Taking care of your mental health during Coronavirus
It feels like we’ve been stuck at home forever due to the Coronavirus outbreak.
In reality, we are counting our time sheltering-in-place in days and weeks. Time is relative. Many of us have had to adjust to a new reality quickly. And with record-breaking unemployment and an unstable economy, things can feel scary and uncertain.
When a crisis like this takes over our lives, it’s easy to focus on the pragmatic: get groceries, shift in-person meetings to Zoom, find activities to occupy the kids, make sure parents are being cared for, fill out government paperwork.
Yet the one thing we often neglect is our own mental health. Here are 4 tips to help reduce anxiety and improve your ability to cope during uncertain times.
1. Avoid social media
This tip can be included in almost any positive mental health article -- in this case, it’s particularly spot on because there’s still a lot about Coronavirus we don’t know. Speculation on Facebook is just that, speculation -- and that whiplash may be doing more harm than good.
Some anxiety is normal, but our anxious minds can easily go into panic mode with the constant barrage of new information. It’s this panic that causes people to hoard toilet paper in some cases, or dig their heads into the sand in an effort to maintain control in others.
Until we know more, it’s generally a good rule of thumb to stick to one or two unbiased news sources you trust for information (we like the CDC’s website). And you don’t need to be refreshing them every minute -- daily or a couple times a day is just fine.
2. Reframe the crisis
During shelter-in-place, it can feel like you’re “trapped” at home… alone.
In a recent conversation, a friend pointed out how he saw the situation completely differently. His observation kinda blew our minds, in a good way.
Our friend is single and living by himself, so we were initially worried he would feel lonely. But he noted that he doesn't feel alone at all.
Instead, he chooses to focus on the fact that everyone is coping with Coronavirus together, which he sees as a sign we're more connected than ever. And because successful social distancing requires all of us to work together, we’re all part of something bigger. What a reframe!
Research shows cognitive reframing can be a powerful mental technique. We are not a bystander to our thoughts, but we can choose which ones to pay attention to. When negative thoughts creep in, we can also choose to shift our focus to more positive ones. Over time, this can change how we see the world, and thus the anxiety we may feel.
Here’s a great example we found that applies here:
The next time you notice one of the negative thoughts on the left-hand column above, pause and try to remind yourself of what’s on the right. See if that helps shift your thinking over time.
3. Find a new routine
Any change can be hard. A loss of normalcy can make things feel exponentially worse.
Research shows that routines help us cope with change and form healthy habits, like working out. They also create structure to our days, which leads to predictability and order. This is one of the reasons parents develop routines for kids.
While much of our lives has changed from just a week ago, try to find your new routine. It helps if you can maintain some parts of your old routine. For example, if you liked grabbing a cup of coffee on your way to work, find 10 minutes for yourself before video calls to mindfully prepare and enjoy a cup of pour-over coffee at home.
It also helps if routines are tied to some greater sense of purpose or a new skill. At reflect, we started an optional 9am daily virtual team meditation using the Calm app. It’s been a great way to feel connected with colleagues and build a positive new habit.
Bonus: if you’re sharing a small space with a partner or roommates, having separate routines might even help you feel more independent.
4. Make time to connect with others
Being separated from others physically can cause feelings of loneliness, partially because you don’t accidentally run into a coworker in the cafeteria or a friend at the gym. That means we need to be more mindful and find news ways of connecting.
It’s been amazing to see how creative people have gotten. Someone on our team hosted a virtual game night over the weekend and others did group chats with friends from college.
In some ways, we have all become more aware of the importance of connection -- and we think that's quite beautiful.
Over the weekend, we invite you to call a friend or family member you might not have caught up with in a while -- or sit down and share tea with your roommate. We are all going through this uncertain time together. You might be surprised at the connections you build.
No one knows what will happen next -- there’s much we are learning about COVID-19. What we do know is that, regardless of the issue, your mental health has a profound impact on your ability to be resilient during times of uncertainty.
We hope the tips above sparked new ideas that you’re open to trying. If you have suggestions on how you’ve dealt with Coronavirus, leave them in the comments below.
Lastly, crises like this can bring up all sorts of thoughts and behaviors. If you’re in therapy with reflect, we invite you to discuss how you’re feeling with your therapist.
If you’ve not yet tried therapy and would like a venue to process thoughts or find personalized tools to help you cope, our therapists can help. Just click the "Get Matched" button on the top right to take our short survey to get started. (And good news -- reflect is now offering teletherapy during the Coronavirus outbreak to support social distancing)