As the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to create global shutdowns, Mayor Garcetti orders a “Safer at Home” emergency order that instructs all residents of Los Angeles county to stay at home and limit movement outside of taking care of essential needs. With the number of infected residents increasing every day, this action serves to combat the further spread of the virus. The order comes after weeks of 24/7 media coverage on the severity of the pandemic and instructions on prevention measures, including social distancing and self-isolation. What implications does this pose on mental health?
Undoubtedly, the current circumstances have created a significant amount of panic, confusion, and fear for people all over the world. As social beings, the idea of being locked indoors with no contact with our loved ones can be quite overwhelming. The uncertainty of when we can all expect this to be over and the economic implications are also distressing factors to take into consideration. Though the situation is far from ideal, there are things we can do to look after our mental health during this challenging time.
There is no denying that this is a frightening period, but it’s of critical importance to stay calm and grounded. Stress and anxiety have been well-known factors that contribute to the weakening of the immune system by taxing the body and hindering its ability to fight off infections, putting us at a higher risk of catching a virus. Though it might feel impossible not to stress at a time like this, there are several healthy habits one can adopt to help:
- Set a schedule: Keeping a routine can aid in coping with this drastic change in our daily lives. It may be easy to fall into a pattern of binge-watching Netflix in sweatpants for hours on end, going to sleep, and doing it all over again, but having structure can be highly constructive. Structure enables us to feel more in control during periods of instability and uncertainty. It also allows us to prioritize self-care and build positive habits as well as prevent rumination by directing attention to the scheduled activity. Though most individuals have transitioned to working from home and taking classes online, getting ready as if leaving the house can make all the difference.
- Limit exposure to news: While it is essential to remain aware and updated on the developments of the situation, absorbing too much can overwhelm the system and send us into a state of panic. Setting a specific amount of time a day to watch the news, read articles, or look at related social media content can ease stress levels by limiting the intake of negative information. Given the amount of prevalent misinformation, careful consideration should be given to the sources to prevent the masking of rumors as facts.
- Exercise: Implementing exercise into your daily routine can significantly help with reducing stress levels and boosting the immune system. Even 15-20 minutes of movement a day can improve overall mental and physical health by releasing endorphins that create higher energy levels, combat depression and anxiety, and ease stress-related muscle tension. Though all gyms are currently closed, everyone can work out from the comfort of their own homes. Youtube provides a vast number of free instructional workout videos ranging from yoga, cardio, strength training, and more.
- Meditate: Practicing regular meditation has demonstrated the ability to improve overall mental health. It helps combat stress, anxiety, and depression by quieting the mind and increasing a sense of inner peace. Studies have found that regular practice also decreases emotional reactivity to environmental stressors, improves focus and memory, and enhances cognitive flexibility, which activates regions in the brain that enable more adaptive responses to adverse situations.
The 15 Best Apps For Mindfulness, Stress Reduction, And Meditation
- Stay connected: Lastly, isolate physically but do not isolate emotionally, as that can present separate dangers. Social distancing does not equal emotional disconnection. Thanks to modern technology, staying connected is easier than ever. Use the amount of free time as an opportunity to reach out to friends and family, which will not only help strengthen bonds but also provide a sense of solidarity and ease the discomfort from the prolonged physical distance.
There are several apps that enable group video calling, including zoom, skype, and Google Hangouts.
Many therapists have transitioned to telehealth counseling to accommodate people that are struggling with their mental health at this time. Ask your therapist if they are willing to hold sessions by phone or video via HIPAA compliant telemedicine software such as Zoom or Doxy.me. If you do not currently have a therapist, there are HIPAA compliant apps that will connect you to one. TalkSpace, LARKR, and Brightside are a few examples of such platforms.
You can also text HOME to 741741 to connect with a trained crisis counselor for free. Check out Crisis Text Line for more information.
The implications of the pandemic stretch far beyond just our physical health; we must be vigilant about the state of our mental health by practicing self-care and developing healthy coping mechanisms that will enable us to deal with the situation at hand effectively. The uncertainty of when this will pass will likely envoke feelings of anxiety for many, but it is valuable to remember that it is not a matter of if, but rather when it will pass.