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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

7 Mental Health Tips on Coping With COVID

7 Mental Health Tips on Coping With COVID

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected us all in many different ways—physically, emotionally, economically, socially, and psychologically. We are all dealing with the challenges brought by this virus, including possible illness and the obstacles and interruptions to our normal way of life.

When we are faced with a crisis of any kind, fear and anxiety are inevitable. These are normal and natural responses to challenging situations that are infused with danger and uncertainty.

It’s so easy to get lost in worrying and obsessing about all kinds of things that are out of our control right now, like what might happen in the future and how the virus might affect us, our loved ones, community, country, and the world. While it’s completely natural for us to get lost in such worries, it’s not useful or helpful. The more we focus on what’s not in our control, the more hopeless or anxious we might feel.

Mental health is not something somebody else struggles with. It is something we all struggle with at some point in our lives—and during this pandemic, the number of people experiencing mental health issues and distress has understandably risen.

Stress, worry, and anxiety can be very crippling things to struggle with regularly—and even more so during the challenges created by a pandemic. This can make it hard to focus our minds and bodies away from worry, but there are some practical ways that you can try to manage your mental health.

In this article, I will cover mental health tips on coping with the pandemic.

1. Focus on What You Can Control

To start with one of the most useful things anyone can do in any type of crisis—Covid-related or otherwise—is to focus on what’s in your control. We can’t control what happens in the future. We can’t control the virus itself, the world economy, or how our governments manage the situation. But we can control what we do—here and now, and that really matters because what we do—here and now—can make a huge difference to us and those around us.

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Focusing on what we can control will help us maintain our well-being during periods of self-isolation, quarantine, or lockdown.

2. Deal With Negative Thoughts and Feelings

My second mental health tip is to notice and acknowledge the uncertainty within a thought/feeling as it comes to your mind, pause, and breathe. Tell yourself that this is just anxiety talking—it is just a thought, and thoughts are not statements of fact. You don’t need to believe everything you think.

This thought/feeling will pass, and you don’t have to respond to it or do anything about it. You can try to imagine the thought/feeling floating away in a bubble or cloud.

3. Mindful Relaxation

Mindfulness is about taking a non-judgmental awareness of the present moment, including your thoughts, feelings, bodily state, and sensation while encouraging openness, curiosity, and acceptance.

There are many ways to practice mindfulness. Here is one very simple method you can try:

Explore and connect with the present moment. Notice your breathing, count your breath slowly, and the sensations of breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. Try to count up to 20 slow deep breaths. The goal is to calm the mind by using the five senses to focus on the environment instead of troubling thoughts.

The key to embodying mindfulness is to turn into a keen observer. Using all five of your senses, look around and notice what you see, what you hear, what you can touch, what smells you notice—become fully absorbed in the experience of your senses. You can also set a timer for a few minutes, close your eyes, and work through trying to do this exercise using all your senses by visualizing a place you have visited, like a favorite holiday.

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4. Dealing With Anxiety

Anxiety and stress present a threat to us and at the same time, they make us underestimate our ability to cope with the stress of that threat. Of course, it can be extremely difficult to envision coping during a pandemic, but you have to remember that you are coping and that you will cope.

Here’s one way you can challenge threat and connect with your ability to cope: visualize coping. Start by getting into a comfortable position. Take some deep breaths in through your nose for a slow count of 5, holding your breath for a few counts, before breathing out slowly through your mouth. Repeat this a few times.

Then, recall a situation that you dealt with that was stressful or difficult for you, think about what it was, how you felt at the time, the kinds of things you might have told yourself, and whether you’d cope or not. Then, recount in as much detail as you can what you did to cope with and manage that problem, how it turned out, and how you then felt.

Pay important attention to how you might have predicted a catastrophe at the time—and how it didn’t end up being as bad as you thought it would be.

5. Take Care of Your Emotions

Another important mental health tip is to take care of your emotions. It’s impossible to have a life without some uncomfortable feelings. Negative emotions are a normal and helpful part of life. No emotion is without purpose, and they are a source of information for us.

It seems like a nice idea to try and get rid of negative feelings and replace them with positive ones. It might make sense because who wants to feel unhappy or have to deal with unpleasant feelings, right?

However, suppressing your emotions is not helpful—understanding them, processing them, and regulating them is. This is what enables you to calm and soothe yourself.

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Acceptance

Accept the emotions you are experiencing, know that they are there for a reason, allow them to be present so you can work with them. Remember that discomfort is a normal part of life.

Identify and label the emotion you are experiencing by saying “I am angry,” “I am overwhelmed,” “I am very anxious,” and “it’s because of (what has made you feel this way?).”

Recognize that the emotions you have right now are temporary. Emotions arise and fade, which can be hard to remember when they are very intense.

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Ask yourself, “what do I really need right now?” “What does this emotion want/need to help it?” “What can I do to nurture it/myself?” Do you need some helpful distraction, some alone time, some time in nature, or to talk to a friend?

Think about what would help you. What would be a compassionate response and what would be critical? And which one will help you work through this best?

6. Look for Balance

When we are struggling with our mental health, everything can seem negative. During a pandemic, many negative things are happening, and it’s hard not to get lost in a sea of negativity.

People tell us to try and be positive, but being positive is not easy. Many people tell us to just think positive—to just replace negativity with positivity. If only it was that easy, right?

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Forcing this kind of positivity is unhelpful, let alone unachievable. Forcing positivity can also make you feel like even more of a failure by making you think that you really should be able to just be positive, and when you can’t, you become self-critical of that as well.

Instead of trying or forcing positivity, look for a balance. Deal with the negatives you experience, but also recognize the positives.

Recognize the good things if and when you can and as much as you can. But don’t try to force yourself to be positive when you feel the complete opposite.

Remember that nobody feels positive all the time—and that is ok. Emotions of all kinds are normal, and that’s what being human is about.

7. Engage

The last mental health tip is about engaging ourselves. Try to focus your attention on something meaningful, on what you need to do, on what you were doing, or do something else that you want to do. This is about becoming immersed in something that feels worthwhile and applying your strengths in the pursuit of this goal.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help you become more engaged in this kind of behavior:

  • What absorbs me? What can really take my mind off things?
  • What are my strengths, and how can I use them today?
  • What healthy or positive experiences can I spend my time on now?
  • What do I see as my purpose, and how can I pursue this purpose today?
  • What things can I do today that will give me a sense of achievement?
  • What things have I been wanting to do that I couldn’t because life was so busy? Can I do them now?
  • Can I spend some time thinking about my past and future from an optimistic perspective?
  • What’s going well for me at present?
  • What positive/healthy experiences can I plan to do today (e.g. reading, music, food, games, exercise, mediation, learning, gardening, etc.)?
  • What do I feel grateful for today?
  • What small act of kindness can I do for someone else today?
  • Who or what inspires me?
  • How can I achieve a moment of calm, and what activities or tasks can help me with this?
  • What experience, food, or drink can I savor today?
  • What gives me enjoyment?
  • Who can I connect with today (in reality, over the telephone, online)?

Final Thoughts

Living the same way before the pandemic is difficult, if not impossible. However, that shouldn’t deter us from living our lives to the fullest and maintaining positivity. These mental health tips are a good start to help you cope with the stress brought by the pandemic.

More Mental Health Tips

Featured photo credit: Fernando @cferdo via unsplash.com

More by this author

Dr. Kirren Schnack

Dr. Kirren Schnack is an experienced clinical psychologist.

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Last Updated on January 21, 2021

5 Powerful Self-Care Ideas for When Life Is Stressful

5 Powerful Self-Care Ideas for When Life Is Stressful

Stress affects everyone, invariably in different ways. Regardless of how stress shows up in your life, when it does, it takes over, making it difficult to stay in the present moment or show gratitude for what and who we have in our life. In the eye of the stress storm, everything is tossed around into oblivion, and self-care ideas go out the window.

However, this is the moment when self-care is the most important. When you notice that you’re struggling with stress, anxiety, or powerful emotions, it’s time to get back to a sense of balance by showing yourself love and compassion.

How Does Stress Show Up?

On a physical scale, stress tends to be behind many of our typical ailments, such as headaches, insomnia, muscle tension, or body aches and pain.[1] When we’re in stressful situations, our body activates our fight-or-flight response through the stress hormone, cortisol.

According to the American Institute of Stress, when the body is in this mode due to stress, “the body’s sympathetic nervous system is activated due to the sudden release of hormones. The sympathetic nervous system stimulates the adrenal glands, triggering the release of catecholamines, which include adrenaline and noradrenaline. This results in an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate.”[2]

While our fight-or-flight response is extremely helpful when we’re in situations that risk our survival, not every situation is that dire. However, the body doesn’t know how to differentiate between such scenarios.

Rather, we become accustomed to seeing every stressful situation as life-threatening, and we become locked into this fight-or-flight response automatically. This causes us to burn out because our body is constantly fighting or fleeing from threats that are not causing us any real harm.

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On a mental and emotional scale, stress affects your thoughts, feelings, and ultimately your behavior. Everything is interconnected. When stress takes a toll on our bodies, this has a domino effect on how we process our thoughts and feelings. Therefore, it is not uncommon to see correlations between depression and anxiety when it comes to dealing with stress.

Self-Care Ideas to Combat Stress

Below are five self-care ideas for combating stress in your life. Consider implementing them into your daily routine for the best results.

1. Start a Brain Dump Writing Exercise

When you’re overwhelmed with thoughts, it can become very difficult to stay present and focused. This could affect you at work, in school, or in your relationships. It’s as if your mind were filled to the brim with thoughts that are constantly competing for your attention. If left unattended, this can affect your performance or your state of being, so it’s important to turn to self-care ideas in these moments.

One exercise to get this under control is called a brain dump, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. Start by getting comfortable with a pen and paper or your favorite journal. Without any special formatting or introduction, just start writing any and all thoughts that come up.

Consider your paper a blank canvas onto which you’re going to spill every thought, no matter how small or unimportant. This can look like a laundry list, a jumble of words, or a paragraph.

Don’t focus on how it looks or how well it’s organized. The idea is to give your thoughts an exit. Once they’re on paper, they’re no longer swimming in your head for attention.

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Once you have them written down, leave them as they are. We have a tendency to want to fix our thoughts. Instead, allow them to simply exist as they are—they’re not right or wrong. Consider coming back to this exercise daily or whenever you feel like you have a lot on your mind.

2. Sweat It out

There is nothing more therapeutic than moving the physical body when it feels the weight of stress. Energetically, we carry our day in our body, mostly in our neck, shoulders, and hips. If we’ve had a particularly difficult day, that energy is going to feel tense and unsettling. This is why it’s so important to move and really break a sweat!

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America[3]:

“Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem.”

Find what exercise regimen works for you, and commit to it for a few days per week for your mental and physical health. Scientists have also found that even 10-15 minutes of aerobic exercise can have a tremendous effect on your body. Go for a run, take a spin class or a power yoga class, or dance the stress away in Zumba. Whatever gets your heart rate up and breaks a sweat is one of the perfect self-care ideas to keep the stress away.

3. Seek the Care of a Therapist

Sometimes writing out our thoughts and feelings doesn’t seem quite enough. This is common and to be expected. After all, we are complex human beings who want to understand and process our emotions on a deeper level. This is why spending time in a regular therapy session is so beneficial!

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In the presence of a professional, we can open up about what stressful situations we’re going through. We don’t have to keep our emotions bottled up, and we know that our honesty will be protected and safeguarded.

Additionally, when we’re feeling stressed, we often want to simply vent and get things off of our chest. Having someone on the receiving end who will simply listen and hold space is a truly healing gift. We can often leave the session feeling more empowered, seen, and offloaded of the stress we brought in.

Lastly, we may be able to receive guidance from our therapist on a particular situation we’re struggling with. Having someone else’s perspective on something we’re too emotionally close to can be just the right solution and a great addition to our self-care routine.

Here are more self-care ideas from a therapist: Self Care Tips During Difficult Times (A Therapist’s Advice)

4. Interrupt Your Day

When it comes to self-care ideas, this may seem like a derailing technique, but give it a shot! Interrupting your day means introducing something entirely new or random into a routine that is very monotonous or typical.

If your work or school day is the same sequence of events every single day, bringing in an interruption can be quite conducive to your productivity and creativity. This can look like pausing in the middle of the day for a yoga stretch at your desk or in your office. It could be playing your favorite playlist in-between meetings or taking a walk outside for lunch. Not only does this stir up new energy for your day, but it can also help you de-stress

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As I said above, when we’re too close to a situation or conflict, we have a harder time breaking away. We’re so emotionally and mentally invested that we don’t see how that proximity is affecting our health. So, interrupt yourself when you’re feeling stress coming on, and do something fun, random, and refreshing to feel good.

5. Get Some Energy Work Done

Energy work is anything that is being done to improve the circulation and energetic flow of the body. This could be a massage, a Reiki session, chiropractic adjustment, or acupuncture[4].

Moving the body helps move the energy that is blocked or stuck. This is why exercise is so important. However, sometimes we need a session where that work is done for us by a licensed professional.

In such treatments, we have the luxury to relax and receive the benefits of the treatment, making it a beautiful way to squeeze in self-care!

You can find even more stress management techniques in the following video:

Final Thoughts

Stress is, unfortunately, a common part of every life. It affects everyone, but to what extent it affects you is personal. One thing is for sure, and that is that stress has a tremendous effect on our physical, mental, and emotional state.

This is why regular exercise is so important, as well as mental stimulation and emotional release. These self-care ideas won’t necessarily guard you from ever feeling stressed again, but they will certainly help you manage it better and offer amazing health benefits along the way.

More Self-Care Ideas

Featured photo credit: Alisa Anton via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Mayo Clinic: Stress Management
[2] The American Institute of Stress: How the Fight or Flight Response Works
[3] Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Physical Activity Reduces Stress
[4] Medical Acupuncture: Does Acupuncture Reduce Stress Over Time? A Clinical Heart Rate Variability Study in Hypertensive Patients

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