We’re living in an unprecedented moment in time. Closed schools, shuttered stores and empty streets. You can’t sit down at your favorite restaurant, cheer on your favorite sports team and your social life is basically constrained to mastering the arts of social distancing and quarantining. The COVID-19 pandemic put a screeching halt to life as we know it. It’s surreal, scary and weird – all rolled into one.
Then there’s the anxiety. Will I contract COVID-19? What about my loved ones? How will I be able to take care of my children and maintain my job? Will I even have a job when this is all said and done? What will happen to the economy? When will the sense of normalcy return?
Having control is an important human element. While we can’t control the answers to some of these questions, we have not lost our ability to control how we choose to make the most of every day.
Here are seven tips to help strengthen your mental health during this challenging time:
- Spend time outdoors. COVID-19 can’t keep you from going outside in your yard, taking a walk on a local nature path or going for a jog around town. Even a few minutes of fresh air can be extremely helpful in reducing anxiety and feelings of isolation. Remember, keep a distance of at least 6-8 feet between you and others. If you are actively infected, have recently been exposed or display symptoms, make sure to consult proper medical professionals for limitations with your outside time.
- Stay connected with family, friends & loved ones. Although social gatherings are not advised, technology today is incredible. Tools like Skype, Zoom and Google Duo can facilitate online conversations or online hangouts with family, friends and others. While it’s not the same, it can help preserve the valuable human connections we need, especially when spending days upon days cooped up at home.
- Learn something new. While “regular” life – school, work, baseball games, band practice, etc.– is on pause, use this as an opportunity to try something new, or something you’ve always wanted to do. This is a time to create new hobbies and revisit old ones. After all, you may never have all of this prolonged “free time” again.
- Appreciate the things around you. Being confined indoors can take a toll on your attitude and outlook. It is helpful to cultivate a sense of mindfulness and gratitude in order to be able to grow through this experience instead of letting it stifle you. View this as a chance to count your blessings, start a list of three things you are grateful for every day, and set aside some time to be present to your surroundings.
- Maintain structure: The disruption in routine and structure is a common experience for people who are quarantined. No longer are you waking up, grabbing a coffee at a nearby shop, and driving to work every day. It is important that during this time, you establish a new routine to guide you through your new normal. Doing this can help you manage any stress or anxiety that arises from the sudden change in routine. Consider creating a bedtime routine to wind down from the day, or, if you are working from home, a routine that still includes taking a break for lunch in a separate room, away from your work desk.
- Build time for reflection, prayer and meditation: Most public gatherings and areas of community and fellowship have been asked to close down in order to contain the spread of the virus. This makes it difficult to feel replenished and connected to others. Consider incorporating new ways in which you can connect with friends and family. This could be watching a live stream on the internet from your favorite place of worship or as we recommend earlier, setting a time on the calendar to have a phone call or video call with a friend. Prioritizing this time to stay connected fosters a sense of relief and allows us to stay grounded during times of uncertainty.
- Exercise for stress reduction: Neglecting our physical needs can add to the stress or anxiety that we are currently experiencing. Therefore, it is important to keep your body moving to help alleviate any tension that builds up throughout the week. Schedule some time to do simple exercise moves in your living room or do some light stretches. Incorporate any items you may have in your home to exercise and take them with you on a brisk walk around your neighborhood to get oxygen flowing to your brain up and fresh air in your lungs.
Remember – while we can’t predict tomorrow, this difficult period of uncertainty and unknowns will eventually end. And we’re all in this together.
As always, in case needed, one of our mental health counselors are happy to be a resource for you. Click here to get in touch.
Cindy Coughlin is a counselor for Catholic Charities New Hampshire’s Counseling Services program. She provides psychotherapy for adolescents, adults, seniors and families seeking assistance with anxiety, depression, stress management, life transitions and grief and loss. She offers counseling in both English and Spanish.