With the coronavirus outbreak in 2020, many people started experiencing increased anxiety and stress. The fact that this outbreak came from a new strain, COVID-19, added to feelings of uncertainty since doctors and researchers don’t have as much information about new diseases.
Any time a pandemic is declared, it is natural to feel anxious. However, it’s easy to allow your stress levels to grow out of proportion and negatively impact your mental health. Those with existing mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression are at increased risk. Here are some strategies to cope with the stress of a pandemic and take care of your mental health.
Limit Your Exposure to News and Social Media
You want to stay informed of the latest developments in the outbreak, but it’s important to limit your exposure. Constantly reading or watching news updates about a pandemic will increase your levels of anxiety. Your mind needs to take a break from focusing on the disease.
Set a limit to how much news you consume each day, and try to avoid social media as much as possible. Social media channels frequently spread misinformation, which can only add to your stress. Instead, stick to reliable sources of information such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO).
Focus on Steps You Can Take to Prevent Spread of the Disease
Dwelling on things we cannot control causes us to feel powerless and overwhelmed. Instead of wondering what will happen in the future, focus on what you can do to prevent the spread of disease:
- Wash your hands frequently or use hand sanitizer
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
- Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or the inside of your elbow
- Stay home when you are sick
- Avoid contact with others who are sick
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily
Take Care of Your Physical Health
Physical health is linked to mental health. While you cannot completely eliminate stress from a pandemic, you can continue to take care of your body. Eat healthy foods, exercise, get enough sleep, and avoid alcohol and other drugs.
Self-care should be a part of your regular mental health routine, but it’s especially important in times of increased stress. Create a list of activities that you enjoy such as reading a book or taking a walk. Make time for these activities every day. This will help you keep your stress levels down.
If you’re caring for someone who is sick or working as a healthcare professional during a pandemic, it’s especially important for you to take time for yourself so that you don’t feel burned out from providing care.
Find Alternative Ways to Connect with Loved Ones
Precautions taken during a pandemic often include a period of isolation. You may be quarantined if you’ve come into contact with a virus or tested positive for it. You may also be advised to work from home and avoid large social gatherings.
Being isolated from friends and family can lead to feelings of depression and anxiety. That’s why it’s important to find other ways to connect. Call loved ones on the phone, set up a video chat, or keep in touch through messaging apps.
Manage Financial Stress by Making a Plan
Businesses may close or reduce hours during a pandemic, leading to economic and financial stress. If you’re facing financial hardship, make a plan for how you’re going to cover necessary expenses. This may mean cutting out some non-essential things or contacting your creditors to work out a manageable payment plan during this time. Although the process of making the plan may feel stressful, you will ultimately feel calmer and more in-control once you have finished.
Help Children Cope by Setting a Healthy Example
If you have children or are caring for a child during a pandemic, it’s important to control how you react to the situation. Children are influenced by the way adults around them respond. If they see that you are anxious, they will feel more anxious.
Schools and childcare centers may also close during a pandemic, which disrupts a child’s daily routine. As a parent or caregiver, you can establish a new routine and bring a sense of order to your child’s life. Set aside time for fun activities and family connection (even if it’s virtual connection) so that your children feel loved and cared for during this time.
Seek Mental Health Services As Needed
If you find that stress over a pandemic such as coronavirus (COVID-19) is making it difficult for you to function, counseling can help you cope. Many mental health providers find alternative ways to offer their services in a pandemic so that they can limit the spread of disease. For example, in response to the coronavirus pandemic, The Light Program has implemented the ability to offer the same services in all of our outpatient locations using telehealth videoconferencing technology.
If you are unable to leave your home during a pandemic, or want to avoid risk of exposure, online counseling is a great option to maintain your mental health. To request a telehealth appointment from The Light Program, call us at (610) 644-6464, or fill out a contact form on our website.