Caring for Your Mental Health During a Pandemic

The current outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) has created a high period of stress for people around the world. Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations; how you are responding to the outbreak depends in part on your background, your community, your support system, and any preexisting mental health conditions you may have.

It is very normal to be feeling stress during an infectious disease outbreak due to  fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones. Increasingly, as we move through the days of this situation, stress is also extending to financial fears and worry for people, especially those who are working in hard hit industries (like the service/hospitality industry). It is critical to be mindful of anxiety, as it may lead to a host of issues, including but not limited to: changes in sleep or eating patterns, difficulty sleeping or concentrating, worsening of chronic health problems, increased use of alcohol/drugs.

It is so helpful to be around others and feel our sense of community at a time like this. We need to be mindful that while we are home and isolating for the safety of ourselves and others, we risk feeling lonely, anxious, and quite down. It is important that we find ways to connect as we process the new norm (for now). Especially in times of stress, self-care is of the utmost importance, as we all work to weather this storm together. Staying attuned to physical health and any new presenting symptoms is at the forefront of everyone’s minds. Equally important is our need to pay attention to our mind, emotions, relationships, environment, time, and resources.

Here are some tips to build self-care into your new environment of social distancing.

Update (and separate) your living and workspace.
We are all in an extreme version of nesting, so take some time to ensure that your space is aesthetically pleasing and/or soothing to you. Gretchen Rubin always says, “outer order promotes inner calm.” Taking a few moments to carve out and tidy up a workstation can go a long way. While you are at it, try to move toward a window to get some natural light and put up pictures or artwork that help inspire you.  See if you can find ways to separate your work and living space.  It might be helpful to have a designated home desk.  If this is not possible, find ways to separate work time from home time.  This may mean taking a walk, doing something creative, or even physically putting your computer and papers away at the end of the workday.

Reboot and recharge.
Just like our electronic devices, sometimes we need to step away to power up our energy levels again. Many people working from home find that they don’t get up as much as they used to in the lab or office. Make it a point to set a timer and stretch every 30-60 minutes. Go for a walk if you can. Open windows and get fresh air. Have lunch away from your designated workspace. Video chat a friend or colleague to feel more connected.  Figuring our what little things you can do to help you feel in control at a time of uncertainly can add a much needed sense of calm and structure into our days.

Build a routine that works for you.
Many people have been sharing ideas of schedules and activities, especially for parents now in charge of homeschooling. If it stresses you out to have every 20-minute chunk of time scheduled, then don’t do it; however, having a general routine and some order in your day can be beneficial, not only for yourself but for children as well.

Focus on calm and positivity.
There are many things outside of our individual control right now. Helping to protect publish health by staying at home is one thing we should all be doing. Often our thoughts and ideas escalate to what more we should be doing. Check your negative cognitions (“I am not doing enough”) and shift them to more positive thoughts (“This is a tough time and I am doing the best I can given the circumstances”).

While we are social distancing, try to be a good support to others and remember to be kind to ourselves.

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