Seven Tips for Managing Your Mental Health During a Global Pandemic
Written by: Rene Laje, Ph.D., LCSW-C, LICSW
Life has changed radically since March 2020. One week we were comfortably sitting in our offices and eating at restaurants, and the next week, we were in “lock-down” and unsure about the health and safety of ourselves and our family and friends. The abrupt changes and frantic adjustments in work, school, and home left many in a state of worry and despair. Some lost family, some lost friends. Others lost their jobs or their savings. We all lost the comfortable normalcy that we once took for granted.
One year later, our common discussions include masks, vaccines, videoconferencing (Zoom, etc.), internet (“Rachel, you’re muted…you’re muted”), travel, and toilet paper. While most everyone has been forced to adjust to the “new normal,” the awareness of mental health self-care is more significant than ever. Self-care has gone through its own evolution during the pandemic. Gone are the days of a cup of coffee with a friend or a vacation with grandma in the traditional manner. Now, we must plan and calculate the much-needed and carefully thought-out strategies to recharge our batteries while keeping the techniques simple, safe, and cost-effective. Here are some tips that can help one’s mental health during a pandemic.
While we all know that sleep is essential for our physical health, we often forget that sleep is equally important for our mental health. Lack of quality sleep can increase feelings of sadness and hopelessness and increase worry and anxiety. Electronic devices and 24/7 news channels have interfered with our ability to achieve quality sleep, making us more susceptible to illness.
To improve your sleep, there are a couple of techniques that may help. Develop good sleep hygiene with a routine of going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day (yes, even on your days off). Listen to relaxing music before bed. Avoid electronics at least one hour before bedtime. Finally, consult a doctor if you want to take any medications for sleep to see if that may be helpful.
- Nutrition and Hydration
The saying “we are what we eat” has been so popular over the years for a reason. How does food affect our mental health? Studies show that vitamin-rich foods play a significant role in how we feel, both physically and mentally.
With so many fad diets, it is often difficult to know what to eat. When in doubt, it is best to follow the basics. Whole, unprocessed foods provide the most nutrients. In addition, staying hydrated with water is essential for well-being.
For many, the ability to exercise during the pandemic has been challenging. Glued to our screens, we are no longer walking upstairs and down long hallways the way we used to. As a result, many have gained weight and feel less motivated to move. This can wreak havoc on your self-esteem and contribute to depression and/or anxiety feelings.
If exercise, or simply moving, has become difficult, it is best to start slow and work your way up. A 5-minute walk, or 5 minutes on the stationary bike, is better than nothing. Some like to engage in something simple like basic yoga, which helps the person ease into movement without too much strain.
- Social Interaction
Humans are social creatures. There is an awareness of remaining connected that has never been observed before. Yes, pandemics have existed in the past, but with the introduction of telephones and videoconferencing, the ability to avoid being in-person is possible.
Putting on a mask and taking a walk with someone not only gives a change of scenery from inside one’s house, but it also provides the much-needed human interaction that researchers say is as essential as a vitamin for our well-being.
- Hobbies/Develop New Interest
Studies show that spending time engaging in an established interest or developing a new interest helps alleviate feelings of depression. Giving the brain a “break” from the usual workload and allowing the pursuit of pleasurable activities helps individuals obtain improved self-esteem, which indirectly lowers symptoms of depression.
During the pandemic, with less time needed to commute to jobs and school, some people have discovered more time to engage in a favorite activity or pursue a new interest. In contrast, others have felt busier with school or work obligations. A strategy to ensure that you can engage in an activity is to schedule it into your routine. Maybe before school/work when there used to be a commute or during a lunch break. Even 30 minutes a day can make a difference.
- Planning for the Future
Even the biggest travelers had to place future plans on the back burner during 2020. While this was a realistic adjustment to the international “lock-down,” having hope moves us forward. Planning for the future does not require you to make elaborate vacation plans; even planning for when we will see our grandchildren or a day trip to the beach can lift your mood.
There is no doubt that the pandemic has affected our global mental health. While some can manage by implementing new techniques to adjust to the new normal, others may feel overwhelmed and may need an additional layer of support. When symptoms of anxiety and/or depression become too devastating, a mental health therapist can help with your self-care journey. This is often the case when those feelings get in the way of functioning in everyday life or affect our relationships with others. Many licensed mental health therapists take insurance and can guide you on your path to feeling better.