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It wasn’t too long ago social distancing was introduced to the American lexicon. Yet ever since, our lives have arguably changed forever. In addition to a global pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands of people worldwide, COVID-19 has brought profound changes to our daily lives, such as remote work, unemployment, and virtual school. In turn, many are facing newfound economic and social stresses, as well as panic over the uncertainty of the future. Here are the best mental health tips we’ve found from experts on how to cope.
For tips on how to maintain your balance while WFH:
For starters, keep up with some kind of routine. If your typical routine isn’t feasible anymore, create a new one. The WHO recommends you get up and go to bed at similar times, eat at regular hours, and schedule slots for personal hygiene and exercise.
The predictability of a routine may help you feel more in control, which is important for mental health, according to the Mayo Clinic. Plus, regular exercise may reduce anxiety and improve your mood.
It’s important to schedule time each day for something that makes you happy. That advice is backed by both the CDC and the Mayo Clinic. Even just a few minutes of an activity you enjoy, such as reading, yoga, or meditation, can help you relax and ease stress.
For additional mental health tips and a list of activities to enjoy with the family:
This is the perfect time to tackle a project you never had time for previously. The possibilities are endless: Clean out the garage. Paint the guest room. Plant a vegetable garden, or at least some indoor herbs. Build a backyard treehouse. Learn a new language. Write a book. This, according to the Mayo Clinic, helps distance us from the cycle of negative thoughts that contribute to anxiety and depression. Plus, you’ll have something positive to show for the pandemic once it’s over.
But don’t beat yourself up if you’re not fluent in Mandarin yet. Instead, set reasonable daily goals and go easy on yourself. Celebrate the victories you can — even small ones.
When you feel the anxiety build and your mind begin to race, stop what you’re doing and practice mindfulness. There are many online resources to help master this exercise, including Calm and Headspace. (Headspace offers free access to those who are unemployed now.)
Sit and breathe deeply for 10–15 minutes (or more, if you need it) to help your mind return to the present moment, according to experts at Vanderbilt University. The CDC suggests adding some stretches too. Whatever helps you feel more grounded is on the table.
While social distancing remains vital, we can — and should — connect with loved ones virtually (or from six feet apart). The WHO, CDC, and Mayo Clinic recommend staying in contact as a way to share thoughts and feelings with friends and family. Consider this a small but meaningful coping mechanism to use during the pandemic (and beyond). Emails, texts, phone calls, and video chats are more important now than ever.
For tips on how to feel connected with your colleagues while WFH:
Another tip most health organizations agree on: Limit your daily news intake. Constant exposure to negative news can contribute to anxiety and stress. Instead, check the news at a set time each day, possibly once or twice daily. You can schedule this into your routine. It will help you balance staying informed with avoiding a nonstop stream of negative headlines. The same is true of social media, so watch your intake there too.
If you’re looking for additional information specifically related to COVID-19, remember to seek out reliable sources, such as the CDC and WHO.
It’s a rewarding exercise to spend time acknowledging the positive aspects of your life each day. This can also include connecting with organizations in your community, including faith-based groups, which can not only bring comfort but also help members recognize there is still good in the world. Just be sure to maintain distancing or seek connections virtually.
We hear this a lot about kids, but it’s relevant to adults too: Be cognizant of how much time you spend in front of your computer, phone, tablet, and television each day. And make sure to schedule screen-free breaks. Everything in moderation, right?
A great way to manage stress is by doing something for someone else. Show gratitude to healthcare workers and first responders, check on neighbors, or help vulnerable people in your community by grocery shopping or running errands.
Remember: lending help can help reduce stress, but don’t forget to practice self-care too, cautions the CDC.
You can’t help anyone else if you don’t take care of yourself, which includes your physical self. Eat balanced meals, get plenty of sleep, and avoid alcohol and drugs.
You’ll also want to limit (or avoid) junk food, refined sugars, and caffeine, as they can contribute to stress and anxiety. Balance cravings with healthy foods. Good nutrition keeps you healthy and supports your overall immune system, which is a must during a pandemic.
We’re living through a global health crisis that the world has not seen for more than a century. We don’t know what the new normal will look like yet. Until that becomes clear, it’s important to take heed of these mental health tips and focus on taking care of ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities.
Originally published on July 28th, 2020, last updated on June 16th, 2022.