May is Mental Health Awareness Month. With the current global pandemic, experts around the world worry that we might face another crisis in the coming months: a mental health crisis.
A recent mental health poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that “nearly half (45%) of adults across the country (US) say that worry and stress related to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic are hurting their mental health, an early sign that the health and economic crises is likely to increase mental health problems and further stretch the system’s capacity.”
Research has linked physical distancing to increased feelings of loneliness and poor mental health. The Kaiser Family Foundation found that people sheltering in place reported more negative mental health effects — mainly worry and stress — than those who did not shelter in place.
The research notes that “negative mental health effects due to social isolation may be particularly pronounced among older adults and households with adolescents.”
Job loss has also been associated with increased depression, anxiety, distress, and low self-esteem. In the United States, 22 million jobs were lost in the month of April, reaching an unemployment rate of 14.7%.
Frontline health care workers are also at risk of developing mental health issues, mainly burnout, anxiety, and depression.
The above facts and figures point to an underlying issue that needs to be addressed: mental health should be prioritized.
While some individuals may benefit from professional help, some may benefit from simply taking charge of their mental health at home.
Below are some steps individuals can take to prioritize and take care of their mental health.
1. Focus on things you can control
One of the main causes of anxiety and stress during the pandemic is the uncertainty element surrounding the crisis. Because we don’t know how long lockdowns are going to last, how long we will have to practice physical distancing, and how long it will take for a vaccine to be developed, what we can do is focus on things we can control.
Having a routine and sticking to it are a good way to start. Small tasks and achievements like making your bed, cooking for yourself, working out, or cleaning the house can help spark positive feelings in oneself. These tasks can also serve as a reminder that we can move forward and that we are not “stuck” in a situation.
2. Avoid sources of stress and anxiety
While many people benefit from reading the news on a regular basis, others do not. If you find that checking your Twitter feed, reading the online version of your favorite newspaper, or simply tuning in to press conferences increases your anxiety and stress, then keeping up with the news is best avoided.
If you would like to stay informed, consider vetting the sources of the news you consume, ensuring that the information they provide is accurate and not misleading or sensationalized.
3. Take care of yourself
Our minds and bodies are deeply connected. If you find that your mental health is suffering, take care of yourself by eating right and exercising regularly.
Ever notice how you feel sluggish after a big meal or how you just don’t feel your best after eating 4 slices of pizza? Listen to your body to feel better; while it may be easier to reach for that box of cereal or frozen pizza, make the effort to cook a hearty, balanced meal for yourself.
The right nutrients can not only give an energy boost to our bodies, they can also have a positive impact on our mental health.
4. Remain social
Just because we are physically distancing from people doesn’t mean we should be socially isolated from them. While there is no replacement for face-to-face interactions, reaching out to friends and family with a call, a handwritten note, a video, or a photo can help everyone feel better emotionally.
Our social networks are still available for us. Use them to talk, to vent, or simply to share a meal with one another (even if it’s through video).
Pro tip: when you’re talking to loved ones, be open and honest about how you are feeling. You may find that they are in a similar situation. Sometimes we don’t even need advice, we just need someone to listen to us and acknowledge that what we are feeling is real and valid.
5. Clock in some “me-time”
This is particularly important if you live with family. While it’s essential that we remain social even while physical distancing, it’s also essential that people have time to themselves. If you live at home with your parents, your kids, your sibling, or friends, then by now you may be a bit tired of spending so much time with them.
Seeing the same people on a daily basis, having the same conversations or arguments with them, and finding more ways to entertain them can become a stressful part of daily life in and out of itself. To prevent this from happening, make sure that you have some time during the day where you can simply disconnect and relax without having to worry about others.