If you?re struggling with increased anxiety or feelings of depression right now (due to COVID-19): you are not alone.
Helplessness, hopelessness, and worry can be tough to contain, especially if your usual coping skills are being affected by this virus. Taking care of your mental health is still just as important during a time when everyone?s focus is on (certain) physical symptoms. Whatever you?re struggling with, here are some things you can do.
Disclaimer from Original Author: I am not a doctor, and this is not medical advice. I am a mental health counselor, and these are some tips that I have found useful for myself and in supporting my clients and friends. I hope they help you, too.
Eat a healthy diet.
In your attempts to stock up, try to think about foods that will sustain, nourish, and, er, move you. Resist the temptation to buy All The Sweet & Salty Snacks. Get what you need to feel less deprived during your shut-in times, but remember that if you?re battling anxiety or depression, feeling physically lousy from your diet is not going to help.
Scrub the tub and mop the floors.
Go for a walk, run, or bike ride.
Stick to a sleep schedule.
If you?re sick, obviously you might want to adjust your sleep schedule to allow for more rest. Otherwise, try sticking to the same sleep schedule (or creating one), even if you start staying home more. Sleep is critical to good physical and mental health, and going to bed and waking up at consistent times is key.
Go outside and get some sunshine.
Avoid people and surfaces, not fresh air. Are you sick or otherwise can?t go outside? Sit by a window. Maybe open the window. Maybe talk to the plant on the windowsill. Maybe hang one elbow out and sing to no one about your day like you?re in a musical.
Prioritize positive, mindful, and relaxing activities.
Reading, playing with pets, walking/exercising, meditating, watching something funny or distracting, cooking a meal or preparing a snack, talking/texting with friends, listening to music, dancing, taking a shower or bath, crafting/art, napping, cleaning/organizing, taking a virtual museum tour. I
Add structure to your days. It?s not just about Netflix (but it?s okay if it?s, like, largely Netflix).
If you?re sick, quarantined out of precaution, suddenly working from home, or not working at all: Use organizational tools or a simple To Do List to keep you focused and on a schedule. Routines are healthy and comforting, especially when we?re feeling anxious or depressed. Set some goals for your day, even if those goals are just 1) take a shower, 2) get dressed, 3) eat three meals. Those are great goals. You can also make a goal out of any of the fundamentals listed above or some of the ideas listed below. Start small. Be specific. And build from there. Don?t forget to give yourself praise along the way.
We are social creatures. If it feels weird or uncomfortable to be cooped up and canceling plans (because you?re being told to, not because you suddenly, on your own accord, want to avoid everyone) ? that?s natural. But it?s also important for our mental health to find ways to socialize and combat the effects of isolation. Make a plan to reach out to one person each day, week, whatever is a good starting place for you. Check in with friends you haven?t spoken to in a while. Initiate a group chat. And if social interactions are a source of anxiety for you, go in with an exit strategy. After 10 minutes of texting, put your phone on its charger and go for a walk. If you can?t get off the phone, mention the time and tell them you need to head out and see if the toilet paper aisle has been restocked. They?ll understand.
Give the Anxiety a Reality Check
If you?re having trouble regulating your anxiety because you can?t tell if you?re ?overreacting? or ?underreacting? to this situation, that?s totally understandable! If you?ve been seeing every imaginable reaction to this virus, from doom to denial, it makes it hard to orient yourself. In a situation like this, some anxiety is to be expected and is even helpful. It?s what motivates us to stay informed and reduce risk. Here are some questions to ask yourself in order to put the anxiety in check:
?Who am I worried about??
Are you/they at higher risk? How so?
What things can you reasonably do?
- Focus on prevention (for yourself and others): wash your hands, practice social distancing, clean surfaces, avoid touching your face, cough/sneeze into a tissue or your elbow, dispose of tissues
- Monitor your symptoms and call your doctor if you?re sick
- Stay up to date on your medications
- Communicate your questions, needs, or concerns to others
- Do the things you typically do to stay healthy (eat, sleep, activity)
- Take care of your mental health
?What supplies do I actually need??
- You can check out the CDC?s recommendations here.
- Make sure you have your usual medications and medical supplies. You can ask your doctor about getting 90-day refills or mail order prescriptions, as well.
- Some other over-the-counter stuff will be helpful, too: thermometer, tissues, etc.
- Stock up on extra food staples in case you feel sick and need to stay home for 2+ weeks (This can sound like a lot, but if you typically only grocery shop once a week, then this is just 2x your typical trip. Remember that when you look for toilet paper. Also, as people keep reminding me: Italy?s grocery stores are still open.)
?Is confirmation bias messing with me??
Remember that seeing long lines and bare shelves at the grocery store, empty streets or subway stations, and emails from every company you?ve ever patronized does NOT mean that the world is ending. It means people are doing what they?re told. It?s a good thing. Well, maybe not all the emails.
Check In with Yourself
?What do I need right now??
What purpose are the anxious thoughts or behaviors serving? Are they centered around trying to stay informed? Are they focused on a particular person? Are they a distraction? Do they make things worse or better? How so?
What do you need in this moment? Information? Comfort? Distraction? An action to take? Someone to listen? Some fresh air? Pick one and make a plan to get what you need. Then reassess.
NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) has an entire guide on strategies and resources for coping with coronavirus, including financial resources. And this cool person on Twitter also has your back with some resources and tips for staying in and staying chill.
?When do I notice my anxiety spiking??
Look for patterns to help you identify triggers or other factors that might be making it hard to regulate your thoughts and feelings. Do you feel worse after talking to a particular person or checking social media? Are your thoughts racing at night? When you?re alone? When you haven?t moved in a while?
Avoiding these triggers might be a big help, and sometimes even awareness is enough to lower your stress level in the moment.
?What do I typically do to manage my anxiety? And am I doing those things still??
It?s very easy to forget to implement our usual coping skills and self-care tools when we?ve been thrown off our routine. Check in with yourself to see what you might be forgetting to do.
If meeting with a therapist is part of your usual routine, schedule an appointment. If you?re sick or unable to go in person, see if video or phone sessions are available.
If meeting with a therapist is not part of your routine, it can be! Check out PsychologyToday.com or call your insurance company for referrals. Not insured? Many therapists offer a sliding scale. Look for community mental health clinics in your area, as well. You can also text the NAMI Crisis Counselors at 741741 or call their helpline at 1?800?950?6264.
Set boundaries with the news/social media.
It?s important to stay informed, but this doesn?t have to mean reading every headline or following the numbers.
- Identify what you?ll need to know (e.g. school closures, travel restrictions) and the best place(s) to get that information
- Designate someone you trust to keep you informed about necessary updates or check in with them periodically with your questions
- Limit your time on certain channels/websites
- Snooze people or pages that tend to spike your blood pressure
- Follow more pages with animals to break up your newsfeed
Set boundaries with friends and family.
This is going to look very different for everyone.
You might consider asking certain friends to hold off on the Twitter or news links and to pump up the volume on the cat videos. Maybe it means asking your partner to take over cooking or laundry so you have some extra time for self-care. Maybe it means rescheduling plans with your parents or grandparents.
You may need to decide whether you are able to engage in conversations with friends and loved ones about the virus and how to reduce risk, or if you need to take a step back. Also, if you deal with a chronic health issue, this virus might be a difficult topic to address with people in your life who haven?t always taken your health seriously.
Only you can decide whether or not you?re going to engage in any particular conversation. It?s okay to say, ?I?d rather not discuss this,? or, ?Let?s pick this back up another day.?
Planning something you can look forward to in the future is a great way to deal with anxiety and depression in the present moment. Plan a phone call, FaceTime, or gaming session with one of your friends for tomorrow or next week. While setting dates or booking transportation for longer term travel might not be feasible for now, you can still decide what you want to do and scope out some locations or attractions.
Taking action in your communities can help you feel empowered. And helping others is an excellent way to boost your own mental health:
- Vote for universal healthcare and paid family and sick leave. We need it.
- Share online resources for social distancing, coping with isolation, learning at home, talking to children about the virus, staying active, spicing up a can of boring beans without blowing through your toilet paper, and all the free things that are floating around the internet.
- Buy some gift cards from local shops and restaurants to use when this is over. Promote companies that are handling this the right way. But more importantly, buy gift cards from your local Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, and other Asian cuisine restaurants. Let them know you?ve got their backs and look forward to enjoying their food.
Practice compassion, patience, and acceptance
Practice compassion, patience, and acceptance toward yourself and others. Not everyone is going to follow the guidelines. That?s a fact. Focus on what you can do and recognize that the goal is just to slow this thing down. Every little bit helps.
Recognize that when you see someone buying toilet paper, they may actually be out. OR they may see the rest of the shopping frenzy and have someone at home who is high risk/requires extra care and, therefore, may actually need to stock up a bit. We?re all doing the best we can. Together, we can slow the pace of the virus and the pace of the poop prepping.
Shout out to the overachievers and procrastinators: This might seem like a good time to do the things you?ve been putting off for a while because you haven?t had time. That means it?s also a great time to forgive yourself for not doing those things, because maybe you do have more time, maybe you don?t. Maybe you don?t have the mental energy or focus to do the thing during a time like this. That makes sense, too, and it?s totally fine. Either way, the world isn?t ending because of this virus OR because you didn?t ?use this time wisely.?
A Simple List of Things You Can Do (You got this.)
- Know the symptoms (CDC version; fun graphic version!)
- Was your hands
- Don?t touch your face
- Don?t panic or beat yourself up when you inevitably touch your face
- Treat everyone you encounter like they have extreme BO and you need to be a safe distance away to breathe
- Cancel in-person plans
- Make virtual plans!
- Encourage others to cancel plans
- Encourage others to not be racist
- Stay home if you?re sick
- And use humor. It helps.
Author: Sheila Lynch, Outpatient Therapist, Philadelphia, PA
If you are experiencing anxiety or depression, please utilize the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) available to all employees by using this link:
https://www.mutualofomaha.com/eap/about As a reminder, all services are confidential.