Tips and resources for better mental health during the coronavirus pandemic


Higher levels of stress and anxiety, even panic, are natural responses to a crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic, and it's uncertain timeline has the potential to create prolonged stress. While high levels of stress help us respond effectively to a brief threat (think of a car barreling down a quiet street), extended periods of stress can seriously hurt our emotional and physical wellbeing. These tips and resources for managing your mental health can help you feel calmer and function better during the pandemic.

 

mental health tip - limit news intakeTurn off the news and social media feeds

We need to stay informed, but too much news can put our brains and bodies into a constant state of alarm. Reliable news is difficult enough, but rumor mongering on social media is even worse. Limit the news that you consume, and limit your consumption to reliable sources.

 

☎ Stay connected

Haven't chatted with an old friend or cousin for years? Now is the time. Social connection helps you build and maintain emotional resilience. If you were in a family or friends Zoom meeting, how did you feel after? Be deliberate about contacting friends and family and use technology to maintain connections, especially with your closest friends and family. Social distancing does not have to mean social isolation!

 

⏰ Routine, routine, routine

Set your alarm to wake up at the same time every morning. Even if you live alone, schedule time slots for meals, exercise, hobbies, and working at home. Routine engenders feels of security which can help offset anxiety. If you are working at home or taking classes from home, you can set hours similar to your normal work or school hours.

 

Meals and nutrition

We have all seen the memes about the person who ate their 60 day supply of junk food on the first day of the lockdown. Don't do it! Processed foods and food rich in sugar make it more difficult to maintain an even emotional keel. Every sugar high is followed by a crash! Eat regular meals, with nutritious whole foods to the extent possible.

 

 mental health tip 2 - get enough sleepSleep

We generally don't get enough sleep. Now is the time to treat our body and mind to the rest that it needs! Consider these general guidelines for sleep from the Mayo Clinic:

  • Age 6 to 13 years: 9 to 11 hours of sleep
  • Age 14 to 17 years: 8 to 10 hours of sleep
  • Adults: 7 to 9 hours of sleep

Getting enough sleep will better enable you to regulate your emotions.

 

Move!

While we need to stay away from other people, we don't need to stay put! Aerobic exercise helps you moderate anxiety by making your brain’s “fight or flight” system less reactive. (See How simply moving benefits your mental health in Harvard Health for additional ideas and evidence.)  The exercise effect is real and can usually make you feel calmer and more centered very quickly.

 

Get outdoors while maintaining social distance

You need to follow social distancing, but you can often do so while getting fresh air and sunlight. Being outside during the daytime elevates your serotonin levels, helping you feel energized and calming your mood. Spending time outdoors during the day will make it easier to maintain a healthy sleep cycle. Sunlight helps keep your body's internal clock in tune. Sunlight helps you get adequate Vitamin D, which helps keep your immune system robust and provides other important benefits. You need to maintain social distancing when outdoors, but try and spend as much time outside as possible.

 

mental health tip - exercise your brainChallenge your mind

Have you been thinking about learning a new skill, joining an online book club, or finally assembling that huge puzzle that's been sitting on your shelf? Now is the time! You can get free online classes from Coursera, Harvard University, and many others. 

 

Be thankful; be helpful

When was the last time you told your sibling how much they have helped you in the past? When you express appreciation, your brain releases dopamine and serotonin. You can experience sensations of happiness just by saying thanks! For most of us, the situation is difficult but we can still find time to help others. If you are not in a high-risk group, you may be able to shop for neighbors or help them get medications. Even if you are at risk, you may be able to call people that you know who could use a kind word and some attention. Look for volunteering opportunities, including opportunities that you can do from your own home.

 

Reach out for help

During this period, just managing is so much more difficult. Reach out for help when you need it. A trained mental health professional can help you reduce anxiety, maintain perspective, and develop resilience.  

Coronavirus Mindfulness