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As Americans settle into very lengthy stay at home policies enacted across the nation, many might begin to experience some mental health concerns. After all, we are not built to go through weeks or months without our daily freedoms. Losing those personal freedoms for the sake of national health is something we have had to get accustomed to, whether we are comfortable with the edicts or not. It is the way it is, and the best thing we can do to protect our mental health during the COVID-19 crisis is to come to a state of acceptance.
In fact, the way people have responded psychologically to this event has been lined up alongside Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s infamous work, The 5 Stages of Grief. These stages include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Collectively, many of us are now experiencing the depression phase as shelter orders have lost their luster. While the measures are in place for good reason, to prevent loss of life, many are now coming to the realization that the coronavirus has caused significant unwelcome changes in daily life.
So how do we go about protecting our mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic? What steps can we take to shore up our resolves and get through this event psychologically intact? While there is no magic wand to make all of this go away, there are some protective steps to take that will help us maintain our sanity for the meantime.
10 Steps to Protect Mental Health During COVID-19
It is true that our emotions have been all over the map since this began back in early March. One day we are calm and reflective, and the next day we feel agitated and irritable. These fluctuating emotions are to be expected as we wade into uncharted waters, not know what each day will bring. To help offset some of the anxiety and feelings of depression that might be taking root, consider these 10 tips:
- Practice gratitude. You wouldn’t think that there would be anything to be grateful about when every normal daily activity has been removed from your milieu. It is surprising to discover that there are plentiful things to be grateful for, especially when you realize you are still healthy and safe. Count your blessings for having a loving family, a cute pet, a roof over your head, and hope for the future. Each day, try to list 3 things for which you are grateful.
- Turn off the news. News overload can have negative effects on our mental health. Mainstream news outlets are enjoying their surging popularity and may enhance the dramatic in order to keep viewers engaged. This can lead to feelings of anxiety or distress for individuals who are sensitive or have experienced a past trauma. While it is fine to grab the headlines once or twice during the day, instead of keeping the news on all day long turn the TV off and enjoy some old reruns on Netflix for balance.
- Enjoy a simpler lifestyle. Now that we are slowly adjusting to living a very small life, we are beginning to notice some benefits of a simpler lifestyle. Instead of rushing around, racing between this or that appointment, lesson, sports practice, or a long list of errands, we are slowing down and actually smelling the roses. There is something to be said for a quieter, more leisurely pace of life.
- Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness helps us redirect distracting and negative thoughts that keep us feeling off-balance, drawing the mind back to the present moment. Train yourself to focus attention away from anxiety-provoking and fear-based thoughts that rob you from the pleasures of that moment in time. Be in that cozy moment, focus on the aroma of the coffee, enjoy drifting off to a different world through the book you are holding, and feel safe and secure inside that soft, snuggly blanket.
- Enjoy the sunshine. Health professionals are reminding us how important it is to have a strong immune system during the COVID-19 crisis. One of the best actions to take that will improve immunity and boost mood is getting plenty of vitamin D. Vitamin D is a byproduct of sun exposure. So, grab any opportunity you can to enjoy some time outside on a sunny day. Fresh air and sunshine are essential to our health and wellbeing, and you will also enjoy a noticeable change in your attitude for the better. If sunshine is scarce in your region, be sure to supplement the diet with some vitamin D3.
- Revisit your passions. With our usual busy lives, how many times have you looked at your bookcase and lamented having no time to read? With plentiful free time available now, grab the moment and indulge in the things you never had time for before. Read some books, make some artwork, explore new musical artists, or write a novel. We may never have the luxury of time again like we do right now to rediscover old passions or to discover brand new ones.
- Stay social. Social distancing has shown us a powerful truth—people need people. We all have varying degrees of sociability, with some of us wired toward being introverts and others as more extroverted. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle, enjoying both social time and time for introspection. To nourish our need for social connection during COVID-19, which will have positive effects on our mental health, make the effort to reach out to friends and family members. With so many ways to connect with people, don’t be shy. Just check in, say hello, and ask how your friend is doing. We actually need human connection for our mental health during COVID-19.
- Stay physically active. For those who are free to get outdoors, take a couple of hearty walks, a bike ride, or a run every day. This will expose you to vitamin D through sunshine, which can help improve mood, as well as provide the many mental health benefits from regular exercise. If movement is tightly restricted, indoor exercise activities can be achieved through yoga or workout routines posted on YouTube. The videos offer a variety of toning, stretching, and movements that can keep you in shape during the lockdown.
- Keep a journal. Whether it is a leather-bound journal, a spiral notebook, or a Word document on the computer, recognize that we are living through an historic event and it would be very interesting to look back someday on the coronavirus pandemic from your own perspective. Jotting down thoughts and feelings is also therapeutic, as writing allows you to offload feelings of unrest, sadness, fear, or stress onto a piece of paper. This practice somehow releases the effects of these emotions on your psychological health.
- Stay flexible. With the coronavirus crisis, no one really knows how it will unfold over time. This virus is novel, meaning it has never existed before. As we all cycle through the cascading events together, it is good to remain as nimble and flexible mentally as possible. Try to avoid having firm expectations about how long we will have to remain at home or how the virus affects people. Collectively we will do better psychologically if we roll with events as they unfold, rather than having rigid expectations.
Signs of Deteriorating Mental Wellness
It is difficult to predict who among us will be able to manage our mental health during COVID-19 and who will struggle. Many factors play into the way we will respond to the stress and uncertainty, both in terms of the health scare and the financial fallout. We all are going to struggle from time to time as we experience the impact of the virus on our lives. However, when mental health begins to seriously deteriorate it is critical to get the professional help you need.
Be aware of the following warning signs of a serious mental health issue:
- Sudden changes in eating habits leading to unintended weight gain or weight loss
- Changes in sleep patterns, disrupted sleep, nightmares, or insomnia
- Difficulty concentrating
- Persistent feelings of hopelessness and despair
- Self-harming behaviors
- Heart palpitations, racing heart rate
- Increase in somatic symptoms, such as headaches, stomachaches, diarrhea
- Extreme mood swings
- Loss of interest
- Isolating behaviors
- Angry, violent behavior
- Experiencing delusional thoughts or hallucinations
- Suicidal ideation, obsessed with death
Most mental health providers are offering tele-mental health video services during COVID-19. If you or a loved one is experiencing the signs of deteriorating mental health during the pandemic, reach out to a mental health provider for immediate support.
Getting Mental Health Treatment During COVID-19
Mental health treatment is still readily available during this event. Many outpatient mental health programs are now providing psychotherapy and group therapy via Zoom platforms, where a licensed mental health provider will be able to offer therapy and support. There are outpatient intensive outpatient programs that are designed to be administered through video conferencing platforms.
Residential mental health providers are still operating during the COVID-19 event. These facilities have adopted all of the CDC safety guidelines to provide a clean, sterilized therapeutic environment.
Elevation Behavioral Health Offers Residential Mental Health During COVID-19
Elevation Behavioral Health is a luxury residential mental health center in Los Angeles. Elevation Behavioral Health has made the safety of our residents and staff the top priority, and have adhered to all the CDC safety recommendations including personal protective equipment, thorough cleaning and disinfecting of our facility, screening protocols for the virus, and practicing social distancing the best we can. If you or a loved one is in need of more intensive, customized mental health treatment, please contact our team today at (888) 561-0868.