This is a strange and difficult time for everyone’s mental health, to say the least. The uncertainty brought by the coronavirus pandemic can trigger anxiety, the isolation of social distancing can trigger depression, and the focus on washing hands can lead to compulsive behaviors.
In a situation like this, we need to be kind to ourselves and others by taking stock of our emotions and caring for our mental health.
Coping with uncertainty
One danger of uncertainty is that it leads us to create stories and fill in the blanks. We do this all the time in normal circumstances, so it makes sense that we would fall back on this behavior in this time of stress. The trouble is that we often act on these stories.
For example, here and in many parts of the country, people made up a story about running out of toilet paper. Hoarding toilet paper became one way some people could regain a sense of control.
If you didn’t run out to buy a case of TP, it’s easy to feel judgment toward others who did. However, maybe toilet paper wasn’t your item of choice and you bought extra beans, rice, flour. Or, maybe you didn’t buy anything extra and instead became vigilant about diet, exercise, hand-washing, reading the news, etc.
Many of these activities are healthy—in proper doses. However, it’s good to keep our stories in perspective with these habits of mind:
- Recognize when you are making up a story, often with exaggeration. Watch for times you are using extreme words like “always” and “never.”
- Recognize how this story is making you feel. Are you tense? Breathing fast?
- Fact check your story with someone you trust.
- Distract yourself with something that will prevent you from focusing on the false story.
Focus on what you CAN control
Even in the most difficult times, you can control many things that directly affect your physical and mental health, including:
- What you put into your body. Healthy food and water are the best way to support your immune system.
- How you move your body. You can walk, run, stretch, or follow a workout video.
- Where you go and the exposure risks you create and take. Bottom line, stay home!
- Washing your hands often and not touching your face.
You can also protect your mental health by controlling your activities. Many people in our community have lost their daily routines because of school closures, businesses closing, layoffs, or being told to work from home. It’s so important right now to create your own daily schedule and stick to it. This starts with following your usual morning routine of waking up and getting ready for the day, including getting dressed. After that, you may work from home or spend time doing an enjoyable activity.
Perhaps you’d like to learn a new skill, research a topic you’ve always been interested in, get crafty with art and music, or try new recipes. The most important thing is to keep your mind and body active doing things that support your mental health.
You may be experiencing many emotions right now—grief, relief, sadness, anxiety, anger, joy, love—and sometimes all at once. Whatever you are feeling is okay. Allow yourself to feel and express your emotions in healthy ways. You could write in a journal; engage in a hobby you find therapeutic; talk to supportive people by phone, text or video chat; or schedule a virtual counseling session.
Limiting information overload
As with so many things, social media can be both helpful and harmful. On one hand, it’s a way to stay in touch with friends and family; on the other, we may feel overburdened by the tragedy of what’s happening in the lives of acquaintances.
With social media, it is strongly advised you choose sites and apps that make you happy and leave you feeling inspired. Limit those that don’t. If you must check on friends with social media, set a timer and sign out before you get pulled into posts that are upsetting to you.
Be aware of how often and how long you are checking the news. Ask yourself how it’s making you feel. If it’s anything but good, walk away.
Science that tells us that excessive worry can weaken our immune system. This is such a different situation from anything we have experienced that our usual coping tools may not be enough. Please find what works for you to best accept the uncertainty and enhance your mental health which will further protect your physical health.