Mental health has become significantly more crucial to Americans during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
A distinctive attribute of COVID-19 is that there are many unknowns. The sickness itself currently has no known cure or proven treatment. Additionally, there are contradicting pieces of information about what should be done to control the virus, which can result in anxiety and fear.
The caliber of this disease has caused people to significantly alter their day-to-day lives. And for those who were already suffering from anxiety before the global outbreak, they are having a particularly challenging time adjusting to these new conditions.
The New Normal
In American culture, it is commonplace to shake hands or hug when greeting someone. Social distancing is a new concept in our communities, thanks to this easily transmittable virus. Sheltering in place, and social distancing when in pubic, can take a toll on our social lives.
People who are in quarantine are proven to develop negative mental health side effects. By definition, according to a published paper on the psychological impact of quarantine, “Quarantine means the separation and restriction of movement of people who have potentially been exposed to a contagious disease to ascertain if they become unwell, so they’re reducing the risk of infection others. This definition is different from isolation — which is the separation of people who have been diagnosed with a contagious disease from people who are not sick; these two terms are often used interchangeably.”
In 24 studies on the psychological impact of a quarantine, “most reported negative psychological effects including post-traumatic stress symptoms, confusion, and anger. Stressors included longer quarantine duration, infection fears, frustration, boredom, inadequate supplies, misinformation, financial loss, and stigma. Some researchers have suggested long-lasting effects.”
How to Maximize Mental Health
In an effort to proactively make mental health a priority as we navigate we’ve compiled several areas to take into consideration.
Structure: Creating an organized framework for your day can be very helpful, particularly if you’re suddenly working from home vs. a traditional office. Planning your day the day before, and actually scheduling when certain tasks, errands or projects will be worked on, can reduce feelings of being overwhelmed. A laundry list of duties, when looked at as a whole, has a way of bringing on anxiety. However, when written down and listed by individual chunks, accomplishing goals can feel more manageable. And don’t forget to pencil in activities for your well-being including hobbies or new endeavors— for example, reading a book, journaling, meditating, or taking a bath.
Professional Support: There are an abundant amount of health care organizations available, including online therapy and telehealth options. Working with a mental health counselor should be one aspect of your overall self-care program including physical activity, sufficient amounts of sleep, and socially distanced or virtual visits with loved ones. To better understand telehealth and its value, click here.
Perspective: Turn the noise down, so to speak. Limit the amount of time spent digesting news about the pandemic, whether on the television, your cell phone, computer or the newspaper. Of course it’s important to be informed and stay updated on the virus, especially if you live in or near a hotspot. However, it’s important to not let the headlines and relentless breaking news reports take over your time and energy. Intentionally decide how much content you’ll expose yourself to daily, and then stick to it.
Focus on the Facts: Rely on credible resources to provide fact-based information about COVID-19. That may include your primary care physician, a local or state health department, or government organizations.
Make Healthy Choices: This advice is true whether we are facing a pandemic or not. However, it is now more critical than ever to take good care of our minds and bodies. Choose healthy foods, drink half of your body weight (in ounces) of water, limit caffeine and alcohol, aim for 6-8 hours of sleep every night, and shoot for 30 minutes of physical exercise daily.
Proactively Work on Relaxing: When you’re feeling tense or overwhelmed, come back to your breath. Breathe in for four seconds, hold your breath for two seconds, and then slowly exhale for four seconds. Repeat this process 10 times. Other tactics that can help bring on a sense of calmness include stretching, meditating, listen to relaxing music, or engaging in an enjoyable hobby. And lastly, don’t bottle up your feelings — be sure to talk about your emotions to loved ones and friends on a regular basis. Sometimes just ‘getting it out’ can have a cathartic effect.
An excellent resource for mental health is the National Alliance on Mental Illness
In our next blog post, we’ll cover insights and tips on taking care of your physical health during the quarantine.