It’s safe to say that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a major impact on all of our lives. Keeping distance from family and friends, and quarantining when sick, are difficult and necessary actions to reduce the spread of COVID-19, but they can also make people feel isolated and lonely. The uncertainty, fear and misinformation can also increase stress and anxiety. According to the CDC , the latest data shows that symptoms of anxiety disorder and depressive disorder increased considerably in the United States during April–June of 2020, compared with the same period in 2019.
As we head into our second full winter of COVID-19, it’s important to take stock of where we are and how far we have come and find ways to take care of our mental wellbeing in the months ahead.
Learning to manage your mental wellbeing in a healthy way will not only make you more resilient, but will also help your loved ones take care of their own mental wellbeing and resilience. As a Mental Health First Aider, taking care of yourself can better equip you to take care of others. So, use tips from MHFA to manage your wellbeing to help yourself, others and your community manage stress.
Take a media break. You might want to consider taking breaks from watching, reading or listening to news stories, including those on social media. Hearing about the pandemic constantly can be upsetting, especially given our constantly shifting news ‒ which can create uncertainty and fear ‒ further increasing stress. Consider limiting your news intake and periodically disconnecting from phone, television and computer screens during the day.
Mind your physical health. Taking care of your body can also help take care of your mind. Are you taking time to exercise regularly? Are you eating nutritious meals or sleeping well? All of these things can have a positive impact on both your physical and mental wellbeing. They also have the added benefit of creating spaces and times where you can disconnect from screens and focus on yourself.
Connect with others. You might want to try talking with family or friends ‒ sometimes the best way to look out for ourselves is to ask someone else how they’re doing. You can also find an activity that connects you with other people ‒ whether it’s something like board games, being active in a faith-based community or other community groups, playing video games online or joining a recreational sports league. When we’re stuck in ourselves, it can be easy to ruminate or focus on negatives ‒ interacting with others allows us to be present. Even if it’s something as simple as talking to your local barista!
Practice mindfulness. You can practice mindfulness quickly and easily throughout the day. Many people think meditation is something big or impossible to achieve. The reality is that by taking a few minutes periodically through the day to check on yourself and be present to your body and breath, you can dramatically improve your ability to let go of negative thoughts and emotions. Practice this now: Close your eyes and focus on how you’re breathing or how your body is feeling. Even taking a single minute at different times throughout the day can dramatically improve your mood and relieve feelings of stress and anxiety ‒ with the added benefit of allowing you to better recognize when negative feelings are creeping in and thereby protecting you from their impacts.
Do something you enjoy. Do at least one pleasurable activity every day, like cooking, meeting with friends or going to the movies. It may help to journal in the morning or use a planner to help you feel centered and approach each day with something enjoyable to do in mind.
Ask for help. Sometimes we may feel like we don’t want to burden others with our problems, but the longer we internalize our issues the more difficult they become to resolve. Consider talking to a family member or trusted friend, a therapist, or if you are in crisis call one of the numbers available from the CDC Crisis Page.
And lastly ‒ look for opportunities to laugh! Life is beautiful, and laughter is the spice of life. When we laugh we let out endorphins and are present to ourselves and to others.
Despite the tumultuous past few years, things will continue to improve. We can look forward to the new year and have our own self knowledge and resiliency to guide us to #BeTheDifference forward into the future.
You can also reach a trained crisis counselor through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 800-273-8255 or texting 741-741.
CDC. (2020, August 14). Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic. CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6932a1.htm.
Mental Health First Aid USA. 2020. Mental Health First Aid USA for Adults Assisting Adults. Washington, DC: National Council for Behavioral Health.