There has been a lot of health talk lately. Whether scrolling on social media or turning on the news, the topic of COVID-19 seems to be everywhere. Here in Illinois, kids have been out of school since March 17, and we are a little over a week into the shelter-in-place (AKA stay at home) order that took effect on March 21. Yes, a virus is threatening the physical aspects of health right now, so the magnitude of conversation surrounding it makes sense, but COVID-19 is also a threat to mental health. While the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) have both acknowledged that there are mental health implications for orders such as social distancing, most of the conversation and media coverage is still focused on physical health.
So if you are finding yourself home with kids, figuring out how to work from home for the first time, or suddenly without a job, here are some practical strategies to consider for maintaining your mental health and emotional wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Stay rooted in Scripture. Be intentional to daily carve out time in the Word. Remind yourself of God’s promises and His provision. The words “do not fear” are found 365 times throughout the story of Scripture, and while fear might be an easy thing to do right now, Scripture reminds us that we can trust the God who is in control.
- Be creative with connection. Social distancing does not mean social isolation. Loneliness and isolation are significant factors of depression. Reach out to family members and friends and be honest about how you feel that day. Find a way to connect with at least one person per day.
- Recognize what emotions you are experiencing that day (or minute). Simply put, it is okay (and perfectly normal) to not feel okay. It is okay to feel more anxious or sad about everything happening in the world right now and how it impacts your daily life. Emotions serve a purpose of connecting us to what is happening around us, so allow yourself to feel, but please do not get stuck there. Recognize what you feel and respond to that emotion with what you need.
- Continue to practice good hygiene. Shower. Brush your teeth. Get dressed. Everyday. I realize it might be tempting to stay in pajamas all day long or let the days between showering stretch, but good hygiene has long been shown to positively impact a person’s mental health and self-confidence. My father-in-law often told my husband “If you look neat, you will think neat.” I believe there is a lot of truth to that statement.
- Maintain a consistent sleep schedule (or even try to get a little bit of extra sleep). After a night of less than ideal sleep, you likely wake up the next day feeling tired, more irritable, and less focused. It might be easy to stay up later and sleep later during a stay at home order, but keeping a consistent sleep schedule is important. Sleep and mental well-being go hand in hand.
- Get outside for fresh air and find ways to move your body. Vitamin D aids in fighting against depression. Fresh air is good for the mind. Go for a walk outside or do a workout inside but finding ways to boost your body’s natural endorphins through movement is a great way to ward off low moods.
- Be intentional with gratitude. Look for what you are thankful for. It would be easy to get stuck in a cycle of negativity with everything that is happening right now. Gratitude has been studied to great lengths and show to aid in a person’s overall happiness, so write down what you are grateful for or intentionally call it out. On our daily walks, we have been looking for signs of spring, and I find myself intentionally thanking the Lord for making things new while noticing my spirit feels lighter.
- Find ways to give yourself a sense of accomplishment. It might be as simple as cleaning your bathroom or as extensive as a house remodeling project, but accomplishing tasks daily gives your brain a particular focus for part of your day and boosts your experience of success. I understand that clicking through a show (or three) on Netflix is likely during COVID-19, but sitting in front of the television all day long can start to bring one’s mood down and does not bring about a true sense of accomplishment.
- Flex the creative muscle. Find ways to have a creative outlet. Is there a hobby you have wanted to take up or a long lost one that you want to recover? Creative outlets are meant to be stress relievers and I cannot think of a better time to intentionally relieve stress. Cook something new, draw, paint, craft, play music, build something. The possibilities are endless.
- Give yourself a break from COVID-19. Be informed, but find the balance of being over informed. Being constantly inundated with stressful news will negatively impact your mental health, so be intentional with the news that you take in. Turn off the news, if necessary, and stop your social media scrolls. Designate a certain meal of the day as “COVID-free conversation” meaning you resist the urge to talk about anything related to COVID-19 for a short period of time. Choose to just read the pertinent updates from the CDC or official websites and give yourself a break from all of the news outlets and articles that are swarming the Internet right now. And if necessary, designate someone to be the person who informs you of what you need to know.
The mental health impacts of COVID-19 remain to be seen, and I anticipate there will be some significant fallout. This list is not meant to be an exhaustive approach to boosting your mental health as there are a lot of ways to improve your mental well-being, but as I think about spending more time at home than I might be used to, these were strategies that came to mind that I will be intentional to practice over the next several weeks. We are in this pandemic together. Let’s be intentional about encouraging one another to take care of ourselves physically AND emotionally.
If you find that you are struggling emotionally during the COVID-19 pandemic, make sure you reach out to someone that you trust or get in contact with one of the counselors at Heritage Counseling Center (or a counseling center near you). You are not alone, and you do not have to face this pandemic alone.