Many are careful to socially distance, wear face masks and wash hands regularly to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and maintain the best possible physical health. But some don’t make the same considerations for mental health and coronavirus when assessing overall wellness.
In this post, we’ll review the effect this global pandemic has had on our collective mental health, offer ways to cope until the virus is contained and offer mental health resources you can access for additional help if needed.
COVID-19 Effect on Mental Health
The arrival and duration of the coronavirus has impacted all of us. From anxiety to depression to sleep disruption, here are some of the reasons your mental health may have been affected:
- You had the virus and had to navigate recovery.
- Someone you care about had the virus and you had to help them through it and/or pick up extra duties in the household or workplace as a result.
- You lost a loved one to the virus and experienced the grief of death.
- You lost your job as a result of the pandemic and have limited financial security.
- You kept your job but worry about exposure to the virus because you’re forced to work outside the home.
- You had to begin teaching your children or grandchildren because their school was unable to remain open.
- You suffered marital or other problems with your partner or spouse as a result of the stress caused by the pandemic.
- You consumed news and information that was disturbing on a much more frequent basis than pre-pandemic times.
- You became lonely from the isolation if you were forced to quarantine without family or roommates.
- You became fearful of otherwise regular activities such as grocery shopping or taking walks because of the dangers of the virus.
Any or all of these factors can disrupt communication between the center of the brain (prefrontal cortex) and its emotional processing center (the amygdala), which triggers the production of stress hormones. A number of things can result from the release of these hormones, including breathing and heart rate issues, sleep disruptions, changes in appetite, inability to concentrate or focus on tasks you’d otherwise be able to complete; irritability and exhaustion.
How to Cope During the Pandemic
If you’ve experienced any of the mental health effects of COVID-19, there are several coping mechanisms you can begin today, which will alleviate some of that emotional burden:
Increase Exercise. You may already lift weights or take walks in nature to stay fit while many workout facilities remain closed, but if you aren’t already doing something like that, now’s the time to start. If you presently exercise but don’t yet feel any relief, consider extending the amount of time you spend on your chosen activities or try something new like yoga or dance. Varying your routine will strengthen different parts of your body and keep you from getting bored.
Practice Mindfulness. Whether it’s through meditation, prayer, or an artistic act such as coloring or painting, mindfulness is a valuable tool to maintain good mental health. If done consistently, it can train your brain to quiet down its areas that are sometimes overactive, producing a sense of calm and peace.
Limit News Consumption. Though it’s smart to stay aware of what’s happening in the world and your community, it can also be unhealthy to digest too much despair on a regular basis. Take regular, scheduled breaks from your devices to realize the difference.
Welcome Joy. You may feel uneasy about seeking pleasure during such a bleak time, but there should be no guilt in balancing your mental health by doing something that makes you happy. Read a book, watch a beloved movie, cook a favorite meal. Whatever strikes your fancy, make time for it at least a few times per week.
Be Creatively Social. With gatherings limited to a small amount of people and many establishments closed until the virus cases are reduced, it’s admittedly difficult to be social. There are ways to be safe and still keep in touch with friends and family. Schedule a video chat (most platforms offer free versions if your group is not too large); sit six feet apart in a backyard or park to share a meal, send old-fashioned letters and cards—whatever helps you stay connected to maintain that important emotional support.
Mental Health Resources
The good news is that if it all becomes too much to handle, there are resources available to help cope with the challenges of mental health and COVID-19. Here are a variety of websites that can assist you, based on your specific needs:
- Disaster Distress Helpline
- National Domestic Violence Hotline
- Veterans Crisis Line
- National Child Abuse Hotline
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Helpline
Talk to a Doctor
If you or someone you love needs additional support during this challenging time, it may be helpful to speak with a medical professional. Request an appointment with a member of our Department of Psychology here, or for more general inquiries, complete the form on this page. We’re all in this together.