The COVID-19 pandemic has upended our normal way of life in more ways than one can count. Businesses have been shuttered, leaving millions of Americans unemployed, and many others having to transition their careers to home in ways they could have never conceived. School closures have dramatically changed the ways in which children now have to learn, including the need for parents to perform the balancing act that is working from home and home-schooling their children at the same time. If that wasn’t enough, social distancing and closures combined have left children and adults alike without the normal outlets for social interaction that serve as a critical source of both support and livelihood. And we must not forget that individuals of minority and underserved groups have been disproportionately affected by the virus in numerous ways.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is no more apparent than in the effect it has had on our mental health. We are in unprecedented times, experiencing an unprecedented sense of uncertainty about our future. Sure, we appear to be flattening the curve, but many Americans are now wondering: “When and where is it safe to go out?” “Can I start seeing other people again, and if so, who should I feel comfortable with seeing?” “Can I travel?” “Will there be a resurgence in the Fall?” “When will we have a vaccine?”
The psychological impact of adjusting to a new way of life combined with these uncertainties about the future can most definitely lead to ever-mounting levels of stress. This increasing stress can in turn have a detrimental and lasting impact on our mental and physical well-being.
There is never a better time to get in touch with your mental health than now. It is important for all of us as individuals to understand how the pandemic may be affecting our own psychological health. Below is a list of some of the most common mental health symptoms experienced during the pandemic according to the CDC:
- Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones.
- Changes in sleep or eating patterns.
- Difficulty sleeping or concentrating.
- Worsening of chronic health problems.
- Worsening of mental health conditions.
- Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, or other drugs.
As a society, we can respond to these challenges by doing our best to take care of ourselves and our community. I say “do our best” because many individuals, especially those with pre-existing mental health conditions, are going to have much greater difficulty coping and taking care of themselves during these times. Nevertheless, taking care of yourself and your loved ones can help you cope with stress, and helping others cope with stress can ultimately contribute to a strengthening of your community.
The National Institute of Mental Health has published a list of helpful strategies for taking care of your psychological well-being during the pandemic. These strategies are detailed below, and they include some of my own personal recommendations:
- Take breaks from the news. Set aside periods of time each day during which you close your news and social media feeds and turn off the TV. Give yourself some time and space to think about and focus on other things. Get outside and enjoy our beautiful and sunny Colorado.
- Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate. Try to eat regular, well-balanced meals that consistent of nutritious foods; get some physical activity every day; give yourself time to get a full night’s sleep; and avoid alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, and other drugs.
- Make time to unwind. Try to engage in activities and hobbies you enjoy. Engaging in these activities offers an important outlet for pleasure, fun, and creativity.
- Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling. Digital tools can help keep you stay connected with friends, family, and neighbors when you aren’t able to see them in person.
- Set goals and priorities. Decide what must get done today and what can wait. Priorities may shift to reflect changes in schedules and routines and that is okay. Recognize what you have accomplished at the end of the day.
- Focus on the facts. Sharing the facts about COVID-19 and understanding the actual risk to yourself and people you care about can make an outbreak less stressful. Visit the CDC’s “Stop the Spread of Rumors” webpage to learn more about common COVID-19 myths and misconceptions.
- If you need it, seek help from a mental health professional: While we can try our best in every way to cope with the pandemic, this may not be enough for some. If you are experiencing a significant amount of stress that is impairing your ability to function or making it difficult for you to maintain your typical level of well-being, seek out a mental health professional. Psychology Today is an excellent resource for finding a therapist in your area who takes your insurance and has specialty in working with issues that are relevant to your experience of stress. Moreover, many therapists in Colorado have transitioned to telehealth and can see you virtually.
At the end of the day, we are all doing our best to cope with the unprecedented impact of this virus. It is okay to struggle during these times – we all are. By doing your part on an individual level to help yourself and others, we can stand strong and resilient as an entire community.