Adjusting to social distancing is no small feat, psychologically speaking, and it tests many of us in many ways. We are all faced with uncertainty and feeling a massive lack of control. Many of us have been so quick to jump into "fight-or-flight" mode, doing everything we can to protect our physical health. Meanwhile, we forget that taking care of our mental health still matters, even in – especially in — the midst of a global pandemic.
Some of us are more scared and anxious than others. Individuals with existing mental health conditions, diseases, and disabilities, as well as older individuals and those with compromised immunity, might feel more anxious, stressed, and scared.
As humans, we are so innately social that forcing us into isolation can have severe consequences on our well-being. Psychological research has repeatedly shown that social isolation affects our chances of survival and psychological well-being.
While choosing alone-time can improve mental health, being forced to stay alone induces loneliness and worsens mental health. Anxiety and stress compromise physical immunity and increase the likelihood of health issues. Even if you don't get COVID-19, high bursts of anxiety and stress, as well as continuous anxiety and stress, isn't physically or psychologically healthy.
People like control and a sense of meaning in life. A pandemic like this disrupts our existing control and sense of meaning, which leaves us angry, helpless, and frustrated. But obsessing over impending doom isn't going to help the community. Freaking out is not going to improve our well-being or help us make the best decisions. However, a moderate level of anxiety will help the community and it will improve our well-being through careful behavior.
So, how can we make sure we are taking care of our mental health during such a time as this?
1. Start a new hobby
Spending time on an activity that you enjoy can improve your mental health and well-being. Research shows that individuals with hobbies are less likely to suffer from stress, low mood, and depression.
2. Get active
Activities that get you up and moving can make you feel happier and more relaxed.
So try out some at-home exercises. If it is nice out, go for a walk. Do some stretching or yoga.
3. Make a schedule
Prepare a rough schedule to keep your day interesting and lay down your options. Creating some type of structure will give you a sense of stability.
Focusing on things you can control will go a long way in making these next few weeks feel productive, fulfilled, and organized.
4. Take advantage of technology
Connect with people via social media and phone. Loneliness and social isolation can take a toll on people, especially when forced, so maximize connection with others. Many are in the exact same boat and are more than willing to connect.
Reach out to people who you haven't had the time for before the quarantine.
Make yourself available to others who might need you.
5. Practice journaling
Simply write down your thoughts and feelings to understand them more clearly.
Journaling can help you gain control of your emotions and improve your mental health.
Journaling is also a healthy way to express yourself and can help you manage anxiety, reduce stress, and cope with depression.
6. Do some deep breathing exercises
Close your eyes and focus your undivided attention on your breathing for a few minutes. Breathe in deep from your nose slowly and gently. Breathe out deep from your mouth slowly and gently (count from 1 to 5 while breathing in and out).
Deep breathing offers psychological distance from the anxiety-inducing context. It also counteracts the physiological responses of anxiety – increased heart rate, sweaty palms, freeze response, muscular tension, etc. Use this breathing technique when you are panicking and your anxiety is rising.
7. Listen to music
Music is, without a doubt, one of the most powerful ways to relax, enjoy, and distract yourself. Listening to music can regulate all aspects of your mind/body-system – thoughts, anxiety, anger, fear, sleep, mood, and even loneliness. It puts us in a favorable mental state.
If you like music, use it!
8. Focus on what you CAN do
While being in quarantine, it can be easy to sit and dwell on all the things you can't do. That's not healthy nor productive.
Instead, think more about what you can do in this situation. Get involved in activities you do have access to.
9. Make sure to unplug
While it is important to stay informed and up to date on the latest information about the coronavirus, too much information can easily add to our stress levels. The repetitive nature of the news reports is not good for our mental health. So take a break every once in a while and unwind from everything COVID-19 – news, speculations, discussions, etc.
Understand that being anxious at this time is a completely normal response to stress. But remember, taking care of your mental health still matters. Should the stress be too much for you, please seek professional help for yourself, if necessary? We have faced other difficult times in the past and, with proper care, we will get through this too.