It’s been several weeks now – months for some – since the quarantine situation started, and I think people are starting to come to terms with it. Certainly, things are a bit calmer than back when the masses descended on the grocery stores for toilet paper, rice, and sanitizing wipes. Just this past weekend, I felt like a champion when my sister and I were able to go grab a pack of paper towels during the afternoon. If that’s not a great feeling, I don’t know what is.
After the learning curve that social distancing created, people have somewhat begrudgingly shifted their lives into the space of their own homes. Work, school, socializing, everything has been brought in through the front door.
These overlapping boundaries have also pushed mental health to the forefront.
We now face something of a pandemic in our minds. During a pandemic, it can be especially hard for people to recognize and understand how to take care of their mental health.
Being isolated for a long time is not a natural process for us. It can negatively impact the way a person maintains her or his mental health. On social media, I have seen many jokes about how staying at home is easy for introverts – after all, many people already prefer to stay home, quarantine or not.
However, there is a difference between choosing to stay home and essentially having no option but to stay home. People do not like having their choices taken away (1).
“Physical distancing and isolation measures, [and] the closure of schools and workplaces, are particularly [challenging for] us, as they affect what we love to do, where we want to be, and who we want to be with."
- Dr. Hans Kluge, the regional director for the World Health Organization’s branch in Europe (1).
During a time like this, it is natural and okay to feel stressed out, anxious, and whatever mix of emotions you are feeling. Know that you are not alone in feeling that way. These feelings can at times be overwhelming, while at other times you feel them bubbling just beneath the surface.
Check out this video from UC Davis Health about more information on maintaining your mental health during the pandemic.
The anxiety can make it hard for you to concentrate, can change the way that you speak, and affect how you act in certain situations. Understand that everyone reacts to stressful situations in different ways. Some people are able to be productive and work hard, while others struggle to focus on what they have to do (2).
Personally, I find the uncertainty of the situation to be the most unsettling. Not that anything is ever truly certain, but at least before, I could walk by someone on the sidewalk without thinking “Wow, that person walked pretty closely by me.” The uncertainty makes things feel weird. So, manage uncertainty by staying in the present and taking each day as it comes.
Here are some tips you can follow to help maintain your mental well-being:
Pay attention to how you feel
How you feel and what you think about your feelings are very important. One bad addiction that we all share is that we spend a lot of time thinking about negative things. Research found that up to even 80% of our daily thoughts are negative. And negative thoughts feed into the fears that we face in life.
Instead of feeding the negativity, try putting a different spin on things. Find positive ways to express your feelings, whether it is through listening to music or painting a pretty picture. Consider writing down encouraging quotes and ideas that you can read when you wake up; these words can help you create a positive mindset.
In addition, focus on the things you can control such as choosing to social distance or to wash your hands. Manage the expectations you have for yourself (2).
Stay connected with other people
It is important that you keep in contact with the people that matter to you, such as friends and family. We, as a society, place great value on social interaction, and that does not change during a pandemic.
Right now, it is natural to feel afraid and alone. And for people who live alone, these times can be particularly difficult.
Fortunately, we can use technology to help with social interaction. You can send text messages, hop on video calls, send emails, and more. Through software like FaceTime and Zoom, you can video call with your friends and family. These calls allow you to see the other person face-to-face and feel as if the other person is nearby.
In general, all these forms of communication give you the opportunity to share your thoughts and worries with another person.
Take the initiative to reach out to others and check in with them periodically. Listen to them with empathy and understanding. By taking the time to share your thoughts and listen in turn, you can help maintain your social bonds.
Plus, there are a lot of creative things that you can do over technology. Host a book club with your friends on Skype or plan group Zoom hangouts with your family members. You can also play online games with your friends.
We can help support one another through this quarantine.
Refrain from looking up news on COVID-19
Try to limit how much news you read or watch about the coronavirus pandemic. As one clinical psychologist put it, “Your brain is built to problem solve. And when you are already feeling fearful, it naturally seeks out stimuli in your external environment to reinforce the feeling of fear.”
By constantly seeking out information about the pandemic, it reinforces your feelings of worry and anxiety. And then you basically get stuck in a cycle of those negative emotions.
You can instead look up updates on the pandemic at specific times of the day, once or twice a day. When you do check updates, make sure to get the information from reliable sources like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Facts help to manage the fear that comes with this situation (3).
Come up with a nice routine
A great way to hold onto a degree of normalcy is to do the same things that you did before quarantine that you are able to do at home. Continue doing familiar daily routines when possible. If you liked to wake up around 9 a.m. and make a coffee, go ahead and do the same now. Wake up and go to sleep around same times.
Also, come up with new routines that help fill the time. You might have wanted to start reading a particular book series – well, now you can incorporate that into your daily schedule.
If you work at home, consider setting up a signal like a school bell to let you know the end of your work day. This can replace that 20-minute commute you used to drive or that end-of-day visit to a café before returning home. Routines make it easier for you to pass through the day (1).
Maintain and incorporate healthy habits
Focus on habits that promote your well-being. This could be making sure that you get a proper amount of sleep every day or eating healthy, nutritious meals.
Stress can make you crave foods that are high in sugars and fats – that tub of ice cream that has been calling out your name. As delicious as it may be, the crash that comes soon after might not be worth it. You will notice that those comfort foods increase your stress and anxiety levels, so you end up back where you started. According to research, certain foods that are high in protein and potassium may help to calm your mood.
You can also involve more physical activity into your schedule. Exercise is a good way to relieve stress and ease your anxiety. Even as little as 10 minutes of physical activity can improve your mood.
And lastly, try practicing self-care (2). Make time in the day for you to do something you really enjoy, whether that is listening to podcasts or baking a bunch of pastries.
Figure out what gives you joy and follow through with those activities.
Hopefully, you find these tips helpful in dealing with the pandemic. People are dealing with this situation in different ways and it is important that you learn what methods work best for you. In figuring out this balance, be kind to yourself and others.
Let's work together in achieving healthier living for all.
1. Cohut, M. (2020). How to look after your mental health during a pandemic. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/how-to-look-after-your-mental-health-during-a-pandemic
2. Nazish, N. (2020). How to protect your mental health during the coronavirus pandemic, according to psychologists. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/nomanazish/2020/03/24/how-to-protect-your-mental-health-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic-according-to-psychologists/#346834af41cb
3. World Health Organization. (2020). Mental health and psychosocial considerations during the COVID-19 outbreak. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/mental-health-considerations.pdf. WHO reference number: WHO/2019-nCoV/MentalHealth/2020.1
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