Madaan, and Fredrick D. Petty state, “Aerobic exercises, including jogging, swimming, cycling, walking, gardening, and dancing, have been proved to reduce anxiety and depression. These improvements in mood are proposed to be caused by exercise-induced increase in blood circulation to the brain.” While working out may look different with the gym being a living room, simple activities such as doing chores around the house and going on walks are examples of physical activity that don’t involve dumbbells. For a more structured workout, many popular fitness companies and gyms are offering guided classes online and many of them are free! As an added bonus, joining these online fitness classes helps build a sense of community, which can further combat the feelings of isolation, depression, and anxiety.
- Avoid Obsessing Over News Coverage. While it is important to stay informed in events that are happening locally and around the world, the current state of news coverage promotes constant media content on the topics of fear, uncertainty, pandemic, sickness, and death. In addition, news sites are in constant competition with each other to gain viewers, which blurs the lines between factual news coverage and sensationalized media, especially now that “prime time” has turned into “all the time.” Due to this, the CDC even posted the recommendation to “take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media.”
- Stay Mentally Active: If your work schedule or parenting schedule allows, take this time to indulge in mentally stimulating hobbies or activities that may have been pushed aside during the previously busier days of commuting and frequent social engagements. Reading a choice book, listening to a podcast, or even taking time to meditate can greatly improve mental focus and positive thinking. This is also a great time to explore other interests by taking virtual classes such as cooking classes, DIY classes, or free courses offered by universities such as Yale’s free online course The Science of Well-Being. Indulging in passions, interests, or hobbies can stimulate the mind in a creative sense that can open up opportunities to (virtually) meet new people, engage in meaningful experiences, and put the mind to positive work.
- Take Advantage of TeleHealth Options. Many mental health professionals are offering telehealth options that include Hippa Compliant virtual sessions. If you do not see a mental health professional but are interested in seeing one, check with your healthcare provider to see your options for in-network. Talkspace also offers virtual therapy sessions and BetterHelp.com offers similar services.
Here are some additional resources that discuss mental health during COVID-19. Remember to recognize your needs, reach out for help, and stay safe.