6 tips for taking care of your mental health during COVID-19

By: Lucy Berry DeButy

It’s no secret: we’re living in extraordinary – and stressful – times.

As the number of COVID-19 cases rises, many people are worried about the future. Combine those feelings with isolation, job loss or a disrupted routine and it’s easy to see why so many are overwhelmed.

Healthcare professionals, first responders, those who stock and sanitize our grocery stores, and other essential workers are under tremendous stress as they work to keep our community safe. Those at home may also be experiencing feelings of sadness, depression or anxiety in response to the outbreak.

The good news is it’s normal to have those feelings, said retired Huntsville psychiatrist Dr. Jane Roark, especially during a traumatic event like a pandemic.

But, when things feel heavy, Roark said it’s important to remind yourself that this too shall pass.

“It bears repeating,” she said. “Make sure you take care of yourself, physically, spiritually and emotionally. Talk with others. Celebrate with gratitude your blessings. Focus on what is in your control. Choose to set limits on your exposure to things outside your control.”

In short, embrace your new routine. Get some sleep, eat well-balanced meals, and walk regularly if you can’t go to the gym. If those activities are difficult for you, be patient with yourself and don’t hesitate to ask for help.

Here are some tips for maintaining your mental health during COVID-19:

Take breaks

COVID-19 continues to dominate the news cycle with no end in sight. Don’t forget to take breaks from repeatedly watching, reading, or listening to COVID-19 news stories, including on social media. While being informed is good, it’s equally – perhaps even more – important to tune out occasionally and enjoy some quiet time.

Get physical

Use this time off to exercise, eat good food, catch up on your sleep, meditate and unwind without guilt. When you take steps to care for your body, your immune system benefits.

Stay connected

Just because you’re staying home doesn’t mean you have to give up your social life. Thanks to social media, it’s easier than ever to maintain connections without meeting face-to-face. Facebook not your thing? Pick up the phone or write an old-fashioned letter to someone you know, especially those in isolation. Through video chat, many people are also getting together for virtual book clubs, coffee dates, happy hours and other online meetups. Get creative!

Elizabeth Springfield, president of National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) Huntsville, hopes this pandemic can help us reconnect with friends, family and neighbors.

“In today’s world, it’s hard to get people to participate in community and to connect,” she said. “I’m hoping this is an opportunity more than anything else to find new ways and an urgency about connecting.”

Go outside

If you follow social distancing guidelines, getting outside is one of the best things you can do for your physical and mental health. Take a walk or run, play games with your kids, or work in the garden to get your mind off COVID-19. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you’re outside enjoying the fresh air and sunshine.

Focus on family

Whether they’re blood relatives or chosen family, quarantining is the perfect opportunity to slow down and focus on your loved ones. It’s also a good time to reflect on the relationships we would like to change and begin taking steps toward those goals.

“For some of us, it’s a positive experience to spend more time at home and with family and to realize the value of that,” Springfield said.

Practice gratitude

Crisis situations like COVID-19 remind us how fortunate we are. When you begin to feel overwhelmed, pause and think about three things you’re grateful for. Regular practices like this keep us grounded and do wonders for our mental health, even during challenging times.

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