By Kristine Keane, Psy.D. 3/21/20
Since the CDC declared the COVID-19 a pandemic, people all over the world have begun to quarantine. Uncertainty, fear of the unknown, feelings of isolation, nervousness about scarcity, and information overload are common experiences. Here is how you can maintain your mental health and remain calm. We can do this!
Combat catastrophic and panicked thinking. When faced with the unknown, it is easy for our minds to fill in the gaps. Be aware of when your mind wanders. Recognize that just because you have a thought, it doesn’t mean that it is true. It is just a thought. Distract yourself by talking to someone, watching something entertaining on television, or taking a walk. Just recognizing an unwanted thought can change the intensity of how you feel about it.
Stay connected to reliable sources such as the CDC, Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, or your local hospital website, such as Hackensack Meridian Health. Limit time on social media that offers fear and panic engendering messages.
When we are stressed, we often reach for simple carbohydrates such as chocolate or junk food, looking for a quick boost of happiness. These foods increase the neurotransmitter serotonin, which makes you immediately feel good, but later leads to a crash and increased feelings of stress and anxiety.
This goes for alcohol, too. Many people are finding solace in alcohol; however, alcohol makes people more susceptible to problems sleeping, which in turn results in increased stress, lowered immune response, and possibly depressive symptoms.
Just because your gym closed doesn’t mean your body doesn’t need the exercise. Remember, regular exercise keeps your mind sharp, helps stabilize and improve mood, and reduces the risk of heart and brain disease. Many gyms and websites are offering free online workouts and access to trainers.
Stay connected to the present moment. When we allow our minds to wander to wondering about the future, we lose our sense of peace. Setting daily intentions or engaging in journaling are two quick ways to get your mind back to the present moment.
Connect with your loved ones, especially those who are most vulnerable right now. Use your phone, face time, or other social platforms to connect with family members and friends consistently. Practice gratitude for this unexpected gift of time to be with our loved ones and our family members.
Work on your self-care routine. Catch up on reading. Learn something new. Finish old projects. Create a family schedule. Include time for school, family meals, outside air time, exercise, movie time, etc.
Engage in meditation or yoga. There are many online resources available to help you learn these practices if you have never previously engaged in them. My favorites are Calm, Headspace, and Muse.
If you have difficulty managing your emotions or find yourself struggling with depressive or anxiety symptoms, consider reaching out to a mental health professional. Many psychologists and counselors (I know quite a few!) are now providing telemental health services. The good news is that most insurance carriers are not only covering the services, but they are waiving copays.
Remember your values, such as kindness, resilience, courage, compassion, and love. Above all, remain calm. Stress reduces the body’s immune system and ability to fight illness. Relax. Engender hope. Wash Your Hands. And Namaste Home!