The COVID-19 pandemic has likely greatly changed the way you live your life, bringing uncertainty, disrupted daily routines, economic pressures, and social isolation. You may worry about getting sick, how long the pandemic will last, and what the future will bring. Overinformation, rumors, and misinformation can leave you feeling out of control and unclear on what to do.
During the COVID-19 pandemic you may feel stress, anxiety, fear, sadness, and loneliness. Mental health disorders, including anxiety and depression, may get worse.
Surveys show a significant increase in the number of adults in the United States reporting symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression during the pandemic compared to pre-pandemic surveys. Some people have increased their use of alcohol or drugs, thinking that they can help them cope with their fears about the pandemic. In fact, using these substances can make anxiety and depression worse.
People with substance use disorders, especially those addicted to tobacco and opioids, are likely to have worse outcomes if they contract COVID-19 . This is because these addictions can damage lung function and weaken the immune system, causing chronic conditions like heart and lung disease, increasing the risk of serious complications from COVID-19 .
For all these reasons, learn self-care strategies and seek the care you need to help you cope with this situation.
Self-care measures are good for your physical and mental health, and they can help you take control of your life. Take care of your body and mind, and connect with others for the benefit of your mental health.
Take care of your body
Pay attention to your physical health:
- Sleep enough. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. Follow your normal schedule, even if you are staying home.
- Get regular physical activity. Regular physical activity and exercise can help reduce anxiety and improve mood. Find an activity that includes movement, such as dance, or exercise apps. Go outside in an area where it is easy to keep your distance from other people, such as a nature trail or your own patio.
- Eat healthy. Choose a well balanced diet. Avoid eating junk food and refined sugar. Limit caffeine, as it can aggravate stress and anxiety.
- Avoid tobacco, alcohol, and drugs. If you smoke tobacco or if you vape you are already at a higher risk of lung disease. Since COVID-19 affects the lungs, your risk increases even more. Drinking alcohol to cope can make things worse and reduce your ability to cope. Avoid taking drugs as a means of coping unless your doctor has prescribed medication.
- Limit screen time. Turn off electronic devices for some time every day, and do so 30 minutes before bed as well. Make an effort to spend less time in front of a screen – be it television, tablet, computer or phone.
- Relax and recharge your batteries. Make time for yourself. Even a few quiet minutes can refresh you and help calm your mind and reduce anxiety. Many people benefit from practices like deep breathing, tai chi, yoga, or meditation. Take a bubble bath, listen to music, or read or listen to a narrated book – whatever helps you relax. Pick a technique that works for you, and practice it regularly.
Take care of your mind
Reduce stress triggers:
- Maintain your normal routine. Keeping a regular schedule is important to your mental health. In addition to maintaining a regular bedtime routine, have consistent times for meals, bathing and dressing, work or study hours, and exercise. Also take some time to do activities that you enjoy. This procedure can make you feel like you have more control.
- Limit your exposure to the media. The constant news about COVID-19 in all types of media may contribute to fear about this disease. Limit your use of social media that can expose you to rumors and false information. Limit reading, listening, or watching other news, but check frequently on national and local recommendations. Look for reputable sources, such as the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the World Health Organization (WHO).
- Keep busy. A distraction can take you away from the cycle of negative thoughts that fuel anxiety and depression. Enjoy hobbies that you can do at home, identify a new project or organize that closet as you promised to do one day. Doing something positive to control anxiety is a healthy coping strategy.
- Focus on positive thoughts. Choose to focus on the positive things in your life rather than on how bad you feel. Consider starting each day by making a list of the things you are thankful for. Maintain a sense of hope, strive to accept changes when they arise, and try to put problems in perspective.
- Use your moral values or your spiritual life for support. If your beliefs give you strength, they can give you comfort in difficult times.
- Set priorities. Don’t get overwhelmed by creating a list of life-changing things you want to accomplish while staying home. Set reasonable goals every day, and outline the steps to achieve them. Recognize your accomplishments for every step in the right direction, no matter how small. And accept that some days will be better than others.
Connect with other people
Organize your support network and make your relationships stronger:
- Form connections. If you need to stay home and distance yourself from others, avoid social isolation. Find a time each day to make virtual connections by email, text, phone or FaceTime or similar applications. If you’re telecommuting from home, ask your colleagues how they’re doing, and share coping tips. Enjoy making virtual sociability and talking with those who live in your house.
- Do something for others. Find a purpose by helping the people around you. For example, send email or texts or call to see how your friends, family, and neighbors are doing – especially those who are older adults. If you know of someone who can’t go out, ask if they need anything, such as things from the store or to have a medicine brought to them from the pharmacy. Make sure to follow the CDC , WHO, and your government’s recommendations on social distancing and group meetings.
- Support a family member or friend. If a family member or friend needs to isolate themselves for safety reasons or becomes ill and needs to quarantine at home or in the hospital, think of ways to stay in touch. For example, you can do it with electronic devices or the phone, or send him a note to brighten his day.
How to recognize what is typical and what is not
Stress is a normal psychological and physical reaction to the demands of life. We all react differently to difficult situations, and it is normal to feel stressed and worried during a crisis. But multiple daily challenges, like the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic , can affect you beyond your ability to cope.
Many people may have mental health disorders, such as symptoms of anxiety and depression, during this time. Feelings can change over time.
Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling helpless, sad, angry, irritable, hopeless, anxious, or scared. Maybe you have trouble concentrating on routine tasks, changes in appetite, body aches or trouble sleeping, or you have a hard time coping with everyday tasks.
When these signs and symptoms last for several days in a row, leaving you feeling miserable and causing problems in your daily life so that you find it difficult to carry out your normal responsibilities, it is time to ask for help.
Ask for help when needed
Waiting for mental health problems like anxiety or depression to go away on their own can lead to symptoms getting worse. If you are worried, or if you notice that your mental health symptoms are getting worse, ask for help when you need it and be honest about how you feel. To get help, maybe the best thing to do is:
- Call or use social media to communicate with a close friend or loved one, even if it is difficult to talk about your feelings.
- Get in touch with a pastor, spiritual leader, or other person in your religious community.
- Contact your employee assistance program if your employer has one, for advice or to request a referral to a mental health professional.
- Call your primary healthcare provider, or mental health professional, to ask about appointment options to discuss your anxiety or depression, and receive advice and guidance. Some may offer the option of phone, video, or online appointments.
- Contact organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) or Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) for help and guidance.
If you think about suicide or hurting yourself, seek help. Contact your primary healthcare provider or a mental health professional. Or call a suicide prevention hotline. In the United States, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or use their webchat at suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat.
Continue with your self-care strategies.
You can expect your current strong feelings to go away when the pandemic ends, but stress is not going to go away from your life when COVID-19 ends . Continue with these self-care practices to take care of your mental health and increase your ability to meet the ongoing challenges of life.