COVID-19 and Your Mental Health

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Stress, anxiety and concerns about the spread of COVID-19, the evolving news – along with the new normal measures that need to be managed to stop the spread –may be affecting your mental health more than you realize.

We’re all dealing with challenges we’ve never faced before, including distancing from family and friends to grocery shopping cautions; advanced disinfecting measures, economy and financial concerns; to furloughs to educating children at home…the list goes on, and on. All while we are striving to stay healthy to help prevent the virus from spreading!

COVID-19 presents serious matters with very real challenges we’re all facing, which naturally raises concerns. If you are feeling anxious about the COVID-19, preventative measures and the “new normal” — thank your body and mind for alerting you that there is something to be concerned about. Your body and mind are doing what they’re supposed to do.

And along with practicing COVID-19 preventative hygiene, social distancing and maintaining healthy measures, it’s important to find ways to assure your body, mind and emotions that through your proactive actions you have things under control as well as possible! 

Health experts agree, it’s normal to feel stress, concern and anxiousness at this time – and to acknowledge those feelings. However, it’s very important to try to maintain perspective. Here are some tips: 

Managing Stress. Keep in mind the difference between productive stress and destructive stress. Productive stress encourages you to take action and work toward solving a problem. By going on high alert and increasing focus, as well as worry, anxiousness and fear—you more effectively gather information and respond appropriately. 

Destructive stress doesn’t change anything–but it depletes your energy and mental well-being. It’s exhausting and uncomfortable to remain in a state of high alert. It can negatively impact your mood while impairing your sleep, tensing your muscles, elevating your blood pressure and heart rate, and making your thoughts race, thereby robbing you of peace.

You’ll experience stress, anxious thoughts, worries, and, possibly, fear. But it is imperative that you take action towards being productive while using healthy coping skills to manage them so they do not become destructive.   

Stay informed, wisely. The onslaught of information on social media, friends texting or calling with their anxieties, and the 24-7 news broadcasts can be overwhelming and upsetting. While you need to stay informed –tune into credible sources and avoid conspiracy theories, stories with no relevance or benefit, miracle cures, black market testing kits, and blaming. Draw boundaries in conversations, with respect to content and time. Limit news intake to what is actually providing new information. There’s no benefit to watching the same news over and over.

Create calm.  Your body and mind operate best and think most clearly when you’re calm. Taking time to relax, deep breathe, and other relaxation exercises like meditating and yoga, will decrease inflammation and, thus, help to increase immunity. 

Deep breathing is powerful in calming your body and mind—acting as a brake for anxiety that is speeding away at 100 plus miles per hour. Try it now. Take a big deep breath in, hold it for 7 seconds and release it slowly over 7 seconds. Repeat it 5 times. It’s simple, easy, and effective and as long as you’re alive, you are breathing and can do this. 

And, too, consider calming music, aromatherapy and time in nature, if you can. Time outside increases vitamin D and regulates serotonin, which elevates mood, boosts immune function, and improves sleep.  

Take necessary and recommended precautions: As with all dangers, the goal is to be ‘careful enough.’ When you try to ensure 100% safety, you get caught up in unhelpful extreme behaviors.

Keep daily routines. Maintaining regular schedules and routines is a great way to keep anxiety at bay and feel normal. Even if some changes need to be made, maintaining a routine is helpful.

Connect with others. While maintaining social distancing, ensure that you do not experience social isolation. Share feelings with trusted sources and if you need help with your anxiety – reach out to your health professional. If anxiety is impacting daily routines, for example, you can’t sleep, can’t eat (or can’t stop eating), or you can’t concentrate on anything else because of fears of illness, get help from a knowledgeable provider. Telehealth services are available, if you’re unable to see a mental health provider in person.

Keep thoughts in check: During an outbreak like this you can be flooded with messages about the risks to you, loved ones and to daily routines. This can push your physical and mental systems into ‘overdrive’ making it hard to focus on anything but the disease. Keep perspective!

Our children: Reassurance from family goes a long way toward calming them. Let them know that even though there’s still more to learn about COVID-19, it’s up to the adults to figure it out, and they don’t need to worry. Stay positive. Talk about all the things people are doing together to help each other and stay healthy.  It’s a conversation you may need to have many times over the coming days. 

Be productive in new ways. Take time for self-care. Nurture your relationship with loved ones. Start or finish a project (or reading a book) that you had to put on hold. Engage in creative projects or learning new skills. And, too, this is a great time to embrace, strengthen, and rely upon your spiritual beliefs—it can provide great peace and calm. 

It’s important to develop your strategy for managing anxiety, that works for you. Take good care!

Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing truths for healthy, balanced living as well as wise preventive health measures. 

She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist. Author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions and reviews; she is often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.

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