Mental Health in the Time of the COVID-19 Crisis

Written by Sandra Shaub

According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation Poll, nearly half of all Americans report that COVID-19 is harming their mental health in some form or fashion. Essential workers are especially at risk for some form of mental health issues as a result of the virus. Two New York health care workers committed suicide after weeks of dealing with an influx of COVID-19 patients and the emotional toll that tending to those patients took on them.

For the average American, problems such as social isolation and unemployment have a significant effect on a person’s mental health. Many Americans are reporting difficulty in sleeping, eating, and concentrating. In addition, there are reports of increased alcohol and/or substance abuse. 

For young children, not being able to attend school, see their friends, go to their normal play areas, parks, etc., or even just the uncertainty surrounding daily life, causes stress. They rely on school and social events to develop their social skills, and they may feel lost without them. 

Teens are very social in nature. They want to hang out with their friends, go to the mall, and do things in groups. During this time, when they are unable to see their friends, play sports, or any other activity that enables them to socialize with their peers, they may feel increased stress.  Adults are not only isolated and feel alone, they are also worried about their jobs, their income, and what the future is going to bring. The elderly worry about their health and what the effects of the virus could do to them. While stress is increasing, normal avenues of stress relief such as friends, social events, and religious activities are no longer available as an outlet for reducing stress. 

Things We Can Do to Reduce Stress Levels

1. Create a Schedule

During normal times, most of us follow some sort of schedule. We wake up, eat, dress, and go to work. It is easy to slip into a rut while staying at home, either furloughed or working from home. Many of us may not bother to dress, instead opting for casual or workout clothes.  Following a schedule may make you feel more productive.

2. Be Sure to Exercise

It is important that we get some physical activity on a regular basis. Before the pandemic, we might have gone to the gym, to the mall, or even dancing with friends. Now that we must isolate, many feel there is nothing we can do. Exercise is important and is a great stress reliever.  There are many online exercise classes being offered.  You can go outside for a walk or a run.  You can get a stationary bike, or even dance the day away in your living room!

3. Learn a New Hobby or Spend More Time on an Old Hobby

Now that many of us are working from home, or are furloughed, we find ourselves with more time on our hands. Now is a great time to learn that hobby you always wanted to learn. You can start a garden, learn to sew, crochet, knit, or even paint. There are many online tutorials to help you get started. Already have a hobby but never have time for it?  Now is the time to pick up the pace. 

4. Get Plenty of Rest

Sleep is important.  It may be difficult right now to sleep well, with all that is on our minds, but a good night’s rest is very important in keeping us mentally and physically healthy.  Try getting 8-9 hours of sleep each night.  If possible, take a nap during the day. 

5. Take Care of Yourself

With some salons being closed, the difficulty of socially distancing, and being home, it is easy to let ourselves go. Fix your hair in the morning, take care of your skin. You may not want to go to a salon, but you can give yourself a manicure at home. Pampering yourself a little will go a long way towards your mental health. You can even try aromatherapy, using essential oils to improve your mood or try an adaptogen such as Ashwagandha to help promote a sense of calm and relaxation.

6. Tackle Home Projects

Now that you have some extra time on your hands, tackle those projects around the house that you have been wanting to do. Fix up the yard, clear your closets, or paint a room. Keeping busy is the key to not becoming depressed, and what better way than to get a project done that you haven’t been able to accomplish. 

7. Stay in Contact with Loved Ones:

Make sure you stay connected to friends and family. Call them, use Face-time or Zoom, or even write letters the old fashioned way. You can even visit in person, just make sure to socially distance. 

8. Limit Your Daily News Intake

Although it is important to keep abreast of what is happening in the world, all that news can certainly make us feel helpless and depressed. Limit the amount of news you get from the television, newspaper, radio, and internet. Pick a neutral news source and get your news only once or twice a day. Constantly listening for updated news can be very stressful. Also, try to limit social media if it is becoming too stressful for you. 

Is There an End in Sight?                                                

The number of cases of COVID-19 in the United States appears to be in flux in each state. The precautions that have been recommended do seem to be working.  It is only a matter of time until our lives go back to normal, or what will be the new normal. If we stay alert to our physical and emotional needs and take care of ourselves, we can and we will get through this crisis. If you feel that you need more information or assistance, your state Department of Health has many resources for you to go to.