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Published on April 5, 2022

How to Look After Your Mental Health Post COVID

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How to Look After Your Mental Health Post COVID

Who could have ever imagined a complete global shutdown to avoid the extinction of the entire human race? Nevertheless, as unfathomable as it was, it actually happened!

And more than likely, if you happen to be reading this article, wherever you may have been on planet earth during the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, you and I were probably sharing a similar sense of panic, fear, and anxiety for an uncertain future at the time. To a certain level, your mental health has suffered due to COVID.

How COVID Affected Our Mental Health at the Beginning

Whether you first heard about the emergence of the bat-borne virus somewhere near the end of the evening news or perhaps as a small headline at the bottom of your favorite streaming news service, more than likely, the story probably seemed so distant and so unimportant compared to all of the other “huge” issues happening in the world at the time.

Then, seemingly almost overnight, COVID-19 quickly became the lead story—the headline—as the virus began to feverishly sweep across the globe, indiscriminately causing an insurmountable degree of misery and pain for everyone in its wake.[1]

It all seemed to happen so fast. As far as I can recall, I first began to truly get a sense of the potential gravity of the real-world, nightmare-to-come when all of the schools and universities started shutting down.[2] Shortly thereafter, stores and businesses followed suit.

Seemingly overnight, we were all forced to function in a quasi-on-line world, essentially devoid of outside and in-person human interaction. Nevertheless, we still had to find a way to somehow provide for ourselves and our families under strictly enforced stay-at-home orders.

Then, when we were allowed out of our homes to purchase food and supplies, we ended up having to wait in long lines in stores with empty shelves, while at the same time, having to find a way to somehow make it back before curfew.

Fortunately, mankind has been able to demonstrate the ability to persevere with resilience and ingenuity. Rather than just waiting around for impending cataclysmic viral doom, we quickly learned that universal precautions, such as frequent hand-washing, the use of face masks, and social distancing helped stop the spread of the virus.[3]

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Furthermore, pharmaceutical engineers have been able to create vaccines that appear to have either significantly reduced the severity of symptoms experienced if infected or have been able to provide immunity from the virus altogether.[4] As a result, infection rates, hospitalizations, and subsequent deaths attributed to Covid-19 have decreased significantly and continue to appear to be headed downward—at least for now.

Even with millions of deaths linked to the virus and many millions more experiencing any number of unpleasant, sometimes debilitating, and often lingering symptoms, the emotional toll continues to factor at an incalculable rate.

We are not out of the water just yet. In fact, there is a new variant of the virus emerging in Europe, perhaps already on its way back to North America, if it’s not already here by now.[5]

Nevertheless, although most precautionary measures and restrictions are either no longer in place or are rapidly being phased out completely, COVID-19 continues to impact all of our lives in one way or another, whether or not you actually ever contract the virus.

Long-Lasting Impact of COVID on Mental Health

As a licensed psychotherapist and professional mental health interventionist with years of experience working in trauma, I distinctly remember thinking that COVID-19 was going to have a long-lasting impact on our collective mental health, especially in the early days of the pandemic when the number of infections seemed to be multiplying exponentially on an almost daily basis.

As we begin to dig ourselves out from under the emotional rubble of the COVID-19 pandemic and although much of the physical landscape may look the same as it did before, for many of us, the subconscious terrain of our mental health has been altered by the event. Unlike hospitalization and mortality rates, there may never truly be a means by which to measure the full extent of the pandemic on mental health, especially since the problem persists to this day.

Although social distancing may have helped to stop the spread of the virus, evidence suggests that it may have also inadvertently contributed to a corresponding increase in rates of anxiety, depression, and even suicide across the world.[6] Experts warn that the virus could continue to impact our lives in one way or another for years to come.

5 Ways to Help You Look After Your Mental Health During COVID

Similar to the momentum created by an earthquake beneath the sea, the harsh reality is that we may have only been rattled by the virus itself while the momentum generated from the pandemic has fueled perhaps an even more destructive mental health tsunami yet to come.

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So, here are five ways to help you look after your mental health while COVID-19 persists.

1. Seek Professional Help

I know that it sounds simple enough, but for many of us out there, asking for help can be one of the most difficult things to do, especially when it comes to asking for professional help for our mental health. Nevertheless, there is no shame in asking for it, especially not now.

I recommend that you consult with a board-certified psychiatrist to explore medication options that may be able to help you alleviate any combination of symptoms of mental illness that you may be experiencing, such as irritability, insomnia, lack of energy, and depressed mood.

At the same time, I encourage you to also reach out to a licensed mental health professional who can help you process and work through the underlying root causes of your issues.

2. Socialize

There is no virtual substitute for direct human contact when it comes to your mental health. Without trying to sound like a social scientist, human beings are social creatures by nature. Instinctually, we are driven to interact with others. As a result, we form interpersonal relationships for any number of reasons, such as personal safety, emotional fulfillment, and even economic security.

Although social distancing may have helped to stop the spread of the virus, conversely, it created an atmosphere of social isolation, leading to feelings of both anxiety and depression.

Therefore, this may not only be the time to reconnect with old friends and family with whom relationships were strained by both distance and disease but perhaps also the perfect time to establish new relationships with others with whom you may now share a common experience of survival, grief, and even loss associated with the virus.

3. Get Outside

Although substantially fewer cases of Covid-19 are being reported, people are still getting infected by the virus even after being vaccinated against it, booster shots and all. Nevertheless, in addition to socializing with others, now may be the time to get out there and reconnect with your surroundings, whether around the corner or across the globe.

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I will never forget feeling cooped up during the lockdown. However, perhaps just like you, I tried to make the best of the situation. I distinctly remember binge-watching countless episodes of old television shows, playing lots of gin rummy, and eating what felt like an endless serving of top ramen soup. However, every so often, I also remember feeling depressed and isolated, even with all of my immediate family around me.

Although it may be difficult at first to go outside and look around after a severe storm hits, the sooner that you assess the damage, the sooner that you should be able to rebuild and hopefully return to a more normal life.

Nevertheless, if you are still feeling sketchy, start by taking small steps. Perhaps start with a short drive around your neighborhood. From there, try going out to dinner at your favorite restaurant. Then, depending on your budget, plan to get away for a few days just to clear your mind.

4. Be Productive

They say that idle hands are the devil’s workshop, I couldn’t agree more. In other words, if you don’t have something productive to do with your time, you may end up doing something that you will end up regretting. Studies have shown that highly productive people are less likely to experience severe symptoms of anxiety and depression than those who report being less productive.[7]

With all of that being said, although restrictions imposed to reduce the spread of the Covid-19 virus appear to have been effective, they also clearly appear to have significantly limited the ability of billions of people all over the world to feel productive, a universally recognized element in building self-esteem.

Fortunately, however—depending upon the sector—the job market appears to be robust. You may just have to be willing to go a little outside of your comfort zone to explore opportunities that you might not have otherwise considered prior to the pandemic.

Furthermore, for many people, the pandemic has become a watershed moment in their lives. Rather than waiting to get back to work at the office, many people have ended up starting their own businesses. I think that one of the most powerful ways to look after your mental health while Covid-19 is to find a way to transform adversity into productivity.

5. Exercise

Perhaps the easiest way to look after your mental health as COVID-19 persists is to stay active by exercising.

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I think we were all a little stir crazy during the early days of the pandemic, especially when we were all forced to stay at home. Most of us couldn’t even go for a walk around the block, let alone for a bike ride in the park. All of the gyms were closed, and by the time I was able to make it to the department store to pick up a couple of sets of dumbells, all of the exercise equipment was sold out.

So, I started working out on my back patio doing push-ups, squats, lunges, and sit-ups. I have to admit that at first, I felt a little bit embarrassed and uncomfortable with all of the neighbors watching me from their balconies. So, I turned up the tunes and tuned out my inhibitions with some Foo Fighters.

Ultimately, I learned how to adapt quickly to my surroundings and make the most out of what I had instead of feeling bad about what I didn’t have access to. I even ended up losing ten pounds, although I recently appear to have somehow put it back on. Either way, studies show that people who engage in some form of regular exercise have a significantly higher prognosis of managing symptoms of depression attributed to the COVID-19 virus.[8]

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, universal precautions such as mask-wearing, frequent hand-washing, and social distancing appear to have significantly helped to slow down the spread of the COVID-19 virus, while vaccines appear to have been highly effective in either preventing further infection or at least in significantly reducing the severity of symptoms experienced by those who have already been infected by it. As a result, infections, hospitalizations, and subsequent deaths appear to have dropped off significantly.

Nevertheless, although there are now fewer cases of the virus being reported, people all over the world are still contracting one variant or another of the self-mutating virus, while experiencing any number of COVID-19-related symptoms, such as severe inflammation of the lungs, persistent cough, fever, and loss of the sense of taste.[9]

At the same time, however, the number of people experiencing any number of symptoms of mental illness attributed to the pandemic has been skyrocketing. Fortunately, you do not have to suffer in silence.

With travel restrictions lifted, there are a variety of things that you can do right now to help alleviate the frequency and duration of those symptoms while you resolve the underlying root cause of the problem.

Now, more than ever, we can all benefit from some universal ways to help us look after our mental health while the Covid-19 virus persists. After all, your mental health is just as important as your physical health.

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Featured photo credit: Anastasiia Chepinska via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Evan Jarschauer

Professional Mental Health Interventionist & Licensed Psychotherapist

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