Your day-to-day life may look much different now than before the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve all been introduced to some new—and at times—uncomfortable ways of living, like social distancing, stay-at-home orders, and quarantining. Such pandemic-related changes may have you and your loved ones worried, overwhelmed, or even scared. Now more than ever, you need to mind your mental health.
Why your mental health matters
The COVID-19 vaccine may ease some worries. But studies show that many of us are still struggling with the uncertainty of the pandemic. People are feeling anxious, frustrated, depressed, and lonely. Some groups, such as children and people who are more likely to get seriously ill from COVID-19, may be especially at risk for mental health problems.
No matter their cause, negative thoughts and emotions can affect your overall health. The stress they create can manifest into physical symptoms, such as:
- Muscle tension
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Upset stomach
- Extreme tiredness
- Problems thinking or concentrating
You may also have trouble sleeping or managing day-to-day activities. You may eat more or less. You may abuse alcohol, tobacco, or other substances. Feeling down and stressed out can even lower your immunity. Your body may have a harder time fending off germs, like the flu or the coronavirus.
How you can better cope
Many things may be out of your control during the pandemic. This fact may trigger strong emotions like anger, anxiety, or sadness. Even if you feel a lack of control, you aren’t powerless. In fact, you can do a lot every day to help yourself feel better. Self-care, in particular, can help you feel more in control. Done over time, it can help you build new routines that support your mental health.
What does self-care look like? That’s entirely up to you. You don’t have to revamp your whole life to take advantage of its benefits. You can start by doing one thing a day, such as going to bed 30 minutes earlier or taking a 10-minute walk outside for some fresh air. Try some of these proven self-care strategies:
- Take a deep breath. The simple act of deep breathing can calm your body and mind. Other ways to reduce stress include meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, or yoga.
- Limit the newsreel. Watching constant coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic can put you on edge. Spend only a small amount of time once or twice a day reading or watching the news. That includes on social media, where misinformation can quickly spread.
- Do one thing that you enjoy every day. Maybe play with a pet, listen to some music, or read a book.
- Learn something new. Focusing on a new hobby or skill—such as cooking, playing a musical instrument, or taking an interesting online course—can give you a much-needed break from daily demands.
- Stay in touch with family and friends. Virtual visits may be best right now. Even a quick phone call or text message can shake off loneliness and help you feel more connected.
- Lay off the alcohol. You may think drinking alcohol is a good way to relax. But too much alcohol can make you more prone to panic attacks, depression, and other mental health problems. Plus, it can cloud your judgement and impair decision making.
- Build a healthier routine. Many good self-care habits do double duty as stress relievers. They include making time for adequate sleep, fitting in some exercise every day, and eating more healthy foods. Remember: Making simple, small changes over time can add up to a healthier you.
When you need help
Sometimes constant stress and worry can lead to serious mental health problems, such as depression, an anxiety disorder, or thoughts of suicide. If you or a loved one is feeling completely overwhelmed, help is available. Talk with your healthcare provider or a mental health professional. You can also visit the National Institute of Mental Health’s website to find resources near you.
If it’s an emergency, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) or visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org. You can also connect with a crisis counselor anytime by texting “Home” to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
Online Medical Reviewer: Paul Ballas, MD