As coronavirus continues to spread across the country, it’s natural to worry. Not only are people concerned about their physical health, but many are also feeling unsure about their financial well-being and anxious about how long they’ll have to remain at home. For health care workers, other first responders and parents of young children, the levels of stress may be even higher.
During this time of uncertainty, it’s more important than ever to remember that your mental health matters as much as your physical health. Reducing your stress not only will help you feel better physically, but can also help bolster your immune system.
We’ve already written about ways to manage stress during these unsettling times. Here are some additional tips on how to care for your mental health, including specific tips for parents and health care workers.
Give Yourself a Break
With the whole world focused on COVID-19, it’s easy to get dragged into the 24-hour newsfeed on the virus and its spread. This constant barrage of information can cause anyone to feel overwhelmed and upset, especially when it isn’t always reliable.
To spare your sanity and to separate facts from rumors, focus on a few trustworthy sources of coronavirus information, such as The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Even with these sources, try to limit your updates to only once or twice a day. Knowing that you’re getting factual information can help dispel your fears.
Reach Out to Others
The COVID-19 outbreak has brought people together in a new way. We’re all truly in this situation together. Chances are, nearly everyone you know is having a similar experience. This makes it the perfect time to reconnect on a deeper level with family and friends by phone, email or video call to talk about your experiences, feelings and fears.
Look for Ways to Help
Helping others is a great way to take the focus off yourself and make a difference for other people. Here are a few things you might be able to do:
- Check on older neighbors or at-risk friends or family. Ask if you can help by delivering groceries or picking up medications
- If you’re healthy and able, look for opportunities in your local area. Check neighborhood message boards, community groups or your church or religious community
- Schedule a phone call or video visit with someone you know is isolated or alone. Plan a time to speak with them each week
Focus on What You Can Control
Part of what makes coronavirus frightening is the uncertainty and lack of control it brings. Instead of focusing on what you can’t control, such as the number of people infected or the global economy, focus on what you can.
For example, wash your hands often, stay home as much as you can and follow the advice of the CDC to help protect yourself and others from the virus. Acting on what you can control during this time can be empowering and help you be less fearful of the unknown.
Connect with Your Children
If you’re a parent, you may feel particularly stressed by the outbreak, especially if your children are unable to go to school or visit friends. But there are ways you can help support your children:
Talk about coronavirus with your kids in a way they can understand. Listen to any questions they have and answer them as honestly as you can.
Be a good role model. Let your children see how you take care of yourself by getting enough sleep, exercising and eating well.
Reassure your children that they’re safe, but let them know it’s normal to feel upset. Help them find positive ways to express their feelings with activities like drawing or role-playing.
Limit the amount of news coverage younger children see, including on social media. It can upset children when they hear or see something they don’t fully understand.
Maintain your regular routines as much as possible, or find new routines. Try to keep up with schoolwork and encourage creative projects and hobbies. If possible, get outside for regular walks or playtime in a safe space away from others. You can also encourage kids to visit with friends virtually or by phone.
Take Extra Care If You’re a First Responder
If you’re a health care provider or other first responder, the coronavirus outbreak can cause additional strain on your mental health. That’s why it’s even more important to practice self-care:
- Make time between shifts to engage in activities you enjoy, such as reading a book, watching a favorite TV show, spending time with friends and family, or exercising.
- Practice breathing and relaxation techniques
- Try to limit your shifts to 12 hours or shorter
- Remind yourself that it’s okay to take breaks
- If possible, work with a buddy or in teams, and try to limit the amount of time you spend working alone
- Connect with one or more colleagues to have regular check-ins to keep an eye on each other and your workloads
- Know the symptoms of burnout and secondary traumatic stress, which include irritability, apathy, excessive worry, exhaustion, isolation, feeling you’re not doing a good job, or a racing heart or other physical symptoms. Ask your supervisor for help if you feel overwhelmed
Know When to Get Help
While it’s normal to feel frightened during a pandemic, it’s important to recognize signs that you may need extra help for your mental health. These signs may include:
- Changes in your appetite or energy levels
- Chronic health problems getting worse
- Difficulty concentrating or sleeping or having nightmares
- Feelings of anger or being short-tempered
- Feelings of numbness or disbelief
- Physical reactions to your anxiety, such as stomach problems, body pains, headaches or skin rashes
If you’re overwhelmed by sadness or depression for more than a few days in a row, or these symptoms are affecting your daily life, talk with your physician, a counselor or a member of the clergy. You can also contact the Disaster Distress Helpline at Call800-985-5990. This government hotline provides immediate crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress related to a disaster.
Get Up-to-Date Coronavirus Information
The news about COVID-19 is changing every day. Stay up-to-date with the facts by visiting the CDC online. You can also turn to AdventHealth for information to help keep you safe during the coronavirus outbreak. Visit our Coronavirus Resource Hub for our latest tips and updates.