The stress and uncertainty caused by the worldwide pandemic of COVID-19 has prompted discussions about mental health awareness and treatment. Because of the unique situations brought about in 2020, many have faced challenges unlike any they had ever known, and subsequently had to learn how to cope with the additional anxiety. According to a poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, around 53% of adults reported a negative mental health impact from COVID-19, which had increased from 39% just two months prior. Making efforts to reduce these increased feelings of hopelessness is crucial as they can impact physical health as well. As our society is on the road to recovery, we must continue to consider how we can combat pandemic-induced stress through specific actions and behaviors, as well a cultural shift in the importance of meeting and caring for mental needs in a time of crisis.
Though governments all around the world have taken precautions in order to combat the virus, the continued infection rates are not comforting. In the past months, a variety of COVID-related factors have contributed to an increase of stress and anxiety. The most common of these causes has been social isolation, as millions have had to change their routine behaviors for work, school, and gatherings with friends. These adjusted, socially-distant behaviors are far from what we are accustomed to, and the prolonged lack of human contact and sense of normalcy can be detrimental to one’s mental well-being. This situation can be made even worse for individuals who are at a greater risk due to health concerns, as there is stress from not only isolation, but also from fear of contracting the virus outside of the home. For those who have recently started homeschooling as well, the stress of providing adequate education safely for your children can also be a struggle. Physical risk is not the only major role of stress, as the economic downturn has forced many business owners to shut their doors or abandon their business altogether. For these business owners, as well as those who lost their jobs or have had to work reduced hours, financial hardship and uncertainty has become yet another source of major stress and anxiety. Of those who have been fortunate enough to retain their job, many have seen their workspaces move into their homes, while others with certain occupations have experienced different changes. Throughout the pandemic, essential workers, from healthcare to sanitation to grocery, have continued on tirelessly, facing risks every day in order to provide necessary services.
Through the stress, hopelessness, or anxiety that many people feel, taking the time to do something small for your mental health can sometimes make a world of a difference. While some may desire to seek out professional services or medication for their mental health, there are also ways of countering external stress factors by putting these habits into practice at home.
If your way of life has been completely disrupted, the best thing you can do to get your mind on track and motivated is to establish and stick to a routine for yourself. Continuing your routine as closely as possible, such as waking up early and starting and finishing work, can bring about a sense of normalcy. In addition, whatever your routine looks like, remember to set aside time to prioritize your mental needs and practice some self care as necessary.
Though the many lockdowns and virtual interactions, there is a very real feeling of disconnect from others. Even when socializing becomes a challenge, being able to reach out and connect with others is crucial for our mental wellbeing. Because many places are still deemed unsafe due to the current COVID-19 situation, your options for socialization may be limited. Nevertheless, making the effort to consistently reach out to people, even by means of phone or video call, can provide that personal connection with loved ones that we have been craving. For those who are currently homeschooling, keep your children safely socialized as well, as it is important for their personal development. This might look like regularly scheduled Zoom calls with friends, or even joining a pandemic pod. Making the effort to stay connected with social interaction will help keep you from being overwhelmed and provide a sense of relief that you are not going through this alone.
This applies to both physical and mental health. It is beneficial for your mind and body to get up and move or exercise in some way every day. Even if you cannot leave your house, doing some at-home workouts, taking a walk, or even doing some yoga stretching can help you get the movement your body needs every day. In addition, you should also keep your brain active apart from your normal workload. Learning a language, starting a book, or even picking up a hobby (new or old) can provide a sense of accomplishment as well as a productive outlet for learning and exercising your mind,
Avoiding the onslaught of negativity and despair in the news and media can be difficult, but constantly consuming this type of information can take a mental toll. While it is good to be informed and up to date with current events and news, you should not feel obligated to be glued to your screen for any new updates. If you feel the need to limit your intake, you may want to devote only a certain amount of time each day to look at the news. When you feel yourself getting overwhelmed by what you hear, take some time away from the negativity of the news and social media to refresh yourself by refocusing your attention on the things that matter to you and bring you joy. Additionally, it’s good to be careful about where you get your information as misinformation can be found and spread easily. Choose to read from trusted, factual sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control, and avoid only getting information from social media. Regardless of what the situation is at hand, make your thoughts and worries more manageable by focusing on the practical things you can control in your everyday life, such as hand washing and social distancing, instead of the bigger things that are far beyond your control.
Finally, when we feel powerless to do anything meaningful, we can flip that mentality by taking time to do something helpful and give back to others. This could be through giving blood regularly, donating your time and money to a charity organization, or even advocating and spreading awareness for something you care about. Whatever you may choose to do, using our time and resources in this way can bring comfort as we contribute to something greater than ourselves.
As we see both the physical and mental toll of COVID-19 on the world’s population, it is important to take action to promote better mental health awareness, as well as resources and services to help those suffering. Recently, there has been a boom in the telemedicine industry, as there is a growing need for virtual appointments and consultations. Mental health may be heading in the same direction due to social distancing regulations and those at-risk seeking guidance from a therapist. Finally, these are unprecedented times in which we don’t always know the right course of action to take. Encouraging a good understanding of mental health as well as physical health can promote better habits and help provide more accessible care for those who need it.
Sometimes there is only so much you can do to help yourself. Organizations such as the CDC provide useful resources and information about mental health for a variety of situations. If you ever find yourself in need of mental health support or assistance, take advantage of the following resources and get the help you need.
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