By Toby Huston, Ph.D., Craig Hospital Director of Psychology
With the COVID-19 (coronavirus) situation continuing to evolve, it’s difficult to feel grounded. We are all dealing with major disruptions in our lives and overwhelming unknowns that have shaken our foundations.
While the stay-at-home orders across the country are vital for preventing the spread of the virus, they also add to a general sense of anxiety. We are unable to engage with people in our regular activities, like going to the gym, stopping at the bakery, attending religious services or watching our kids’ sports games. This loss of regular contact with colleagues, neighbors and friends is isolating and can be draining.
During this time of instability, it’s especially important to be attuned to your mental state. It might feel easier to surrender to your anxiety or be fearfully glued to the news 24/7, but focusing on maintaining your mental health will help you weather this outbreak successfully and be present as a support system for your family and friends.
As a rehabilitation psychologist and the Director of Psychology at Craig Hospital, I’m seeing the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of our patients, their families and our staff. As we prepare for the weeks, and possibly months, of social distancing ahead of us, here are some suggestions for taking care of yourself.
- Break through the isolation and reach out to family and friends.
If you aren’t already scheduling family video calls or exploring different apps for connecting with friends via video, take the time to investigate! It is amazing how much more connected you feel to people when you can actually see their faces, so making the effort to schedule video chats, even if you’ve never connected with someone via video before, can make a big difference. As we prioritize creating distance, also make it a priority to integrate “face-to-face” interactions with your community into your life. Some video options to check out are: Zoom, FaceTime, Marco Polo, Houseparty, Skype, Google Chat and WhatsApp video calls. If you or a loved one are looking for accessible technology and equipment options, check out our Assistive Technology Resources library.
- Make sure you understand COVID-19.
Educating yourself about COVID-19 can help give you a sense of understanding and control in the midst of what feels like so much unknown. Check reputable websites for news and information about the virus and try to avoid too much scrolling through alarmist postings on social media sites. You can always rely on the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization for accurate updates and helpful resources.
- Give your mind a break and take a pause from the news.
While it’s good to stay informed about COVID-19, it’s also important to take a break. Constant consumption of the news will cause anxiety levels to increase, so once you feel informed for the day, step back and engage with something else. This is a good time to notice all that is good in the world, find ways that you can help others, and enjoy the humor and creativity that is coming out of this moment. I am sure that there is much to come, but a few enjoyable bright spots on the internet at the moment are: Some Good News, Quarantine Cutie and Ode to Joy.
- Focus on what is in your power to control, and accept that there are some things that you cannot change.
You aren’t entirely powerless: you’ve done your research to understand COVID-19, and you’ve learned how to best take care of yourself and your loved ones. Taking steps to protect yourself is in your power to control, like being vigilant about hand washing and sanitizing, creating a meal plan so you can grocery shop for 7-10 days at a time, or establishing a regular daily routine for yourself if you are newly working from home. When you feel like you have your life relatively under control, it can be easier to let go of the things you cannot change, like the spread of the virus or your region’s social distancing restrictions. Find comfort in the actions that you can take.
- Take care of your physical self.
Our mind and body are connected, so taking care of your physical well-being is good for your mental health as well. Remember to keep exercising, eat a healthy diet and get a good night’s sleep. Countless gyms and yoga studios are offering free online versions of their workouts, cooking blogs have great tips on maximizing your pantry and Craig recently published tips on getting better sleep.
- Stay attuned to your body for signs of stress and anxiety.
People often carry their stress in their body, and it manifests as physical pain like a headache or a sore neck. Pay attention to those aches or pains as indications of your stress load. Dealing with a daily headache? Maybe it’s time to make more space for relaxation and physical activity to help deal with that anxiety.
- Increase your relaxation time.
In times of stress and worry, try to make more time in your life for relaxation. Incorporate calm moments of deep breathing into your day, or return to relaxing hobbies like reading, baking, drawing, walking or meditation. Increased relaxation will help with your stress management. For an easy intro to meditation, check out Craig’s 3- or 5-minute guided meditations.
- Remember that you are also dealing with grief.
We’ve talked a lot about stress and anxiety, but grief is another emotion that we are all dealing with, which might not be as obvious at first. From not being able to socialize with friends to losing a job, we are all dealing with loss right now and figuring out how to deal with it. Recognizing some of your stress as grief can help you work through those emotions. Read more from the Harvard Business Review.
- Keep in mind that this is an unprecedented situation and that your feelings of fear and anxiety are valid.
This is a confusing moment for everyone, and sometimes it feels easier to downplay your emotions and push your fears aside, especially if you’re doing so in the name of supporting someone else. But burying your stressful emotions won’t make them go away, so remember that it is ok to be nervous, overwhelmed or scared right now and then manage those feelings with the suggestions included here (or others!). Remind yourself that this chapter of your life will pass, and we will return to feeling safe, busy and connected with our communities in the weeks and months to come.
- Reach out for help if you need it.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. As I mentioned earlier, make sure you’re bringing virtual connections with friends and family into your life. If you find that you need more support, reach out to your mental health provider or find one for the first time. Talkspace is a great online resource, and Psychology Today can help you find a therapist.A few hotlines to remember are:
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233