Caring for your Mental Health during the Coronavirus Pandemic
The Coronavirus pandemic has turned our world completely upside down in a multitude of ways. Our sense of normalcy, safety, security, and grounding have been stripped from us in a matter of weeks and with that, there is a sense that our lives will never go back to normal. Because of this, you may be experiencing a multitude of emotions, including fear, worry, anxiety, stress, frustration, grief, and sadness.
Because of the significant stressors you may be experiencing, it can be easy to put your mental health needs on the backburner. I’d like to offer some suggestions that can help you support your mental health during this time, in order to alleviate some of the emotional burden you may be feeling right now.
Allow yourself flexibility - Under regular circumstances, you may notice that you crave structure, organization, and control. You may have certain expectations about the state of your home, your job productivity, your emotional groundedness, or the attention you give to your children, family, or partner. These days, though, our lives have been completely upended and we are being forced to live in ways that are challenging and difficult. You may suddenly be home with your partner and young children all day or you may suddenly be spending all your time quarantined with your parents with whom you have little in common, or you may be completely alone and struggling with feeling isolated and lonely.
Giving yourself room to lower your expectations and expand your flexibility can be very relieving during this time. Radically accepting that your home is going to be a mess, that you may not be able to devote the same level of energy and dedication to your job while working from home, that you may feel scattered and unfocused, or that you’re experiencing your emotions more intensely can reduce an immense amount of pressure that you may be putting on yourself. This time, more than ever, implores us to be as gentle with ourselves as we can possibly be. This is a time to try to let go of any harmful expectations and to acknowledge your vulnerability, fears, and humanity.
Let yourself feel what you feel - You do not have to “get it together” emotionally right now. You may be putting pressure on yourself to suppress difficult emotions these days. Now is an important time to let yourself feel your emotions and be honest with yourself. Along with that, you do not have to achieve any major goals right now, like cleaning out your home, reading all the unread novels on your bookshelf, or taking up a major hobby. If you need a day to lie in bed and cry, let yourself do it. If you need some time to feel angry, mournful, or sad, let yourself. If you don’t accomplish anything major for the next few weeks or months, that’s okay.
And if you find that your emotions are leading you towards self-destructive or possibly harmful behaviors, know that there are resources out there to support you. Most therapists have transitioned to online and telehealth practices at this time and are willing and able to provide support. You can do a local therapist search online or on directories, such as Psychology Today, in order to find a provider who can provide support and guidance through this difficult time.
Limit media consumption - You may find yourself glued to your phone or TV during this time, waiting for updates and information regarding the Coronavirus. This makes sense. When we’re experiencing heightened anxiety and uncertainty, checking for new information may feel like a way to obtain solid answers and updates, thus providing a sense of certitude in a time when everything feels tenuous and shaky. At the same time, an obsessive focus on the news can also provoke feelings of anxiety, depression, and fear, especially when the updates are bleak and grim. I encourage you to find a healthy middle ground when it comes to consuming news and social media at this time. You may want to limit yourself to watching the news for an hour or to briefly check on updates in the morning and evening. This offers a balance where you’re still keeping abreast of updates and developments without being entirely consumed by the everchanging (and often scary) landscape of changes that are taking place at this time.
Stay as present as you can - One of the fear-inducing aspects of the Coronavirus is the uncertainty about how long the virus and the way it is impacting our lives will last. You may be experiencing intense fear and worry as you wonder about how long you will have to socially distance or shelter in place, how long you will be out of a job, or how your job will be affected as the pandemic continues. You may worry about your loved ones getting sick and dying, or about contracting the virus yourself. Your mind may begin swirling in a pool of “what ifs.” “What if my mom dies from this disease?” “What if I can’t find a new job and can’t support my family?” “What if I go to the grocery store and contract the virus?”
First off, if you notice you are having thoughts like these, I want to offer you my compassion and love. These are such valid fears and worries to be experiencing at this time. This virus is so scary and is impacting our world in ways we never could have predicted or imagined - it makes absolute sense if you are having these kinds of thoughts. The trouble with these thoughts is that they can often lead nowhere. You cannot jump into the future and achieve certainty right now about how your health, finances, or loved ones will be affected, no matter how much you may find yourself worrying about the future in the attempt to find an answer. So if you do catch yourself experiencing vivid worries about the future, I encourage you to gently bring yourself back to the present moment. Focus on what you DO know right now, on your current health, on your current state of affairs. Focus on the things you can do now to control your health or manage your finances. You will likely feel a sense of relief by taking active steps to care for yourself, your family, and your stability, and by decreasing the amount of time you find yourself worrying about a future you simply cannot control or predict right now.
Go outside/move your body - If you feel comfortable doing so, going outside can be a highly effective way to boost your well-being. Being cooped up at home can increase physical aches and pains and can allow your worries to run rampant. Going outdoors is still considered safe as long as you remain socially distanced from others. Spending time outside, taking in the sunlight, sounds of nature, and sights of trees, birds, flowers, and animals can provide a healthy distraction from any intense emotions you may be feeling. Moving your body will change your physiology, activating a calming physical response that can soothe some of your emotions. Finding a few minutes a day where you can connect with nature can do wonders for your mental health right now.
I hope some of these suggestions provide a little bit of relief for you during this strange, scary, and uncertain time. I am wishing for your continued safety and health, both physically and emotionally.