The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically altered our lives. In the face of fear, uncertainty, altered daily routines, financial pressures, and social isolation, it is understandable that we might experience fear, sadness, loneliness, and other uncomfortable emotions. While these feelings are normal in the short-term, these same emotions can have detrimental effects on our wellbeing when they become chronic. Additionally, the chronic stress can exacerbate existing mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, and others.
Standing on their own and as a part of Mental Illness Awareness Week, the following are some tips for maintaining mental health and resilience during COVID-19:
- Care for Your Body: Your mental health is intrinsically linked to the health of your physical body.
- Get Enough Sleep:
- Go to bed at the same time each night; get up at the same time each morning.
- Avoid TV, computer, and cell phone for at least 1 hour before bed
- Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol for at least 4-6 hours before bed.
- Reserve your bed for sleeping and sexual activity only.
- Aim for at least 30 mins of exercise daily (unless you are on exercise restriction for medical reasons).
- Exercise outdoors whenever possible. If you are unable to exercise outdoors, HERE are some indoor options
- Eat Well: Good nutrition is especially important right now to boost your immunity and regulate mood. HERE is an article about Food and Mood during COVID-19 with some tips by Dr. Uma Naidoo of Massachusetts General Hospital.
- Avoid Alcohol and Other Drugs:
- You may be tempted to reach for alcohol or other substances for some short-term relief from your feelings. Ultimately, these substances can worsen anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. If you are concerned about your use of alcohol and/or drugs to cope consider reaching out for help HERE.
- Care for Your Mind: The following are some techniques to help manage your thoughts and feelings:
- Cognitive Behavioral Techniques (CBT) can be helpful for managing uncomfortable emotions such as anxiety. Dr. Luna Marques, Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, offers an excellent webinar series based on CBT to help regulate emotions and build resiliency during COVID-19. Access the series HERE.
- Meditation and Mindfulness can be very effective for regulating emotions. The Coronavirus Sanity Guide offers free meditation sessions, podcasts and other resources and can be accessed HERE
- Gratitude Practice is a daily ritual of acknowledging what you are grateful for. Keep it simple and focus on the “small” things. HERE is a link to a short 5 Minute Gratitude Practice.
- Thought Shifting is a practice where you notice a distressing thought and decide to tell yourself a different story. For example, try changing “this is a terrible time” to “this is a terrible time, but I can get through this.”
- Manage Expectations of yourself and others. Modify your definition of a “productive day”. Set realistic, achievable goals for yourself and allow others to do the same.
- Practice Acceptance: Practice letting go of circumstances that cannot change and focusing on those you can change.
- Resist Excessive Worry: Try to avoid excessive worrying or “co-ruminating” (worrying out loud with others) which can increase the intensity of these emotions.
- Stay Connected: Social connectedness is fundamental for our overall health and well-being. Some creative ideas include:
- Make the same recipe with friends online and then sit down to eat together!
- Throw an online game night or dance party.
- Watch videos together virtually. See a video “How to Host a Watch Party” HERE.
- Go on a socially distanced walk with a friend (wear masks and remain at least “a refrigerator” distance apart for safety)
- Go online shopping together (via screen share).
- Join a book club.
- Find additional resources HERE
- Help Others: Altruistic behaviors have been shown to help reduce stress and improve mood.6 Consider these suggestions:
- Check on your neighbors (call, text, or leave a note under their door or in their mailbox to say "I'm your neighbor let me know if you need anything”)
- Support local food banks
- Volunteer online for a cause that is important to you
- Reach out to your religious or spiritual community (if you affiliate) for volunteer opportunities.
When to Seek Help?
Consider seeking professional help if you find yourself overwhelmed by symptoms such as anxiety, exhaustion, fatigue, guilt, irritability, sleep problems, intrusive thoughts, and a reduced capacity to experience pleasure.
- Reach out to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (AMHSA) at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
- If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
- Harvard School of Public Health: Tips for Coping with The Stress of COVID-19.
- Harvard Health: Coping with Coronavirus
- Center for Disease Control (CDC). Coping With Stress
- Mayo Clinic: COVID-19 and Your Mental Health
- The Coalition To End Loneliness
- Prosocial Behavior Mitigates The Negative Effects of Stress in Everyday Life