COVID-19 and Mental Health
Turn on the news or log in to social media and you will inevitably be presented with information about COVID-19. As the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact our lives, we are also experiencing the spread of fear, confusion, loneliness and overall declining mental health. As a nation, we are not only seeing an increase in mental health concerns, we are experiencing increasing rates of death by suicide. Mental health and wellness tend to be viewed as less important than physical health, which can be a detrimental perspective.
We have plenty of research available to us now that provides solid evidence of the critical role our mental health plays in our life and in our society in general. The intention of this article is to address some basic ways to cope with the impact of COVID-19 from a mental health perspective. Any questions or concerns about the virus itself can be found through by visiting the CDC or the state health departments, which leads to the first recommendation.
- Have the correct information. There is a lot of misinformation out there, and a large part of maintaining stability is making sure that your information is correct. Facebook, news outlets and friends should not be relied upon to get information about COVID-19. Often times exposure to incorrect information leads to the spread of fear, confusion, and interpersonal conflict. . The CDC and the state health departments are updating their websites with accurate information for the general public.
- Take a break from news and social media. It is easy to feel overwhelmed by everything that is going on in the world currently. We have unlimited access to information, which can quickly become unhealthy. Take the time to turn off the screens, heal your brain and focus on something different. Ideally, this is something that would be done intentionally each day, and for longer periods of time as needed.
- Plan, don’t panic. This applies to COVID-19, but also many other issues. We experienced this in March 2020, when the spread of the virus and fear of a shutdown caused high anxiety and subsequent behaviors such as fear purchasing of essential items and general distress. In the event that the virus spreads or there are additional stay-at-home orders, planning is necessary, but panic is not. Planning ahead is recommended simply because it can decrease stress and anxiety. Planning allows you to focus on what you can control, rather than what you cannot, which is a healthy response. You can focus on making sure you have what you need to stay healthy if you were to stay at home and/or avoid public places for an extended time. You can inventory your cleaning supplies, food, medication, etc. to make sure that you have what you need. Does this mean go out and buy a lifetime supply of toilet paper? No, it does not. But if buying an extra pack the next time you go to the store helps you feel more prepared, go ahead. Planning in this way can decrease stress and anxiety in general, as you would be prepared for any disruption in life (i.e. a snowstorm or hurricane), not just because of this specific virus.
- Focus on connecting. We are social beings and generally we require interacting with other humans regularly. This is a need, not a want. Isolation fuels loneliness, which can also lead to significant symptoms to depression. Take care of your mental health by intentionally connecting with others. Get creative. There are plenty of safe and socially distanced ways to connect. Share a meal outside with a friend, schedule video chats, play games online with friends and family. Do everything you can to stay connected. Connecting with at least one other human each day is a good minimum rule of thumb to follow.
- Move your body. Regular exercise is not only great for your physical health, it is also key to maintaining mental health and wellness. Our brain works best when we are active, and exercise is a proactive way to prevent mental-health-related issues. Exercising is something that our body needs each day, even if it just means going outside for a quick walk as a break from work.
- Find the positives. It’s so easy to get caught up in the many inconveniences, disappointments and devastation of COVID-19. There is no doubt that it can be overwhelming and burdensome to go through this. Coping with negative thoughts can be one of the most difficult parts of navigating any struggle. We can decrease anxiety and/or negativity by being in control of our thoughts and choosing to search for positives in any unfortunate circumstances. Challenging and reframing unhealthy thoughts can be difficult, especially in the moment. It takes lots of practice. You can start by noticing your negative thoughts, recognizing that they are negative and intentionally replacing them with positive thoughts. For example, negative thought: “I hate working from home.” Positive replacement: “I love working in my pajamas” or “I am grateful that I still have a job.” This shift can have a significant impact on your sense of happiness and well-being.
If you find yourself experiencing distressing mental health symptoms or feel you would benefit from having someone to talk to, see a mental health professional! Therapy and medication management for mental health concerns is being conducted remotely now more than ever before, making it more easily accessible and convenient.
Julie Killion, MA, is a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LCMHC), Licensed Clinical Addition Specialist (LCAS) and National Certified Counselor (NCC) with experience working in crisis, outpatient, inpatient and residential settings treating both adults and children.
This article appeared in the November/December 2020 issue of New Jersey CPA magazine. Read the full issue.