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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

7 Mental Health Tips on Coping With COVID

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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.

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More Mental Health Tips

Featured photo credit: Fernando @cferdo via unsplash.com

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Dr. Kirren Schnack

Dr. Kirren Schnack is an experienced clinical psychologist.

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Published on October 15, 2021

Does Anxiety Make You Tired And Why?

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Does Anxiety Make You Tired And Why?

When you think of anxiety, several scenarios may come to mind: the endless tossing and turning of a restless night, dread over potential future events, pandemic-related overwhelm, or full-blown panic attacks. Even if you’re not diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, you’ve likely experienced anxiety symptoms at some point in your life. In these situations, you might feel a queasiness in your stomach, racing heartbeat, excessive sweating, chest tightness, some tension in your jaw/neck/shoulders, or worrisome thoughts as you prepare for the worst possible scenario. But does anxiety also make you tired?

After experiencing these symptoms, you may indeed feel fatigued. The sensation could fall anywhere on the exhaustion spectrum, from feeling like you just ran a marathon and need to sleep for two days, to just a little worn down and wanting a quick nap to recover.

Below are 7 ways anxiety zaps your energy and how to restore it.

1. Stress Hormone Overload

Anxiety can make you tired via overloading your body with stress hormones. The “fight or flight” response is a key connection between anxiety and fatigue. In fact, this process is made up of three stages: Alarm, Resistance, and Exhaustion. Anxiety triggers our body systems to go into high alert. This is a natural, involuntary reaction that developed in the human brain for survival.

When humans lived with the real, imminent threat of being attacked by a predator, it made sense for our bodies to spring into action without much preparatory thought. Such dangers are rare in modern times, but our brains continue to respond in the same way they did thousands of years ago.

The hormones and chemicals that flood our bodies to prepare us for safety can both affect and be affected by several body systems, and this interaction itself contributes to exhaustion. Adrenaline and cortisol are the two most notable hormones to address here. First, adrenaline is sent out, tensing the muscles and increasing heart rate and blood pressure in preparation to run. Later in the stress response, cortisol is released, enhancing the brain’s use of glucose. This is one of our main fuel sources, so it’s no wonder this contributes to fatigue (see #2).

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You can regulate baseline levels of these stress hormones by regularly practicing yoga, breathwork, meditation, and/or engaging in aerobic exercise.[1] It’s easier to lean into these routines for relief during stress when you’ve already mastered using them during times when you feel calm.

2. Elevated Blood Sugar Levels

Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), which is shown to be associated with anxiety in diabetic patients.[2] Many people who experience hyperglycemia report feeling tired all the time regardless of their quantity or quality of sleep, nutrition, or exercise.

Although this connection has shown more prevalent and prolonged effects in diabetics, it also occurs with nondiabetics exposed to psychiatric stress.[3] In fact, for all people, the natural stress response elevates blood pressure and heart rate as well as cortisol levels, all of which increase blood sugar levels.[4] This means that anxiety causes a double-hit of exhaustion related to blood sugar fluctuations.

Instead of reaching for comfort foods like chocolate during times of stress, take a calming walk around the block. Gentle movement alone is a great stress reliever that incidentally also helps to regulate blood sugars.[5]

3. Negative Mindset

Anxiety can also make you tired because of repetitive negative thinking (RNT), which is a common symptom of anxiety. RNT involves continuous thoughts via rumination (dwelling on sad or dark thoughts focused on the past) and worry (angst regarding the future). Some researchers argue that having a longtime habit of RNT can harm the brain’s capacity to think, reason, and form memories.[6] While the brain is busy using its energy stores to fuel negative thought patterns, the energy available for these other more productive endeavors is thereby reduced.

Negative thoughts can also disrupt or prevent healthy sleep patterns, keeping our minds racing at night and effectively wreaking havoc on daytime energy. (See #7)

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Reduce these patterns by reframing your feelings over anxious thoughts. Instead of staying stuck on “what if,” focus on what you can do in the here and now. What activity can you engage in for five minutes (or more) that brings you joy? What are you grateful for, no matter what’s going on around you?

4. Digestive Issues

It’s common for people to experience both intestinal and mental issues simultaneously. This suggests a strong connection between the central nervous system and the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which is known as the gut-brain axis.[7] Simply put, what happens in our digestive tract (and as a result of what we eat) affects the brain and vice versa.

The gut microbiota is a complex population of GI tract microorganisms. When its balance is altered, the body can develop conditions that affect the gut-brain-endocrine relationship. The endocrine system produces and manages adrenaline, for starters. And the gut bacteria’s production of feel-good hormones (serotonin and dopamine—see #5) ties into this relationship as well.

GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) receptors are also found in gut bacteria. GABA is a natural brain relaxant that makes us feel good by helping the body to unwind after a stress-induced neurotransmitter release (e.g., cortisol and adrenaline). When GABA activity is low, it leads to anxiety, depression, insomnia, and mood disorders. These are just a few of the manifestations that demonstrate how gut bacteria influences behavior. All of these contribute to feeling both physically and mentally tired.

You can minimize the symptoms of depression and anxiety by keeping your gut microbiota balanced with probiotic-rich fermented foods. Yogurt with live cultures, sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, kimchi, miso soup, and tempeh are great foods to include in your diet.[8]

5. Depression

Anxiety and depression often go hand in hand. Research continues to indicate a complex relationship between depression and decreased serotonin—a key neurotransmitter for regulating mood and feelings of wellbeing and happiness. Anxiety is also a direct symptom of serotonin deficiency. Serotonin helps with healthy sleep, mood, and digestion.

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Serotonin is produced in the gut, almost exclusively, at an estimated 90 percent. However, a small quantity is also produced in the hypothalamus, an area of the brain that is pivotal for transmitting energy balance signals. This small cone-shaped structure receives and relays signals transmitted via the vagus nerve from the gastrointestinal tract. It has a central role in mediating stress responses, regulating sleep, and establishing circadian rhythms. It senses and responds to a myriad of circulating hormones and nutrients, directly affecting our mood and energy.[9]

Dopamine is another mood-boosting neurochemical that is depleted in depression. It creates feelings of alertness and wakefulness and, when the body is operating normally, is released in higher amounts in the morning (allowing for daytime energy) and lower at night (preparing for healthy sleep). Stress is one factor that can deplete dopamine, thereby leading to depression, sleep disorders, and fatigue.

Studies show that dopamine levels in the brain can be elevated by increasing dietary intake of tyrosine and phenylalanine.[10] Both of these amino acids are naturally found in protein-rich foods like turkey, beef, eggs, dairy, soy, peas, lentils, and beans.

6. Breathing Problems

Breathlessness and anxiety are closely linked, and this is one of the ways anxiety can make you feel tired. Anxiety can lead to shallow breathing, which can cause shortness of breath while feeling breathless can exacerbate anxiety.[11] It’s a vicious cycle that often leads people to take rapid and shallow breaths, breathing into their upper chest and shoulders.

This type of breathing minimizes oxygen intake and usability. Despite comprising only two percent of the body, our brains consume 20 percent of the body’s oxygen supply. Oxygen is fuel for both mental and physical tasks. When breathing patterns compromise healthy oxygen levels, this can cause considerable fatigue.[12]

End the anxiety-fatigue cycle with focused breathing exercises. It’s important to practice this regularly while you’re not experiencing anxiety or stress, as this will help you to be prepared should a moment of breathless anxiety hit unexpectedly.

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There are several different styles of breathing exercises. There’s an easy one to try, called “Resonant Breathing.” Simply breathe in slowly through your nose as you count to five, then exhale for a count of five. Repeat this for a few minutes. It’s helpful to bring your awareness to any tension, deliberately relaxing your neck, shoulders, and jaw in particular.

7. Sleep Issues

Most of the elements we’ve already discussed inherently tie into sleep issues, which is often the reason why anxiety can make you feel tired. But it’s important to note that this is not always a directly linear cause-and-effect process. Much of it is cyclic. If we don’t get enough quality sleep, we increase our risk of excessive cortisol production, elevated blood pressure and blood sugar levels, depressed mood and mindset disorders, and dysregulation of appetite/craving hormones that affect our digestive health.

Sleep is obviously the number one antidote to feeling tired as a result of anxiety. But at the same time, many of these elements—including anxiety itself—lead to less-than-restorative sleep. We can improve our energy levels by addressing each element discussed here, as well as taking a proactive approach to our sleep health.

One simple habit to help recalibrate your circadian rhythm for healthy sleep patterns is to get outside in the morning. Sunlight exposure in the early hours of the day regulates melatonin production, helping us to feel sleepy at night.

You Don’t Have to Live Your Life Anxious and Exhausted

Times of extreme stress, like driving in heavy traffic or nerve-wracking situations like public speaking, can easily induce an anxiety response. Even “normal” everyday stressors, like feeling overwhelmed with work and home responsibilities, can build up to anxious feelings over time.

Our bodies’ response to stress and anxiety affects many of its functions in complex ways. When we unravel the interconnections of these processes, we can see how each part plays an intrinsic role in contributing to fatigue. By addressing each element individually, we can make simple lifestyle changes that resolve anxiety and diminish the ways it makes us tired as a result.

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More Tips on Coping With Anxiety

Featured photo credit: Joice Kelly via unsplash.com

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