There’s a lot of advice being offered right now about how to keep yourself physically healthy during the coronavirus pandemic such as washing your hands, and practicing social distancing.
But managing mental health during this time is just as vital to your overall well-being. So while it is happening, take steps to address your psychological well-being as well. If you’re not proactive about taking care of your mind and emotions during this time, you may notice a decline in mental health.
Why Coronavirus Might Impact Your Mental Health
There are many ways and reasons the coronavirus pandemic may take a toll on your mental health. Being aware of the factors that might affect your well-being can help you take steps to combat these issues.
Fear of catching the virus and worrying about how you’re going to pay the bills are just two of the stresses of the situation that can make it difficult to function.
You may have to deal with a variety of practical problems—from figuring out childcare issues to determining how to keep your small business afloat. And you are also likely dealing with a lot of uncertainty.
There are many unknowns about the virus. Your day-to-day life may be changing rapidly as regulations and recommendations continue to roll out regarding social contact.
Many people are working from home while also having their children at home right now. And most social gatherings and events have been canceled (although laws vary a bit by city and state).
No matter where you live, your routine has likely been disrupted in some way. Having less structure, a changing schedule, and complete uncertainty about how long this will last can take a toll on your mental health.
Staying inside for extended periods of time can cause you to feel a bit restless. For some people it causes anxiety. For others staying indoors causes boredom. If left unaddressed, these emotions can lead to a decline in mental health.
Lack of Social Contact
For most people, the coronavirus pandemic means a lot less social contact. Some are separated from family members and co-workers. Others live alone and aren’t able to see anyone face-to-face.
While some may be able to use social media, phone calls, and video chats to stay connected, not everyone has people they can reach out to in this way. And since social interaction is vital for good mental health, less contact can lead to feelings of depression and anxiety.
Reduced Physical Activity
Whether you normally walk a half-mile to get on the train, or you have a job that involves a fair amount of physical labor, there’s a good chance your current work situation may not require you to move as much as you usually do.
Many gyms have closed (either voluntarily or due to local regulations) in an effort to support social distancing. So there may be fewer opportunities to work out—which may have been one of your most accessible coping skills.
If you previously had depression, anxiety, or another mental illness, your symptoms may intensify during stressful times. And even if your mental health was good prior to the pandemic, you may notice new symptoms emerging.
It’s important to remember that people aren’t either “mentally healthy” or “mentally ill.” Mental health is a continuum. And at any given moment, you might find yourself shifting up or down the continuum based on what’s going on around you.
Here are some warning signs that might indicate a decline in your mental health:
Changes in Mood
You might feel like you’re on a bit of an emotional rollercoaster right now. Whether you’re more irritable, sad, or anxious than usual, these emotions should be expected.
However, bigger shifts in your mood might be the sign of something more serious. If you’re struggling to manage your emotions, or if your emotions are making it difficult to function, it can be a sign that you may need to address your mental health.
Changes in Sleep Habits
Stress can also interfere with sleep. You might find you’re not able to fall asleep or that you wake up repeatedly throughout the night. On the flip side, you might find you’re sleeping too much. Maybe you nap throughout the day and have trouble waking in the morning despite a full night’s rest.
Getting too much or too little sleep are both signs of mental illness. But these issues can also be the cause of a negative impact on your psychological well-being. So both issues may need to be addressed simultaneously.
Changes in Appetite or Weight
Distress can cause some people to eat too much. Others lose their appetites altogether. If you’re experiencing a major change in appetite or in weight, it could be a sign your distress is too high.
You might find you have more difficulty concentrating, staying on task, and being productive. And while the change in your routine may make these things more difficult, poor mental health can also be a factor.
If you’re having trouble taking care of your daily needs—taking a shower, doing household chores, or caring for your kids—it might be a sign that you may need to take serious steps to improve your psychological well-being.
Steps You Can Take to Manage Your Mental Health
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to improve your mental health right now even if you’re social distancing. Despite ongoing uncertainty of the situation, take small steps every day to address your emotional needs.
Get Physically Active
Research clearly shows that physical activity is a vital component of good mental health. Consider how you can still get exercise right now, and incorporate it into your daily routine.
You can find plenty of at-home workout programs that will help you stay active. There are many free apps, videos, and fitness communities that can help you exercise if you don’t have any equipment.
Depending on where you live—as well as on the current laws and recommendations in your area—you may be able to get outside to exercise as well. If it’s safe to do so, go for a walk, hike through the woods, or run on some trails.
But you don’t need a lot of space to exercise if you don’t have it. You can still work out from your living room or bedroom with little or no equipment at all.
Schedule Time to Worry
It may sound counterintuitive to schedule time for worry. After all, you may think you are already worrying too much about the state of affairs.
But research shows that scheduling time to worry can be an effective way to contain it to a limited time period. Rather than worry all day long, you might find you can contain anxious thoughts to only 15 minutes.
Here’s how it works:
Schedule a worrying time. Pick a 15-minute timeframe to sit and worry.Worry during your worrying time. Write in a journal, talk to someone about it, or just think about all the things you have to worry about.Stop worrying when your time is up. When your time ends, get up, and do an activity that distracts you from those worries.Defer worrisome thoughts to your worrying time. When you find yourself worrying outside of your scheduled time, remind yourself it’s not time yet and that you’ll worry about it later.
Researchers have found that people who consistently practice this technique are able to reduce overall anxiety. Additionally, they’re able to focus more and stay on task better throughout the rest of the day.
Maintain Social Connections
Even when you can’t physically be around people, you can still remain connected to friends, family, and community.
Use social media to chat with relatives and friendsPost supportive comments, pictures, and content on your social sitesSchedule regular video chats with friends, family members, and co-workersSend mail to your loved ones. A card, handwritten letter, or small note can do a lot to lift other people’s spiritsJoin online forums and groups that allow you to speak to people in your communityAttend online church or spiritual meetings if it’s aligned with your belief system.Be supportive of others who may need social connection
You may find solace in connecting with your loved ones or even strangers during this time. And there are many ways to reach out and get connected.
If you don’t have anyone to reach out to, look for online groups who are currently supporting one another. You might find these groups through social media or online forums.
Keep in mind you can always offer to start a group as well. There are likely many other people who would appreciate some support from you—whether it means phone calls to check-in, daily emails, or video chats.
Keep the Big Picture in Mind
Although things may feel really stressful right now, the pandemic won’t last forever. So try to keep the big picture in mind.
Someday, you’ll likely be recounting what you did during the pandemic. Maybe you’ll be telling the story of how you survived social distancing or how you managed to get through this time financially.
But at some point restrictions will end, and many of the issues you’re stressing out about right now won’t be problems anymore. Keeping this in mind will help you keep things in perspective.
Be Selective About Your Media Consumption
While it’s important to stay informed, consuming constant content about the coronavirus can keep you in a heightened state of distress. The media continuously reports on new cases of the virus and talks about death tolls which can greatly affect your psychological well-being.
Here are some healthy ways to stay informed while also managing your media consumption:
Don’t keep the TV on news channels. While you may want to become aware of any breaking reports, keeping the TV tuned into news stations isn’t good for you. Commit to only tuning in to a few news programs per day, and set a time limit (such as 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening)Be mindful of your social media time. Scrolling through social media mindlessly throughout the day can drain you of mental strength as well. So pay attention to the time you’re putting into it as it can greatly affect your mental health.Follow people who inspire you on social media. If you follow people who are making catastrophic predictions and complaining about their situations, you will likely become distressed. Make sure you follow people who are more invested in helping, inspiring, and staying positive.Be selective with the content you consume. Read articles and watch programs that focus on what you can do to stay healthy, not what organizations are doing wrong.
Focus on the Things You Can Control
There are many things outside of your control during a pandemic. And thinking about all of these things won’t do any good.
It’s important to focus on the things you can control, such as the measures you’re undergoing to keep yourself and your family safe and healthy.
Reducing unnecessary social contact, washing your hands, and working on managing your finances are just a few of these things. You can also control how well you take care of yourself, how often you talk to friends and family, and how much media you consume.
Practice Healthy Coping Skills
You may not have access to many of the coping techniques that typically help you handle stress—like going to the gym or having coffee with a friend. So it’s important to think about the healthy coping skills you’ll use when you’re hit with moments of overwhelming anxiety or you begin to feel sad.
Explore new skills you can practice, such as writing in a journal. You might also discover a meditation app or one that helps you practice a variety of relaxation techniques and stress relievers like progressive muscle relaxation.
Also, be on the lookout for any unhealthy coping skills you might be trying to rely on to give you comfort such as food or alcohol. These types of strategies can backfire and cause you to feel worse in the long run.
How to Find Support
If you’re experiencing a decline in mental health that has you concerned, or your strategies aren’t working to improve your mood, then seek support.
You might call your physician to explain what you’re going through. You may also reach out to a local mental health professional. But keep in mind some of them may be limiting their face-to-face contact with patients at this time.
You can also try online therapy. Talking to a licensed mental health professional via phone, video chat, or messaging could help improve your mental health and reduce your stress at a time when social distancing is encouraged.
A Word From Verywell
Make your mental health a top priority during times of high stress and uncertainty. You may find that a few proactive measures will help you to feel much better. But if you don’t feel like your strategies are working, then reach out to a professional. Talking to someone could be the key to helping you manage your distress during this pandemic.