With most city and state governments responding to COVID-19 by asking people to stay home, the world has suddenly become much smaller.
For people already suffering from depression, the self-isolation can be devastating because it forces them to be with their own thoughts. For others, the act of disconnecting from co-workers, family, and friends can create fear, which can lead straight to depression.
Other groups vulnerable to stress by COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are older people with chronic disease, children and teens, healthcare providers, and emergency providers. Common indicators are difficulty sleeping and concentrating, changes in sleep and eating patterns, and fear and worry about one’s health and the health of loved ones.
Mental health professionals say all these groups need to stay engaged and motivated to remain healthy despite instructions to stay put and not straying too far from home.
Here are six tips to help manage your mental health during the outbreak:
- Get creative. Now is an opportunity to explore hobbies or other interests you never had time for in the past. Painting, organizing family photographs, creating an art project, working on a writing project, picking up a musical instrument again, or taking online classes in anything from coding to chess, can help keep your mind active. Remember, loneliness is a public health hazard. If you are already feeling depressed, self-isolation can heighten those symptoms. Immersing yourself into an activity that produces a tangible result will give you a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.
- Listen to music. No, not as background music. Really listen to music that you loved as a younger person, or pull out music you’ve always wanted to explore but had not time to do so in the past. Use headphones to focus. Classical music and opera are especially suited for this moment — Sample different composers and time periods and use the music to relax and untangle your thoughts.
- Go outside. Don’t rush to the mall or grocery store. Instead, because physical activity is imperative to give you that healthy dose of serotonin, walk around the block, stroll through the park, or simply practice stretching exercises in the backyard and feel some fresh air and sun. Make sure you stay close to home and maintain social distancing of at least six feet from other people. Otherwise, break up your day with an activity that will help your body stretch and your mind unwind.
- Connect with old friends. Look people up from your past who you haven’t connected with in a long time. Use Facebook Live, FaceTime, Zoom, Skype, or other digital platforms to spend time with the people who have mattered to you, whether from childhood or former jobs — or even family members who have been out of touch. Make sure your conversations don’t focus only on the outbreak. Talk about real issues and real experiences. Make these conversations opportunities to practice listening skills and to organize your thoughts so you can get the most out of connecting.
- Learn more about your family. Most people have little insight into their family history namely because they don’t have the time to research. Talk with older generations of your family by phone or FaceTime and take down their oral histories. Listen to their stories and ask questions that can lead to revelations about your family they’ve never shared before. Sign up for DNA research sites, or comb through public data online that you can use in your genealogical research. Create a timeline and share it with other family members and ask them to fill in the blanks.
- Daydream. More often than not we never have the time to sit back and let our mind wander. Daydreaming is not for bored children in class looking out the window. It’s something adults should nurture. Reducing stress is an obvious benefit, but daydreaming also can help you become more creative, improve your memory, become more empathetic, achieve life-long goals, and simply feel happier about who you are. Once the COVID-19 epidemic is no longer a threat, you’ll find a renewed sense of self, which will help you move forward and transition back to everyday life.
Natalie Buchwald, LMHC is the founder and clinical director of Manhattan Mental Health Counseling. As a practitioner of holistic psychotherapy, Natalie’s treatment approach places an emphasis on the mind-body relationship and is both experiential and pragmatic.
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