As many communities approach the third month of their state’s stay-at-home orders, people of all ages are experiencing stress, fear and anxiety about the future. A survey by the American Psychiatric Association in March 2020 found more than one-third of Americans (36%) believe coronavirus is seriously impacting their mental health and nearly 60% feel coronavirus is seriously impacting their daily lives. The realities of our homes turning into workplaces, schools and gyms have taken a toll on many. Add to this financial stressors caused by layoffs, furloughs and job loss; lack of physical contact with family members, friends and loved ones; and the fear of contracting the virus, and it is clear COVID-19 is impacting our collective mental health —especially those with pre-existing mental health conditions.
Fortunately, there are things we can all do to take care of our mental health during these challenging times:
- Have a routine. Keeping up with daily routines, like getting dressed every morning, rising at the same time during the week and eating dinner with the family provides balance during troubled times and helps us maintain a sense of normality.
- Stay healthy. Try to get 30 minutes of exercise every day or take walks outside (while maintaining proper social distancing requirements). A healthy diet supports your immune system and, according to some large-scale studies like the Nurses’ Health Study and the Women’s Health Initiative, may suggest the possibility of a mood-food connection.
- Stay connected. Even though social distancing may prevent you from being physically present with some family members and friends, utilizing video chats and phone calls can help you stay connected. This time together can reduce the feelings of isolation.
- Minimize exposure to news. Reduce the amount of news you listen to, watch or read, especially if it causes you anxiety. Identify a set time each day when you will read the news to stay informed, and unplug outside of that time.
- Limit alcohol intake. Be sure to limit the amount of alcohol you consume (or cut it out entirely). Alcohol can change the level of serotonin in the brain, which can heighten anxiety.
- Plan “me time.” Set aside time every day to engage in hobbies or activities that you enjoy. During social distancing, people often get lost in their home offices, helping their children with their homework or trying to ensure the needs of their families are met. It is important that you set aside time for you.
Maintaining your mental health is a top priority as our communities navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. If you feel overwhelmed, are struggling to sleep or have thoughts of hurting yourself or others, don’t suffer alone. Contact your primary care provider — like a nurse practitioner — or other health care provider, or reach out to any of the national resources below:
- Crisis Text Line. Text TALK to 741741.
- Disaster Distress Helpline. Call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Call 1-800-273-8255.
While this period of social distancing and isolation is difficult for all of us, know that it’s normal and healthy to seek help and support for your mental health. Treatment is as close as the phone. Together, we will get through this.