The COVID-19 crisis is an unprecedented challenge for all of us, and it’s putting new strains on our mental health. After all, as humans, we are both highly social and highly anxious creatures. We’ve evolved to have these qualities because they help us survive – but they also make this time of social distancing, uncertainty, and fear extremely difficult. Nevertheless, it is possible to remain calm and maybe even happy during this period of global crisis. It requires taking an intentional and proactive approach to mental health, which we’ll discuss below in these tips for staying mentally healthy amid coronavirus.
Stick to a routine. Shelter-in-place orders, social distancing measures, and work-from-home requirements mean that we’re having to alter our daily routines significantly. But that doesn’t mean we have to let go of them entirely. In fact, doing so can lead us to feel disoriented, directionless, and unproductive. Sure, starting the day with two hours of Netflix may be fun for a day or two, but it soon starts to take a toll on mental health. Rather than giving into the tendency to shun routines in this time of vast change and uncertainty, create a new daily routine for yourself and/or your family, and stick to it. Following a routine is comforting and offers a sense of normalcy. It also boosts productivity and, when working from home, helps the day to feel more like a work day. With many of us having to balance work and watching children who are also stuck at home, it’s inevitable that our routines may change slightly from one day to the next – but having a basic pattern to follow each morning (i.e. wake up, eat breakfast, shower, get ready) is a fantastic way to set yourself up for a productive and relatively normal-feeling day.
Go outside. Many of us have been ordered to stay at home with the exception of essential travel, but most of these shelter-in-place orders include exceptions for outdoor activities like hiking so long as we maintain a safe distance from others (about six feet). Staying inside all day is a recipe for stir-craziness and claustrophobia. As often as possible, get outside, whether it’s by yourself or with others in your household. Play family games in the backyard. Walk the dog around the neighborhood. Go for a hike at a local nature trail. Enjoying the great outdoors makes us feel happier, offers a sense of freedom, and keeps cabin fever at bay – not to mention, it’s a great way to wear kids out and keep them happy. Just be sure to stay at least six feet away from others (excluding household members) at all times.
Minimize your exposure to news media. While it’s important to stay informed about things that affect our health and safety, checking the news every hour during a time like this can be detrimental to mental wellness. Realistically, you will be fine without knowing the number of new coronavirus cases or deaths in a certain country – in fact, you’ll probably be better off not knowing. Checking the news obsessively can lead to feelings of hopelessness, depression, and constant fear. Try a system where you and another adult in your household take turns checking the news once each day. This way, you’ll stay informed about any important updates in your area, but won’t become overloaded by doom and gloom.
Meditate. Despite common misconceptions, everyone is capable of meditating. It’s not easy and at times may feel uncomfortable, but it’s one of the best things we can do for our mental health. Meditation trains our brains to remain focused on the present moment rather than becoming lost in anxiety and fears about the future. Start by focusing on your breath for just five minutes a day – paying attention to the slow rise and fall of your inhale and exhale. Let it soothe you, like the sound of waves rising and falling in the ocean. Many people find it helpful to either begin or end their meditation practice by reading a calming passage from the Bible.
When anxiety was great within me
Your consolation brought me joy.