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Managing Your Mental Health During the Coronavirus Outbreak

As most city and state governments have responded to COVID-19 by calling for social distancing between people and the widespread closure of restaurants, libraries, offices, and more, the world has suddenly become a much different place. For some of us, the time at home with the family has a certain restorative nature by itself. For others, the walls may seem like they are closing in.

The challenges posed by isolation and the general concern for the health and well-being of friends and family can cause an additional layer of depression and anxiety. Working to account for food and other household needs, canceling all sorts of plans out of safety, and heightened financial concerns naturally increase feelings of stress, worry, and anxiety.

Certain groups are additionally vulnerable to stress by COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Older people with chronic disease, children and teens, healthcare providers, and emergency providers. Common indicators are difficulty sleeping and concentrating, changes in sleep and eating patterns, and fear and worry about one’s health and the health of loved ones.

Now more than ever, it’s important to stay engaged and motivated to remain healthy despite such dramatic shifts in lifestyle. Here are a few tips to help manage your mental health during the days ahead:

Take breaks from the news.

Minimize news-related stress. Turning off social media, cable news, and other sources of daily headlines will let you concentrate on other things. Give yourself one or two specific windows of time each day to scan updates, both local and national. Outside those windows, proceed as normal and enjoy the day.

Go outside.

Some fresh air is good for all of us. Physical activity is crucial to give you that healthy dose of serotonin, walk around the block, stroll through the park, or simply practice stretching exercises in the backyard and feel some fresh air and sun. Exercising in any shape or form is guaranteed to keep your mental health in check.

Virtually connect.

Let’s make sure we are staying connected. Use Facebook Live, FaceTime, Zoom, Skype, or other digital tools to spend time with the people who matter the most to you. This gives both parties the opportunity to check the mental health of the other. Make sure your conversations don’t focus on the outbreak. Talk about real issues that may be bothering you or new anxieties you have developed. Don’t seek solutions, but instead make these conversations opportunities to express yourself and experience the comfort of a grounded listener.

Remain in the present.

Try to be in the moment, now more than ever. You cannot control the outbreak, the outcomes of the outbreak, or anyone’s response to the outbreak. Instead, be present and focus on what you can control in your own environment: The food you prepare, the entertainment you consume, the people you reach out to, and your own health and safety. That includes bathing every day. Make a nightly checklist of tasks you need to accomplish the next day. When you wake up in the morning, focus on that list, not the onslaught of news. The former is within your control and the latter is not.

Get creative.

Have some fun every day! Now is an opportunity to explore hobbies or other interests you never had time for in the past. Drawing, organizing family photographs, researching your genealogy, playing sudoku, or taking online lessons in anything from music to chess, can help keep your mind active. Remember, loneliness is a public health hazard. If you are already feeling depressed, self-isolation can heighten those symptoms. Immersing yourself into an activity that produces a tangible result will give you a sense of accomplishment by the time life returns to normal.

Spend some time today to develop an action plan for the mental health and wellness of yourself and your household. Have a conversation with your friends and loved ones about what they are doing to mind their health during these times. And stay tuned to the Health Hub for daily tips and ideas for stress management.

If you are experiencing a high level of anxiety or depression, the CDC recommends contacting the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Disaster Distress helpline: 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746. (TTY 1-800-846-8517). 

Other resources are the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.

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