There’s no question about it, the coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc across the globe. Despite the falling number of cases in the United States, stress, anxiety, grief, isolation, glaring social inequalities associated with healthcare, and other factors continue to have an enormous impact on the mental health of individuals. With businesses reopening and summer travel plans underway, it may look like things are going back to normal, but residual mental health effects will continue for some time. Whether you continue to social distance and stay home or you resume your social life and other activities, it’s important to prioritize your mental health and wellbeing.
What to look out for
The pandemic has increased stress levels in most of us, even if we may not have noticed it within ourselves. Everyone responds to stressful situations differently. One person may be angry, while another feels sad and weepy. Those with depression or other mental health issues may find their symptoms worsening. As we head into year two, you may only be just beginning to feel the full weight of the emotional difficulties brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, or you may have been coping with them all along. In many cases, you may not even associate the way you feel with the pandemic at all.
One of the first steps in learning to cope with stressful situations and support your mental health and wellbeing is to understand your feelings and know what kind of emotional and behavioral changes to look out for. As noted above, everyone is different, but in general, here are some common responses to stress:
- Changes in sleep patterns or eating habits
- Changes in activity levels
- Loss of pleasure in activities
- Outbursts of anger
- Periods of crying
- Hypervigilance about safety or health
- Guilt (or survivor’s guilt)
- Worsening of chronic health problems
- Worsening of mental health problems
- Increased use of substances such as alcohol, drugs, nicotine, sugar, or caffeine
- Memory problems
- Social withdrawal
This list is just a small handful of symptoms that may be the result of grief and stress associated with the coronavirus pandemic. Learning to cope with the difficult emotions in healthy ways can help you manage your symptoms, find relief, and optimize your mental wellbeing.
Mental health coping during coronavirus pandemic
The healthy coping strategies that are effective during the pandemic can be carried over to the rest of your life as well. One of the most effective coping strategies is to seek the help of a mental health professional. Psychologists and psychiatrists are specially trained to help people through difficult times and provide support in managing mental health symptoms. But there are also things you can do on your own to cope with the challenging emotional experiences brought on by COVID-19.
Continue with your treatment plans
It’s important to stay current with your medications, doctor visits, dental appointments, physical therapy exercises and other components of your treatment plans with medical and mental health professionals. Going to the dentist may not help you feel any happier or less anxious, but it will help you avoid complications that may cause further stress.
Limit your news intake and social media exposure
Studies have shown that even a few minutes of watching the news, particularly during a crisis, can have a negative impact on your sympathetic nervous system, which produces stress hormones and is responsible for the fight or flight response. It’s important to stay informed, of course, but try setting time limits and sticking to just a couple of trusted news sources rather than jumping from one link to the next and falling down a rabbit hole.
Tend to your physical health
Our physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing are all intertwined. Although the stress you’re under may compel you to eat sugary foods, skip your workout, or get too little sleep, taking good care of your body will have a more positive impact on your overall wellbeing. A nutritious diet, an exercise routine, plenty of sleep, and relaxation strategies are all an important part of maintaining your physical, emotional, and mental health.
Make time for recreation
Board games, outdoor activities, drawing and painting, or other pleasurable activities. can help take your mind off stressful pandemic-related news. Some activities may even help to release dopamine, raising your spirits in a natural, healthy way.
Advocate for yourself
Even though many people and companies are ready for “business as usual,” not everyone feels the same level of comfort with attending social gatherings or dining indoors. If you’re on the conservative end, it may not be easy to voice your concerns. But going along with someone else’s agenda in situations like this may only serve to increase your anxiety or worries. Instead, if someone asks you out for coffee and you’re not comfortable sitting down together indoors, for example, you can suggest taking coffee to go and drinking it in the park. Speaking up and advocating for yourself can help you navigate social situations in a way that’s comfortable for you.
Connect with others
Isolation tends to exacerbate emotional and mental challenges. Whether you plan to continue social distancing or are ready to get back out into the world, connecting with others is an important part of optimizing your wellbeing. There are so many ways to connect with people. Many support groups, faith-based groups, art classes, 12-step meetings, and cultural institutions offer both in-person and virtual options. If you’re more of a one-on-one person, try virtual coffee with friends or a beach day with your grandchildren. The important thing is to remain connected with others in whatever way feels most comfortable for you.
Need support? Pacific Health Systems offers psychology and psychiatry services.
At Pacific Health Systems in San Diego, we provide the best cost-effective services and treatments for people with mental health conditions of all kinds. Our psychologists and psychiatrists are highly trained and exceptionally skilled in helping patients navigate difficult experiences, manage mental health symptoms, and lead healthy, productive lives. If you or someone you love is in need of mental health support, please give us a call at (619) 267-9257 to schedule an appointment with one of our providers today.