COVID-19 is dominating most conversations today and the psychotherapy hour is no exception. As a precaution, many mental health professionals are trading office visits for teletherapy and helping clients manage the psychological impact of coronavirus is a top priority.
As anxiety and social isolation increase, people who might be more vulnerable to the psychological impact of coronavirus include: people with preexisting mental health conditions; people with chronic health issues; people with limited financial means; older adults; children; single parents; parents of children with special needs; small business owners; health care workers; and people without adequate social support. In other words, many of us will be affected and we need to prepare for ways to ensure that we respond to anxiety and social isolation effectively.
The word pandemic is enough to strike fear in most people. It’s important to recognize that responding to a crisis with stress is normal. And yet, we can experience stress in different ways. Some people will overreact and others will underreact. We need to try to be compassionate with ourselves and each other about how we exhibit stress.
Uncertainty can lead to feelings of helplessness and imagining worst-case scenarios. It might feel like the world is ending when everything is canceled and we are self-isolating at home. The survival mode that our stress response triggers, however, isn’t necessarily going to help us act more effectively and it can be harmful to our mental health if it is chronic and unmanaged. We can acknowledge the natural stress and take steps to reduce it.
It’s important to comply with what medical experts are recommending and, at this time, that means social distancing and self-isolation. This is one of the trickiest areas to manage because we know that social support is a protective factor against anxiety and depression. It’s important to remember that while we are physically isolated, we are not alone. Most people are complying with social distancing and self-isolation guidelines and we’re in this together.
The temporary disruption in our daily lives is necessary and there are steps we can take to see ourselves as part of a community and reduce our sense of aloneness.
By focusing on our mental health, we can get through this crisis together.
Here are 10 self-care strategies to reduce the psychological impact of COVID-19:
1. Remember Why You Are Isolating
You’re doing it for yourself, your neighbors, your elders. This is a time when we realize how interdependent we truly are. It’s important to comply with what the medical experts are telling us so that we can get through this together.
2. Practice Acts of Kindness
Studies show that altruism can increase our own sense of well-being as long as we aren’t overwhelmed by helping. Altruism can help us feel compassion and reduce our social fears. It can distract us from our own problems and remind us to feel grateful for what we have. Consider ways that you can help others at this time. Perhaps you can donate money or order from small businesses. Maybe you can communicate with your neighbors and make a list of vulnerable people in the neighborhood who could benefit from a check-in.
3. Increase Digital Intimacy
Social distancing doesn’t have to mean that we are alone. Try to call at least one family member or friend each day. Have kids use FaceTime or Skype to read stories to grandparents. Watch a movie with a friend through apps like Rave. Start a virtual book club. There are countless ways we can get creative and reach out.
4. Explore Nature
If weather and social distancing permits, go out into nature. Take a hike. Teach kids about birdwatching. Enjoy a bike ride. The exercise and Vitamin D can improve both our immunity and our mood.
5. Exercise and Meditate
Countless studies show that exercise and mediation are beneficial for our mental health. You might not be able to go to a gym or a yoga studio for meditation right now, but you can try exercise videos online and meditation apps like Headspace and Calm.
6. Take Advantage of Teletherapy
Therapy can be a supportive and a safe space to process your fears and concerns around coronavirus. Many therapists are switching over to providing therapy online via secure platforms. To find a therapist in your state, check out the directory on Psychology Today. If you’re experiencing a mental health crisis, the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.
7. Catch Up on Reading, Projects, and Shows
We need to give our nervous systems breaks and enjoy activities that will reduce our stress levels. It’s a great time to finally get to the books you usually don’t have time for, start a creative project, and even enjoy a little (finally guilt-free) Netflix binge. Making small home improvements can also help us feel empowered and provide a healthy reduction in news consumption.
8. Practice Digital and News Boundaries
According to Dr. Lynn Bufka, Associate Director for Research and Policy at the American Psychological Association, we need to limit our frequency of news updates. This is sound mental health advice even during pandemics like the coronavirus because a constant stream of information can be overwhelming. We need to pick and choose when we check for updates and how much time we’ll devote to doing so.
9. Manage Emotions
Some helpful strategies for managing emotions include: naming or labeling emotions; mindfulness; deep breathing; petting animals; and even weighted blankets. To learn more about ways to manage emotions, calm anxiety, and deal with depression, check out my previous posts that focus on emotional health.
10. Create a Daily Schedule and List of Goals
Maintain a healthy and normal schedule for eating, sleeping, and activities. This is especially important if you have young children who are home and will need to not only feel safe, but complete school work if they are learning remotely. Create a short and realistic list each morning of things you would like to accomplish during the day.
For more information on maintaining mental health during pandemics, check out the comprehensive resources provided by the American Psychological Association.