The coronavirus pandemic has been not only a physical health emergency, but it’s having significant ripple effects on our mental health as well.
For many people, long-term mental health was already a serious issue for them before COVID-19 and now it’s far worse.
For example, a recent CDC survey found many people are experiencing deteriorating mental health because of coronavirus, and it’s contributing to substance abuse in some cases.
Around 63% of respondents between the ages of 18 and 24 said they had symptoms of anxiety or depression. Around one-fourth of respondents said they’d increased their use of substances to deal with emotions including prescription drugs, marijuana, and alcohol.
Even by April, when the pandemic and lockdowns were fairly new, respondents of surveys were saying they were spending more time on screens and less time outside.
Many people have noted the effects of not just the pandemic itself on their mental health but the complete changes to their routines including school, work, family, and exercise routines.
Anxiety is one of the most commonly reported mental health issues people experience, and chronic anxiety can greatly interfere with your quality of life.
For example, long-term anxiety can affect how your brain releases stress hormones and can lead to symptoms such as dizziness, headaches, and depression.
Experiencing ongoing anxiety can increase the risk of obesity, chronic illnesses, and other adverse outcomes.
The goal should be to take steps to reduce your anxiety, even as you grapple with the coronavirus fallout. The following are ways you can start taking steps in the right direction.
Break Your Media Addiction
For many people, spending more time at home at the same time as there’s a daily onslaught of negative media stories has led to the perfect storm in terms of mental health.
What can begin as a normal desire to see what’s going on in the world can become a news or social media addiction, where you’re incessantly checking and waiting for the other shoe to drop. Some people become obsessed with bad news, despite its deleterious effects on their mental health.
Being addicted to the news wasn’t always an issue, because people simply didn’t have as much access to it. Now we have constant access to everything happening the world right at our fingertips, and that’s not always a good thing.
We may become addicted to the news and checking social media because of the fear-of-missing-out.
Also, there’s a human instinct to want to know what’s happening and what we’re dealing with in times of crisis.
Studies have shown that if you watch negative news, you’re more likely to be stressed and anxious.
You’re also more likely to take on catastrophic thinking as far as the problems you face in your own life, even if they have nothing to do with your life. Issues on the news are worst-case-scenario in many cases, which can make you go into the same mode in different areas of your life.
While it may be innate to want to check the news, that doesn’t mean it’s good for your mental health, so work toward taking some steps back.
A good first step is turning off any automated notifications or alerts you may have set on your phone.
You should also set strict limits and rules for yourself as far as how much time you’ll spend on your device in general and specifically how much time you’ll spend looking at the news including on social media.
Put your phone away if you have to, and don’t sleep with it next to your bed because that can make it tempting to reach for it in the night.
Focus on Your Physical Health
If you haven’t been taking care of your body during the coronavirus situation, then it’s likely your mind is feeling the effects too. If you can start to improve your physical health and how you take care of yourself, then your mind is likely to respond positively.
Stop spending all your time watching Netflix or glued to screens, and do something good for your body every day, whether that’s taking a walk, drinking more water, or going for a swim while we still have warm weather.
Try to get enough sleep each night and start creating a peaceful sleep routine that works for you.
Anxiety often stems from worrying about the future, but that’s not time well-spent. None of us knows what the future is going to look like, and that’s not exclusive to coronavirus.
You can work on mindfulness techniques to help get your body into the present and your mind as well.
Think about little things such as how your food tastes, or do deep breathing exercises from breathwrk.com.
Along with working on being more present, think about what you can control and try to let go of the what-ifs and the things you can’t control.
Focus on specific, solvable problems in your own life and tackle those.
One of the toughest aspects of coronavirus has been loneliness and isolation many people experience.
We are social by nature, and we are wired for interaction.
Try to stay in touch with friends and family in whatever way works best for you.
That doesn’t mean you have to host big parties, but make time for socially distanced coffee dates or walks in the park.
If you’re more comfortable staying virtual, still prioritize your relationships.
If you don’t have a support system, you can turn to, consider therapy. Online therapy is one option that allows you to get help from home.
Finally, avoid self-medicating with drugs or alcohol. Psychoactive substances including alcohol may relieve your anxiety temporarily, but in the long-term, they can make it and other mental health conditions worse.
In fact, some of the anxiety symptoms you’re experiencing could be due to drinking more than you would typically or using other substances.
Try to cut down if not cutting out substances entirely, because they’re going to put you in a never-ending cycle of poor mental health.