Updated: Mar 24, 2020
Between being home all day, losing access to public services and hobbies, experiencing layoffs, losing access to friends, and more, there is no question that COVID-19 has been affecting our mental health. What's more, having a routine, social supports, and a sense of mastery are all factors in overall wellbeing. What are we to do when we are unable to rely on all of the usual people and practices that bring us joy and wellness?
In addition to taking the appropriate physical precautions like washing your hands properly, disinfecting surfaces regularly, practicing social distancing and more, here are some tips on how you can tend to your mental health:
1. Set boundaries around social media and news consumption.
Of course we all want to stay up-to-date when a pandemic strikes. However, it is vital to exert some control over when and how you’re consuming information. You may want to schedule time to look at COVID-19-related information online and set a timer so you don’t end up accidentally spending three hours researching everything about the virus. You may also want to turn off news alerts and/or social media alerts so that you aren't being bombarded throughout the day and living in a state of fear.
The logic behind setting boundaries here is related to the availability heuristic, a cognitive error our brains make that involves relying on immediate, recent examples when evaluating a specific topic, concept, or decision. In other words, if you watch a news report that provides terrifying information about the virus, your brain may automatically think you're more likely to get it even though the statistics about your specific geographical area and demographic suggest otherwise.
2. Create a new routine.
With so many people working from home—or not having a job to go to any more—it can be vital to add some sort of structure to your day. Some important points:
Don't forget to take care of the basics. Continue to shower, brush your teeth, and maintain your usual hygiene habits.
If you’re working from home, for example, designate one area as your “work area” so that you are able to create some degree of separation between work and home (i.e. no doing work in bed).
You may decide to get into work clothes rather than staying in PJs all day so that there’s some sort of physical demarcation between “work mode” and “relaxation mode.”
Follow your usual "work hours." Start work at the same time, schedule a lunch break, and set an alarm so that you know when it's time to close your laptop.
3. Practice self-care by getting enough sleep, exercising at home, and eating well.
A nourished body means a calmer mind. When we are under-slept, the part of our brain that detects fear can be up to 60% more hyperactive. Practice good sleep hygiene so you may feel better able to handle any stressors that come your way. Additionally, it's very easy to become a night owl when you have the option of sleeping in the next day. However, following a regular sleep schedule is crucial right now. Do not use this time as an excuse to go to bed at 5am and sleep in until noon as this will severely disrupt your circadian rhythms, energy levels, and even different hormones.
Given that exercise also releases feel-good chemicals called endorphins, you may want to start incorporating an at-home workout regimen into your day. Body-weight exercises are highly effective for strength training and yoga flows can be done in small spaces, too.
It’s worth noting that bacteria and viruses thrive on sugar for energy, so limiting or eliminating processed sugars from your diet altogether can serve a protective function right now. Eating real, whole foods with as little ingredients as possible is the simplest, most effective rule of thumb when it comes to eating a healthier diet.
4. Find a hobby other than watching Netflix.