By: Kyle Kermott, Psy.D.
The world is grappling with an enormous pandemic that is unprecedented in our lifetimes. The coronavirus is causing the disruption of the world economy, the health care systems on many countries, and the lives of millions – if not billions – of people. Considering the extent of this pandemic, and how unfamiliar we all are in dealing with such a major issue, it’s common for us to feel anxious, stressed, scared, and many other intense emotions.
While it’s always important to focus on your mental health, it’s especially important to do so during such uncertain times. To aid in this, I am presenting 10 things you can do to help yourself mentally during the Coronavirus epidemic. Of course, on the top of such a list, I would be remiss if I didn’t put “See a therapist.” But in an effort to not be too self-serving, I’ve decided against including such a directive. (Except, of course, for the one I just gave right now…)
1. Stay connected. As many states move toward partial or total quarantine, it’s common for people to feel isolated. In order to combat this feeling, it’s important to make it a point to connect with friends, family, and loved ones. During our everyday lives, we can sometimes get so caught up in work or other obligations that we neglect relationships. Use this disruption of everyday life to reconnect with those who are important to you.
2. Maintain a schedule and work towards daily goals. Research is pretty clear that having a routine can decrease depression, anxiety, and general stress. We tend to function better when we have structure around us. But since many of us have lost much of our normal structure, it falls to you to create your own schedule for yourself. It’s especially important to set regular times for waking up and going to bed. But you can also include in your schedule activities, chores, leisure, and other things that you want to accomplish each day. You will get a sense of satisfaction to not only have the structure, but to also check things off your list.
3. Spend time outside. This one is a little tricky because of the mandates to engage in social distancing. However, if you can find a space where you can spend time outside that has minimal interaction with others, getting outside can be a great way to help your mood. Sunlight and fresh air have been proven to lift depressed mood and decrease anxiety.
4. Exercise. You are probably familiar with all of the research that demonstrates how beneficial exercise is to your mood, cognition, sleep, and sense of well-being, so I won’t harp on it here. But with many of us spending extended time inside, it’s important to find time to get your blood flowing. Whether inside or outside, engaging in at least 30 minutes of exercise, 3-5 times a week, can do wonders for how you feel and how you manage this difficult time.
5. Focus on things you can control. The Coronavirus pandemic has created a lot of discomfort and uncertainty in our communities and the world. We can feel helpless trying to find some certainty about this pandemic. And we can feel overwhelmed by all of the rapid changes this is causing for the world at large, and us individually. Therefore, it’s important to focus on the things in your life that you have control over. You can’t control government decisions, changes in the market or businesses, or how the health care system manages the rising number of cases. So instead of focusing on these, think about the things you can control. For example, you can control what you eat, when you get up in the morning, what activities you will do during the day, the self-care you will give yourself, etc. Focusing on these things will help you feel more stable and calmer, and less overwhelmed by the atmosphere of this pandemic.
6. Advocate for yourself. There are so many changes being made to the workforce and markets that many people are feeling the pain of either losing a job or having to endure reduced wages or hours. Even though we can feel powerless to affect change in the face of such a massive pandemic, it’s important to advocate for your needs during this time. Now, more than ever, you need to speak up about what you need from others, from work, from health care, etc. Don’t let this situation silence you from making sure that you feel heard and responded to.
7. Stay informed, but don’t overwhelm yourself. It’s important to be informed about the pandemic, especially since there are daily changes to how the Coronavirus is being dealt with in our country and communities. Staying informed can help keep you safe and prepared. However, the news cycle is filled with painful and scary stories about the spread of this illness, and being inundated by such material can make you feel overwhelmed. Therefore, it’s important to limit how much information you consume on a daily basis. Think about taking in enough information so that you know what’s going on, but not so much that you start to feel overwhelmed, panicked, or anxious. At a certain point, consuming so much of this negative news can be too much for all of us.
8. Get information from the experts. It’s no secret that the internet and social media have given rise to a lot of misinformation. We all face the challenge of getting information that is accurate and reputable, and this is especially important during such an uncertain time. When consuming the news, it’s useful to try to seek out experts on the topics being discussed. For example, with the coronavirus, try to find information from scientists and doctors leading the charge on combating this epidemic.
9. Practice mindfulness. When faced with all of the questions and uncertainties related to the coronavirus, it’s common to feel anxious and for our minds to “jump to the future” and try to plan and anticipate how our lives will look days, weeks, or months from now. However, we have no way of knowing what the future will look like, and many times, ruminating about the future can actually make it harder to deal with what’s happening in the present. Therefore, it’s important to try to keep your attention in the present, which can be aided by mindfulness. In short, mindfulness is being aware of the present moment: how you are feeling, what you are thinking, what’s going on around you, etc. A quick and easy way to practice mindfulness is to take 5 deep, slow breaths, while focusing all of your attention on the breath entering and leaving your body. This helps bring your attention to what’s right in front of you, and can help you stop stressing about what the future holds.
10. Work through your boredom (not try to get rid of it). This is probably the most complicated of these steps (which is why I’m putting it at the end). But boredom isn’t just an uncomfortable feeling that we generally don’t like experiencing. Boredom is also a signal to us of something we are missing. Therefore, instead of just trying to entertain yourself when you are bored, take a moment to reflect on why you feel bored, and why you feel bored now. Doing so can actually give you valuable insight into yourself and what you need during this time. For example, if you are feeling bored at lunchtime, that could be a signal that you miss the companionship of co-workers you would eat with. Or if you feel bored in the evening, it may be a sign that you didn’t accomplish as much as you wanted to during the day; or the inverse could be true and you feel bored because you worked too hard during the day and you can’t tolerate the “down time.” Regardless, instead of just pushing the boredom away, see if you can understand what the boredom is trying to tell you.
Kyle Kermott, Psy.D. is a Clinical Psychologist practicing in Irvine, and serving the surrounding areas of Newport Beach, Costa Mesa, Tustin, and Orange County. As a therapist, he specializes in therapy for depression and anxiety.