Fifty-three percent of adults in the U.S. reported that the pandemic has negatively affected their mental health, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. With uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, childcare obstacles, and working from home, managing your anxiety can be difficult right now. Lindner Center of HOPE psychologist Dr. Elizabeth Mariutto shares tips for how to manage mental health during any crisis, and particularly the one we’re all facing right now.
Elizabeth Mariutto: Mindfulness involves attending to our senses, staying in the moment, and doing one thing at a time. When being mindful, one steps away from judgmental thoughts and focuses on making effective choices. Being mindful can help us get through challenging tasks quicker, help us avoid making careless mistakes on work, and help us enjoy pleasurable activities more.
Volunteer when possible.
EM: Volunteering and service work can have great benefits for managing mood, so write letters to those in nursing homes that can’t have visitors, create care packages for teachers, or collect items to donate to those who are less fortunate.
Prioritize social activities.
EM: It is important to prioritize social activities in order to decrease feelings of loneliness. This may take considerably more effort during the pandemic, but can help us feel more connected. For example, a book club, cooking class, craft project, and game night can be organized on virtual platforms.
Engage in pleasurable activities.
EM: Engaging in pleasurable activities can both increase joy in the moment as well as help one disconnect from the stress of the pandemic. For example, try that croissant recipe that may have always felt intimidating, start painting, or read a funny memoir. Pleasurable activities that are connected to one’s values or goals or help develop skills tend to provide extra benefit. If your goal has always been to write a book, start writing!
Stay active and exercise often.
EM: Being active can be an incredibly effective form of mood management and stress reduction. Exercising releases endorphins and can help us stay physically and emotionally healthy when we do it in moderation. Find exercise that is enjoyable rather than something that just feels like work. Try out different classes online, go skiing or snowboarding, or just take in the crisp, fresh air on a walk around the neighborhood.
Incorporate relaxation into your daily routine.
EM: Relaxation strategies are essential when going through any stressful time to take one’s body away from the fight or flight response, or sympathetic nervous system, which we enter when under stress. Focusing on taking slow, deep breaths and focusing on longer exhales than inhales can activate your parasympathetic nervous system and help you calm down. Progressive muscle relaxation exercises can help you not only learn to identify what it feels like to carry tension, but also to release this and relax your muscles. Many often clench their jaws, grind their teeth, or develop extremely tight muscles from tensing without even realizing it. Going to get a massage or take a yoga class (assuming the spa or gym follows COVID-19 precautions) can be other great strategies to ease this tension.
Limit your screen time.
EM: Removing screens from easy access, limiting screen time, and reducing multitasking can help us increase mindfulness in everyday life.
Protect your sleep and eating schedules.
EM: Sleeping and eating are basic needs and are often dismissed in favor of being more productive. However, humans function much more efficiently if well-rested and well-fed. Sleep-related tips include go to bed and wake up around the same time every night; avoid drinking too much caffeine, especially in the afternoon or evening; and keep your room dark and cool. Eating-related tips include make sure to eat every three to four hours, balancing carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids; and find fun new recipes to to integrate vegetables and fruits into your meals so that you absorb a variety of vitamins and minerals. You will be much more able to handle stress that comes your way if your body is nourished and cared for.
Step away from distractions.
EM: Limit access to the news as this can worsen anxiety, and prioritize watching upbeat movies and TV shows if your mood is low; watching sad programs can worsen depression.
Seek professional help.
For professional assistance, contact Lindner Center of HOPE to schedule an appointment. Living during a pandemic can definitely be challenging, but if one is intentional around coping, mental health struggles can be kept at bay.