Stress. Anxiety. Uncertainty. These are words we already know and understand, but it’s likely we have become a little more familiar with them over the last month adjusting to life with coronavirus.
While the coronavirus pandemic is affecting the health and livelihood of millions around the globe, people from all walks of life are experiencing high levels of negative mental health issues like stress, PTSD, depression and anxiety. And while 1 in 5 people will experience a true mental illness during their lifetime, all of us are facing challenges in our life right now that can impact our mental health.
Since 1949, the United States has observed May as Mental Health Awareness Month. Now more than ever before, it is important to understand that in stressful times, you are not alone. It is completely normal to be worried and stressed during times of crisis. For many people, the uncertainty surrounding coronavirus is the hardest thing to handle. We don’t know how exactly we’ll be impacted or how bad things might get. And that makes it all too easy to catastrophize and spiral out into overwhelming dread and panic. For others, the constant isolation and loneliness could turn into depression, or cause future social anxiety.
Don’t worry. (No pun intended.) There are many things you can do to manage your feelings in the face of this crisis that is taking a major toll on everyone’s mental and emotional well-being. By taking some simple actions to improve your mental outlook, you may be better equipped to cope day to day.
Focus on things you can control
There are so many things outside of our control, including how long this pandemic lasts, how other people behave, and what’s going to happen in our communities. That’s a tough thing to accept, and so many of us respond by endlessly searching the Internet for answers and thinking over all the different scenarios that might happen. This will leave you feeling drained, anxious, and overwhelmed.
When you feel yourself getting caught up in fear of what might happen of “what-ifs”, try to shift your focus to things you can control. For example, you can’t control how severe the coronavirus outbreak is in your city or town, but you can take steps to reduce your own personal risk (and the risk you’ll unknowingly spread it to others), such as staying home, washing your hands, and avoiding non-essential activity.
Stay connected, even when isolated
Evidence shows that many people with coronavirus—particularly young, seemingly healthy people—don’t have symptoms but can still spread the virus. That’s why the biggest thing that most people can do right now to make a positive difference is to practice social distancing.
But social distancing comes with its own risks. Humans are social animals. We’re hardwired for connection. Isolation and loneliness can exacerbate anxiety and depression, and even impact our physical health. That’s why it’s important to stay connected as best we can and reach out for support when we need it, even as we cut back on in-person socializing. Make it a priority to stay in touch with friends and family. If you tend to withdraw when depressed or anxious, think about scheduling regular phone calls or video chats to counteract that tendency. Face-to-face contact is like a “vitamin” for your mental health, reducing your risk of depression and helping ease stress and anxiety.
Step away from the media
It’s vital to stay informed, particularly about what’s happening in your community, so you can follow advised safety precautions and do your part to slow the spread of coronavirus. But there’s a lot of misinformation going around, as well as sensationalistic coverage that only feeds into fear. It’s important to be discerning about what you read and watch.
Stick to trustworthy sources such as the CDC, the World Health Organization, and your local public health authorities. If anxiety is an ongoing issue, consider limiting your media consumption to a specific time frame and time of day (e.g. thirty minutes each evening at 6 pm).
Social media can be a powerful tool—not only for connecting with friends, family, and acquaintances—but for feeling connected in a greater sense to our communities, country, and the world. It reminds us we’re not alone. With that said, be mindful of how social media is making you feel. Don’t hesitate to mute keywords or people who are exacerbating your anxiety. And log off if it’s making you feel worse.
Take care of yourself and others
This is an extraordinarily trying time, and all the tried-and-true stress management strategies apply, such as eating healthy meals, getting plenty of sleep, and meditating. Beyond that, be kind to yourself. Go easy on yourself if you’re experiencing more depression or anxiety than usual. You’re not alone in your struggles. Also, try and maintain a routine as best you can. Even if you’re stuck at home, try to stick to your regular sleep, school, meal, or work schedule. This can help you retain a sense of normalcy.
At times like this, it’s easy to get caught up in your own fears and concerns. But amid all the stories of people fighting over rolls of toilet paper, it’s important to take a breath and remember that we’re all in this together. It’s no coincidence that those who focus on others in need and support their communities, especially during times of crises, tend to be happier and healthier than those who act selfishly. Helping others not only makes a difference to your community—and even to the wider world at this time—it can also support your own mental health and wellbeing.
Use tools and resources to help
Navigating your mental health is a very personal journey. If you are having concerns, but are not ready to talk to a mental health provider, Mental Health America (MHA) offers free online resources and private, anonymous mental health screenings. Online screening tools are meant to be a quick snapshot of your mental health Following a screening, you will be provided with information, resources and tools to help you understand and improve your mental health. If your results indicate you may be experiencing symptoms of a mental distress, it might be a good idea to consider sharing your results with someone – a friend, or in more serious cases, a mental health provider.
If you decide speaking with someone about your feelings is the right path to take, consider using your company’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to access free online or telephone counseling or in-personal counseling referrals, especially if your anxiety and stress is work related. Experts can confidentially help you manage emotional concerns and offer resources and support to changes you may be experiencing.
It is normal to feel afraid, depressed, or anxious, but if you feel like you are in immediate crisis, there are many crisis resources available from home. You can call a crisis hotline, text with a crisis counselor, or in severe mental health situations, contact 911.
Ladies, listen up
Right now, nearly 850 million children around the world are home from school as more than 100 countries have closed education institutions in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus. In today’s society, women’s roles often include family obligations, caregiving for children and/or elderly parent, which now all has to be managed while maintaining a life of normalcy amidst this chaos. A recent study shows that among parents with children under the age of 18, nearly three out of five (57%) women say that worry or stress related to the coronavirus has negatively impacted their mental health.
It just so happens that National Women’s Health Week (May 10th–16th) is also upon us, giving you the perfect time focus on your health. It’s important to acknowledge that struggling with emotional issues can cause common physical ailments if not addresses; tiredness, back and neck pain, skin problems, drug and alcohol abuse, overeating and more. By committing to be healthier - mentally, physically, and emotionally – you’ll be more likely to emerge from this current world health crisis stronger, healthier, and happier.