Do you feel lonely, afraid, stressed out or anxious in these days of social distancing and 24/7 COVID-19 coverage? If so, you’re not alone! These are tough times, to say the least.
COVID-19 has turned our lives upside down in more ways than most of us could have imagined just a few short weeks ago. The virus, the economy, the social distancing – each of these on their own is enough to cause stress, but together they can negatively affect our mental health and well-being.
You might experience:
- Fear or worry about your health and that of your loved ones
- Changes in sleep or eating patterns
- Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
- Worsening of existing health problems, like chronic disease flares
- Increased alcohol, drug or tobacco use
Stress can also increase your risk of illness — including getting COVID-19. Although short-term acute stress can boost immunity, stress that is severe or goes on for too long can cause chronic inflammation, which can lead to inflammatory diseases like heart disease and diabetes. Studies of people with COVID-19 show that those kinds of diseases increase the risk of severe illness from the virus.
That’s why it’s important — now more than ever — to protect your mental health. Doing so can boost your immunity and lower your risk of illness.
To help you, we’ve gathered these tips from health experts and organizations:
- Stay informed, but make sure your news sources are reliable, and avoid the TV or computer if all the news causes too much stress.
It’s good to know what’s going on, but not if you’re receiving misinformation or hearing rumors that stoke fear. Look instead for news from local health officials and reputable health agencies and organizations, like the CDC or NIH. If you find it overwhelming, consider checking sites or watching news updates only once or twice a day for 10-20 minutes at a time.
- Stay connected to friends, family, and community. Social distancing doesn’t have to mean social isolation.
Call or text friends to chat, or arrange a video call using an app like Skype or FaceTime. Reach out for help if you need it, and offer help if you’re able. There’s nothing like helping someone else to take your mind off your own struggles and help you feel a sense of purpose.
- Take time out to unwind and focus on something you enjoy.
Schedule time each day — throughout the day if possible — to focus on something other than COVID-19. Do something you enjoy that can help take your mind off your worries. Mindfulness, meditation, breathing exercises, and journaling can help you “be in the present,” and find a sense of calm. Consider keeping a gratitude journal to help you focus on the positives!
- Take care of your physical health to improve your mental health — the two are intertwined. To practice good physical self-care:
Include leafy greens and plenty of fruits and vegetables with a focus on including lots of colors (“eat the rainbow” — this can boost immunity). Be sure to get enough protein and healthy fats, avoid processed foods and added sugar (these can lower immunity!)
Water aids metabolism, which means it’s also important for immune health, and becoming dehydrated can cause fatigue, headaches and muscle cramps. Try to drink about half of your body weight in ounces of water each day. For example, If you weigh 200 lbs, aim for 100 oz. of water – but add a little more if you’re really active or if you drink alcohol (add a glass of water for each alcoholic drink you have, and hydrate before and after drinking alcohol). Of course, if you’ve been told to limit fluids, check with your clinician about proper hydration.
Limit alcohol intake.
Having three or more drinks each day can lower your immunity.
Get plenty of sleep.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to nine hours each night for adults.
Regular physical activity can reduce stress and improve your mood and your health. Just do something you like that’s appropriate for your fitness level, and talk to your clinician before starting any exercise regimen.
- Monitor your stress level so you can recognize when it gets out of hand and when to seek mental health care.
Trouble concentrating, irritability and anger, fatigue, stomach problems and difficulty sleeping are common signs of stress. But if you have constant and excessive worry that keeps you from completing daily tasks or taking care of yourself or your family, or if you notice a big change in your energy level, eating habits or sleeping patterns, call your clinician or Employee Assistance Program, if you have one, for guidance. If you have thoughts of suicide or about harming yourself in any way, seek help immediately by calling 911 or by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also text “Start” or “Got5” to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
Do you have a child or children experiencing high-stress levels and anxiety due to COVID-19? Are you a caregiver for an older adult? Do you have an existing mental health disorder that is or could be worsened by COVID-19 stress and anxiety? The New York State Office of Mental Health has a helpful resource that addresses each of these.
Are you experiencing substance use issues like excessive alcohol use or drug use? Call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990, or text TalkWithUs to 66746 (TTY 1-800-846-8517). The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse or Alcoholism also has resources for those experiencing problems with alcohol use.