So we’re all dealing with coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. You don’t have to be sick with the disease to be affected by it. The closure of retail and restaurants, cancelations of events and national sports, these all serve as daily reminders that life is very different these days. And the support you would normally receive or give to friends and family has become complicated by a new standard, called social distancing.
While these restrictions have been put in place to help keep us safe and slow the spread of the disease, they can be very isolating. So it’s important to manage and protect your mental health, as well as your physical health. It’s easy to go stir crazy when you can’t find much to do. Here are a few tips to keep in mind.
1. Understand that it’s normal to worry. The worldwide death toll from COVID-19 is in the thousands, yet there is still much that’s not known about the disease and its transmission. That’s enough to worry anyone. It’s normal to have feelings of anxiety and fear regarding your health or your family’s health. Allow yourself to feel the concern that comes with this situation, but try not to dwell on possible worst-case scenarios.
2. Control what you can. Even in small measures, maintaining control wherever you can will help minimize feelings of helplessness. This could include a thorough house cleaning to reduce likelihood of infection, wearing a face mask when appropriate, increasing your hand washing and embracing social distancing. These seemingly small actions will instill a sense of control and reduce your chance of contracting the disease.
3. Keep it in perspective. COVID-19 is frightening, no doubt. It’s new, it’s worldwide and it’s potentially deadly. We should each do everything we can to reduce our likelihood of exposure and slow the spread of the disease. As of March 22, 2020, more than 250 people have died from COVID-19 in the U.S. But each year, thousands of Americans die from the flu. In fact, in the one-year flu season for 2017-18, more than 60,000 Americans died from the flu. Yes, COVID-19 is a serious and troubling disease, but the flu kills more people each year, based on current statistics. This may be helpful knowledge as you try to keep an even keel mentally.
4. Minimize exposure to social media. We love our social media. But during a national health crisis, viewing hundreds of posts with negative information (or even worse, misinformation) can take a toll on you mentally. If the comments made by your online circle of friends are typically fearful, distrustful or paint a bleak picture in terms of society’s ability to rebound from COVID-19, it may not be the best content for you to consume right now. Try to assess your feelings before and engaging on social media. Are you more calm and reassured, or did the interaction further feed your feelings of worry? If it’s the latter, you may need to give social media a break.
5. Educate yourself. Stepping away from social media doesn’t mean putting your head in the sand. Information regarding COVID-19 is changing daily, along with the recommendations for keeping yourself healthy, so it’s important to be in the know. Choose your content source wisely. Consider cdc.gov for the latest information on protecting yourself from the disease. Additionally, some states and healthcare systems have established call-in centers staffed by professionals who can answer questions regarding COVID-19. Search for these hotlines in your area.
6. Don’t forget to laugh. Even during this unprecedented health crisis, you can (and should) find time for laughter. Laughter has positive health benefits, including reduction of stress hormones, improving memory recall and enhancing your mood. Find a way to take your mind off COVID-19 for just a bit. Search your TV programming for a stand-up comedian or a favorite sitcom, immerse yourself in a humorous audio book, or just call a funny friend. Whatever it takes, give your mind a laugh break.
7. Minimize loneliness. Humans need interaction with other humans. Fortunately, technology makes it possible for us to stay connected to friends and family, even as we become experts at social distancing. Use Skype, Facetime or other video technology to connect across the miles—or across the street. Invite friends to join you in online games like Yahtzee or Words With Friends. Watch television together by calling a friend at the start of a TV show you both enjoy—either watch the entire show while on the phone or call back during commercials. Or just pick up the phone and call a friend to chat. Lots of ways to stay connected, so choose one or use them all!
8. Try to be productive. You know that thing you’ve been meaning to do around the house? Now you have time to get it done. Clean out a closet. Paint that bathroom. Add photos to your photo albums. But being productive doesn’t have to feel like chores. Learn a language online. Access YouTube and you can learn how to improve your makeup application, learn to cook Thai food, or learn yoga. During this period of forced down time, take the opportunity to reinvest in yourself.
9. Stay spiritually connected. With most churches and houses of worship closed, consider creating a call-in prayer group with friends or watch televised worship services. Some larger churches are utilizing services like Facebook Live to broadcast services, so check local sources for this option. If you don’t typically participate in organized religion, consider meditation, yoga or even a gratitude journal. Perhaps now more than ever, it’s important to take time for positive and purposeful introspection.
10. Get professional help if needed. If the anxiety and worry become too much or if you’re feeling signs of depression, get help. The Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers a free 24-hour Disaster Distress Helpline, at (800) 985-5990, available for anyone feeling lonely or in need of support.