by Mark M. Bello

Mental health can have a major impact on one’s life, especially during a worldwide crisis like the
COVID-19 pandemic.

Every day, we are receiving new information about the coronavirus. We are told to “stay home and stay safe”. Our usual ways of life are being challenged daily. Things we used to take for granted—family gatherings, hanging out with friends, restaurants, road trips and even going to the doctor—are all virtually nonexistent. Most of us understand and agree with the essential safeguard of
shelter in place orders, however, isolation can create a perfect storm for mental health problems, especially for those already struggling. With everything unpredictable and uncontrollable, it is cabin fever with no end in sight. While we justifiably fear for our physical wellbeing, we must be mindful that mental health has a major impact on our lives, especially during a worldwide pandemic like COVID-19.

So … how do we get through these challenging times with our wits about us? What can we do? Here are 10 tips that can help you stay mentally healthy.

  1. Manage exposure to the news. While it is important to stay informed, too much news consumption may increase anxiety and irritability. Schedule quiet time—turn off the television set;
    unplug from social media. Too much of either or both may be detrimental to your mental health. If it is updated information you seek, focus on information from reputable sources rather than political and rhetorical content.
  2. Stay connected. Most of us have at least one important person in our lives. For those who don’t, there are support organizations with toll-free resources. Having someone to express your needs and feelings is vital to your mental health. Fortunately, in the 21st century, we have many ways to socialize; one-on-one or in groups, make a phone call, text a friend or loved one or better yet, create a video chat with everyone.
  3. Control what you can control. You can’t control how others behave. People will misbehave, hoarders will cause essential product shortages. Your local store may run out of toilet paper, sanitizer or water. You can control your own behavior and how you respond to others. Focus on keeping a positive attitude. Find fun things to do at home—read a book, start a new craft project or take up a new hobby. Tackle long-overdue chores or home maintenance projects. Performing “feel-good” tasks may help regulate anxiety and limit one’s sense of helplessness.
  4. Practice emotional awareness. Monitor yourself for the typical indicators of declining mental health: prolonged sadness, loss of interest, irregular sleep or appetite, feelings of hopelessness/
    worthlessness, persistent anxiousness or worry, restlessness, chronic fatigue and difficulty concentrating. Consider which feel related and proportional to COVID-19 and which might indicate something more serious. Talk to a trusted friend or seek professional help if symptoms persist or worsen over time.
  5. Maintain routine. A routine will help you stay focused and productive. It will also reduce spikes in anxiety and extreme mood variances. Integrate old and new hobbies into your daily routine. Find innovative ways to engage with family members and friends. Celebrate milestones, birthdays, anniversaries and holidays, even if you must do so remotely.
  6. Distract yourself. When things aren’t normal, our brains may detour toward negative thoughts. When this occurs, watch a movie, read a book, listen to music, play a game or phone a friend or loved one. These distractions should help you manage negative thoughts before they consume you.
  7. Take stock in what you have. Try as much as possible to be positive and relish the simple things in life. Do you have a roof over your head? A job? A family that loves you?
  8. Exercise daily. While gyms have been forced to close, physical activity should not be ignored. Exercise keeps your body healthy, helps fight infections, relieves stress and promotes emotional regulation. Even a jog or long walk can make you feel more energetic, sleep better and think more positively.
  9. Volunteer. Helping others can provide a sense of purpose and self-esteem during these uncertain times.
  10. Follow the recommended preventive methods to protect against the coronavirus. Doing so will help you feel more in control and increase illness anxiety. The CDC recommends that people do the following to help prevent the spread and contraction of coronavirus and other respiratory viruses:
    » Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
    » Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
    » Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
    » Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. (If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol

Most importantly, stay home, stay safe, stay strong and have hope. We are all dealing with this “new normal.” We will get through this together.