As we face the COVID-19 Pandemic, we’re all making preparations to keep ourselves safe, like stocking up on medical supplies and food, practicing social distancing, and being vigilant about handwashing. But what are we doing to protect our mental health?
If you have pre-existing anxiety or depression, it’s imperative to continue your baseline treatment plan. Refill your medications and continue therapy via phone or video conference. If you’re experiencing new symptoms, reach out for help – you can find a therapist online or try an online counseling provider like TalkSpace.
For all of us, it’s key to have a toolkit to turn to. Here are a few items in mine that science shows may help you as well.
Walk, dance, run, stretch, whatever makes your body move! Harvard Medical School reports that exercise diverts our negative thoughts, decreases body tension, releases anti-anxiety chemicals, and activates the part of our brain that manages real and imagined threats.
Research shows that being in nature improves moods and reduces anxiety – specifically rumination, the act of mentally repeating negative thoughts over and over in a loop. You can still get the benefits of nature during this crisis – experts say you can spend time in your back yard or a nearby park, or go for a stroll in your neighborhood, while still practicing safe social distancing.
During a time of such uncertainty, it’s natural to seek out as much information as possible. But with access to endless media, it’s easy to quickly descend into an information overload spiral.
Seek out a few trusted websites like the CDC, reliable national news organizations, (The New York Times has removed its paywall for COVID-19 coverage), and a reliable local news source, and only check them once or twice a day. Even “distraction” activities like social media can quickly send you down a, so set a timer on your phone to stop mindless scrolling.
The idea of breathwork and mindfulness can be overwhelming, so I recommend starting with an app like Mindfulness Daily or Calm. Both have short, guided meditations to turn to in a pinch or help get you started. For when you’re feeling especially overwhelmed by anxiety, body scans are a great way to soothe your mind for a longer period of time.
It sounds so simple, but sometimes you just need a glass of water. Studies show that even slight dehydration can raise levels of the stress hormone cortisol. For me, the act getting of the water forces me to pause and pivot to a new activity, which can also start to change my anxiety levels.
Let It Out
Now is not the time to push your feelings down and try to white knuckle it. Talk with someone you trust. Journal about your feelings. Make a list of what you are worried about and another list of what the actions you are taking to manage it.
Do Something Kind
Research has proven than kindness decreases pain, anxiety, stress, depression, and even blood pressure. For me, being able to do even something small to help another person helps me feel a little less powerless in a scary situation. So reach out to vulnerable people. Check on your neighbors. Offer to help where you can. It will help them feel better – and you.