Tips for Protecting Your Mental Health During the Coronavirus
Behind the coronavirus pandemic lurks an invisible, secondary crisis: Millions of people around the world are experiencing increased isolation, depression, anxiety, and financial stress related to COVID-19. In fact, there has been a surge in messages to crisis centers like Crisis Text Line due to the pandemic.
Mental health professionals are worried that mental health issues related to COVID-19 may affect us much longer than the virus itself. Thankfully, there are ways you can protect your mental health during the coronavirus and help others do the same.
Eight ways to stay mentally healthy during quarantine and beyond
Getting proper sleep, nutrition, and exercise are the first important steps in protecting your mental health, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Beyond those key steps, we’ve listed some other techniques you can use to get mental health relief during the coronavirus.
1. Create a routine, even a small one
When days bleed together and our daily schedules have been turned upside down, a routine—however small—can be a life raft in a sea of anxiety, and is a way to take care of your mental health in emergencies. This could mean anything from simply getting out of your pajamas in the morning and getting ready for your day to doing a few stretches at certain times throughout the day.
A routine that most closely resembles your pre-coronavirus routine is best. For example, if you used to work out at lunch or spend 20 minutes of your lunch break reading, try to maintain that during quarantine as best you can. If you’re a parent who is now homeschooling or in charge of childcare full time, we know it can be near impossible to maintain a similar routine, so perhaps creating a new routine is best. Last but not least, don’t forget to do one thing every day that brings you joy, even if it’s small.
2. Give deep breathing a go
While you’ve probably heard the advice “take a deep breath” more times than you can count, there is real science to back up the benefits of focused deep breathing. NAMI also lists deep breathing as one of a few self-help techniques to bring peace and calm when we’re feeling stressed.
In times of stress and anxiety, our body releases stress hormones as part of our natural “fight or flight” response. But if we’re in a prolonged state of stress or anxiety, these hormones have negative effects on our mind and body. Deep belly breaths activate our parasympathetic nervous system, which helps calm this automatic stress response, according to NPR. To get started, try breathing in for five seconds, holding the breath for three seconds, then breathing out for seven seconds. Remember to stop if you become dizzy.
3. Be kind to yourself and know your limits
In some corners of the internet, there is a popular notion that quarantine is the perfect time to check off items from your to-do list, learn a new skill, or emerge from isolation a better version of yourself. But these ideas can be harmful and set unrealistic expectations during an enormously difficult time.
Not everyone will be able to maintain their work, school, or other responsibilities to the same degree they did prior to the pandemic—and that’s okay. Chronic stress and anxiety can make it sometimes impossible to focus on in-depth tasks, so it’s important to recognize when it’s time to take a break. It may even be best to set entirely new expectations for yourself. Remember that you’re not alone in your feelings of loss, grief, and anxiety—although your social media feed may be filled with people who are presenting a different reality.
4. Provide help to others
Doing something kind for others can help relieve anxiety and depression, and it can also redirect your thoughts to something more productive. Whether that’s a phone call to someone who is alone, or buying groceries for someone with health risks, these small gestures can mean a lot while also keeping you positive.
If you know of a friend, family member, or neighbor who could use some financial assistance, an online fundraiser is a simple way to lend a hand without having to leave your house. Through crowdfunding, you can rally your network to support a cause you’re passionate about and contribute to real change, or you can donate to an existing mental health fund. And if you are the one who is struggling financially during this crisis, you can also start a fundraiser for yourself and find the support you need.
- Fundraising for Coronavirus Relief: How You Can Help the Fight
- Mental Health Fundraising Ideas That Make a Real Impact
- Where to Find Financial Help During the Coronavirus
- Coronavirus Relief for Unemployed Workers: How to Find Help
5. Swap social media and news for something else
Even though the news is filled with grim headlines, it can be especially difficult to stop hitting ‘refresh’ on news sites when we’re confined to our homes. It’s good to stay informed, but limit your news exposure to one, short reading session each day, and rely on trusted sources only, like the CDC and the World Health Organization. Getting reliable news but not overwhelming yourself with it is important for coping with mental health during a crisis.
Social media is a useful tool to stay connected with others, but it can also set unrealistic expectations about what we feel we should be doing during quarantine. It can also spread rumors about COVID-19 and cite unreliable information. If it’s helpful, try limiting your social media time or replacing it with another calming activity you enjoy.
It can also be helpful to seek the silver lining in tough situations. Are you looking for uplifting news about COVID-19 instead of the doom and gloom often portrayed in the media? Below is a short, hopeful video that may brighten your day.
6. Focus on the here and now
Catastrophizing is a term for a negative thought pattern in which we assume the worst is going to happen, and it’s very easy to do in times of uncertainty—like during a global pandemic. By staying in the present and not letting our minds drift to uncertain future events, we’re better able to banish anxious thoughts. This is easier said than done, of course. So, how can you give it a try?
- When you find yourself feeling anxious, acknowledge the feeling. Recognizing negative feelings can reduce the power they hold over you
- Try creating a few mantras that you can repeat when you’re feeling stressed. For example, “This is not forever, this is only temporary”
- Practice deep breathing while you close your eyes
- Give meditation a try. Apps like Headspace and Calm offer short, guided meditations that keep you in the present
7. Stay connected to others
Having to endure a global pandemic without our usual social support systems is both isolating and frustrating. Thankfully, the internet allows us to stay close to loved ones even if we’re physically apart. Virtual happy hours, game nights, and fitness classes are just a few of the ways you can stay connected during the pandemic. Even a short conversation via text may brighten your day and help you feel less alone.
For specific ideas on how to stay in touch with others during this time, see our article Stay Connected During the Coronavirus and Feel Closer to Loved Ones
8. Seek help from a professional when you need it
There is never any shame in looking to a mental professional when you need a little extra help managing your negative or anxious thoughts. If you can’t afford treatment, there are ways to find mental health financial assistance, and there are also many low-cost or free services available.
- Crisis Text Line is a free texting support service that provides free, trained counselors to individuals in need
- The Domestic Abuse Hotline offers chat and phone support to anyone who is experiencing abuse at home
- New York Governor Andrew Cuomo set up a free mental health phone line for those in need in the New York City area
- The Centre for Interactive Mental Health Solutions offers a free, interactive therapy program that targets depression. The program uses Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and is accessible from anywhere
- Apps and websites like Talkspace, BetterHelp, and BlahTherapy offer affordable online therapy options
Find the help you need today
Coping during COVID-19 is not always simple or easy, but the ideas above will help you stay mentally strong during these challenging times. If your financial situation is the cause of much of your stress, or you’d just like to help someone else, sign up for a fundraiser through GoFundMe. Our free fundraising model helps you keep more of your donations, and you can receive your funds within days. Get started today.