COVID-19 is a danger to the health of society as a whole, but the rapid spread of the virus affects people in other ways. Some people are fearful that their loved ones (or themselves) will get gravely ill and need hospitalization. Others are afraid of food shortages, unemployment, and financial insecurity. The virus affects us in many ways, and not just by physical infection. The stress that comes with social isolation, uncertainty, and fear has led to a mass increase in depression and anxiety nationwide. As a result, now more than ever it is vital that you take steps to protect your mental health.
The shelter at home mandate makes matters worse. For most, being home day and night, away from friends, families, and their normal routine is a sudden and difficult challenge. But there’s light at the end of the tunnel — the current situation may be tough, but it’s temporary. Some of the hardest-hit countries, such as China, Italy, and Spain, are coming out of the strongest quarantine phases, and slowly resuming their pre-coronavirus lifestyle.
While the US rides out the pandemic, it’s important to focus on both your physical and your mental health. The two are related — consider the following suggestions to help strengthen and support both.
1. Protect Your Mental Health By Maintaining a Daily Routine
The loss of our daily routine may be one of the hardest parts of the current situation. Social distancing may be necessary to safeguard the health of the public, but staying home and away from others is detrimental to the mental health of many.
People who once worked out at the gym, or would meet with friends for dinner and a movie on a Friday night may be feeling a giant void. Establishing a daily routine to replace what’s missing is a good way to keep you busy and productive until this all passes. Some good activities to add to your daily routine include:
- Food preparation
- Phone calls, video chats, or social media time to connect with friends and family
- Developing a new skill or talent
- Physical activity
Most of us would also be well-served by adding weekly counseling sessions to our routine, especially during times of high stress. Many mental health therapists are still actively seeing clients and accepting new ones, though many have temporarily moved to telehealth due to social distancing regulations.
This may be a great time to look into online counseling, especially if you have limited access to brick-and-mortar services, live in a remote area, or do not feel comfortable with face-to-face situations. We strongly recommend two platforms, both of which offer discounts for our readers. We have tested and reviewed both Talkspace and BetterHelp, and have found their services to be extraordinary. BetterHelp currently offers 10% off for new members. With this link, Talkspace offers $65 off with the code APPLY65. (sponsored links)
2. Limit the Amount of Time You Watch the News
The media’s coverage of the pandemic can create confusion, fear, and anxiety. Information about the outbreak is continuously changing. While it’s important to be informed about any new developments, it’s all too easy to get sucked into the more negative and unproductive side of the news.
Set aside a short amount of time to catch up on the news — or if you can, avoid it altogether. Choose to read a newspaper or publication of your choice, instead, that may provide an objective or less sensationalistic coverage of the pandemic and how it relates to you.
We all know the saying that goes “You are what you eat.” Well, we are also what we watch, listen to, and see. If you struggle with anxiety and depression, too much news will only make your symptoms worse. Less is most certainly more.
3. Prioritize Your Health
The gut is known as the second brain. When your body is balanced, your mind, emotions, and overall wellbeing are likely to be, as well. The mind-body connection can play an important role during difficult times. Take advantage of this extended period of time at home to create a holistic health routine that involves physical activity and eating well.
Make time to take a daily walk outside or go for a run. Yes, there are many public places where you can get sick from COVID-19 and other illnesses, but if you stick to large, open areas, keep a safe distance of at least six feet from others, wear a mask, and wash your hands the moment you get home, your chances of contracting the virus are probably low.
Besides some outdoor activity to soak in the sun, schedule a home workout. There are plenty of workout podcasts and videos available for all levels of activity. Consider doing a daily yoga workout — it’s not only good for the body, but the breathing exercises are excellent for restoring your inner peace and tranquility.
Finally, don’t forget to eat wholesome, nutritious foods. Keep a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables available for snacks. Learn to prepare new and healthy dishes. And reward yourself here and there with a treat like a cupcake or some chocolate.
4. Update Your Home
Your home surroundings can greatly affect your moods and mental health. Now that you’re home more, take the time to make changes to your environment. One of the simplest ways to do so is to declutter your living spaces. Go through one room at a time and decide what you’re willing to keep, what should be donated, and what can be discarded. Decluttering will open up your living areas and make cleaning much easier.
Brighten up your spaces. Seasonal depression is real — and a study found that spending time in a lighter, brighter room helped alleviate the symptoms. Some ways you can brighten up your home are:
- Open up your windows more often
- Replace dark and heavy sheers
- Add more lighting in the form of table or floor lamps
- Replace light bulbs with upgraded versions that replicate the temperature of daylight (4,600K to 6,500K)
- Paint the room in a lighter, brighter color
- Strategically place more mirrors to reflect the natural sunlight that comes in from outdoors
Just a few small steps can make all the difference in how you feel while you’re sheltering at home.
5. Set Realistic Goals (But Dream Big)
One of the opportunities you may remember most when this is all over is the time you took to learn something you’ve always wanted to learn, or how you made a plan to follow your goals and dreams. The pandemic can also be a time for personal growth and development. Goals have a way of focusing our minds on healthy objectives. They can be excellent tools for mental health management.
Use this time to work on the goals you’ve had on the backburner for ages. Sign up for free language classes. Take a MasterClass on a subject of your choice (sponsored link). Finish working on that book you’ve been wanting to write. And if you’ve always wanted to take a vacation overseas, take singing lessons, or start a craft business but could never afford it, there’s no better time to save for your goals than now (sponsored link).
A no-spend challenge may also be a great way to save towards your goals. Enlist other friends to do it along with you.
We all have an opportunity during this unusual time to pursue goals, improve health and wellbeing, and improve who we are as people. Let’s not squander this opportunity. The suggestions we’ve given you are designed to jumpstart that process.
But more importantly, these suggestions will help you protect your mental health and/or manage any number of mental health conditions that can result from a traumatic experience, from acute stress to clinical depression. In times of crisis, people need a sense of purpose and a set of tasks to complete in order to feel useful and centered. The short term benefits of following these suggestions are better mental and physical well-being. The long term benefits could very well be that you end up becoming a better version of yourself.
The foundations you set today can serve you for years after the COVID-19 crisis is over. Don’t squander this time of sheltering — it may pass quickly, leaving you with regrets that you didn’t take advantage of.