Feeling a little stressed lately? You’re not alone. The widespread effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic have upended what many of us considered to be “normal life” in the last few weeks. On top of worrying about what you’ll do if you or a member of your family actually does get the virus, there’s the day-to-day stressors of what to do with kids who are out of school, whether you’ll find what you need at the grocery store or, for many, where your next paycheck will come from. And those are just a few of the myriad ways COVID-19 is impacting us all. So, you’d be forgiven for succumbing to the stress every now and then. Still, there are some things we can do to cope and protect our mental health, even while we’re dealing with all that this pandemic has created and caused.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has dedicated resources to giving people tips for stress management. One thing that’s recommend is getting enough sleep each night, which means keeping your normal sleep routines – the ones you had before COVID-19 – as much as possible. Excess caffeine and sugar, while bad for you, also can lead to increased anxiety and stress. Try to eat well-balanced meals and steer away from snacks and junk food. Finally, regular exercise is a way to reduce stress, so take walks, do at-home yoga with an online instructor or just stretch regularly. While all of these seem like physical wellness strategies, they also can help improve your mental state. Even something as simple as a few deep breaths can be helpful.
And improving your mental state also means setting limits on yourself and your activities. Experts recommend limiting your exposure to news media outlets, in particular. Constant news from all over the world about COVID-19 and its impacts can heighten fears about the disease and can take a toll on your state of mind. The CDC recommends taking extended breaks from all screens, in general, to get up, get moving and get your mind refocused on something else for a while. And while you’re refocusing, actively look to find positive things to think about. Things are challenging, even frightening right now, but there still are things to be thankful for. Make a list of those things, and try to keep problems in perspective.
Part of doing so, experts say, is staying busy. If you’re at home a lot more than usual, look for tasks to do around the house that you’ve been putting off, or take a deeper dive into your hobbies. Doing something constructive to manage your stress and pass the time can help you feel productive and less anxious.
Lastly, the CDC reminds us all that we need to maintain our connections to family and friends. Sure, we can’t see them, hang out or visit like we did before, but there are ways to reach out and stay in touch. You may be feeling isolated, but you’re not alone – both in reality and in that feeling. Call a loved one, text a co-worker or video chat with friends. All of these can help you feel less disconnected from the people you love.
And if you do need help, remember that it is still available. Talk to your loved ones about your feelings. If your employer has an employee assistance program, you can ask for counseling or a referral to a mental health professional. Look to your pastor, minister or spiritual leader for guidance, and reach out to your primary care physician for concerns about depression or anxiety. Professional organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration also can offer guidance and help.