During times of global pandemic, understandably anxiety and distress may be increased due to both primary factors such as fear of the virus itself or due to secondary factors such as those associated with having to isolate from others. However, there are multiple ways to both protect and improve mental health during such times.
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Maintain Your Routine
Daily routines can play an important role in protecting mental health. Either maintaining existing routines or creating a new one is recommended and should feature: going to sleep and waking up at similar times each day, exercising regularly, putting aside specific times to work and relax, eating healthy, regular meals, and maintaining personal hygiene. Adhering to such factors can increase purpose and motivation and improve overall mood and wellbeing.
As a growing number of people worldwide are being urged to remain at home and limit their physical contact with others, feelings of isolation may be on the rise. To prevent this isolation from adversely affecting your mental health, it is crucial to reach out to others.
Use technology to your advantage and try to communicate with your family members and friends who you are unable to see face to face through video calls or group chat.
Feeling more connected and having the opportunity to discuss any potential worries and positive experiences with others is essential during times of crisis. For those with limited social networks, there are a variety of helplines or online groups that you can connect with to gain similar support. It is also essential to be self-aware and avoid burnout caused by over-committing to the number of virtual social interactions.
Do Something for You
One way to improve your mental health is to keep busy. If you are self-isolating, learning a new skill can be a great way to improve your mental wellbeing by increasing your sense of purpose and boosting self-esteem.
Whether it is baking, cooking, signing up for an online course, or learning a new language, using your time to take up something of interest to you can keep the mind active and focused, while filling up your day.
Ask for Help
If you have an existing mental health condition that has been exacerbated by COVD-19, or, perhaps, you are developing new anxiety or depressive symptoms, it is important to ask for professional help.
A lot of medical providers such a doctor’s surgeries are operating in revised ways during the pandemic, such as through video or telephone consultations. Therefore, those requiring emotional support can still get the help they need.
Taking part in regular exercise has been found to improve not only physical health but also mental health too. Research has shown regular physical activity to reduce anxiety and depression across all age groups and can be beneficial in reducing age-related cognitive decline.
Whether you are limited to indoor activities only or have a garden or outdoor area that you can use, there are multiple ways to remain active and safe during the pandemic. Workouts and exercises such as yoga, stretching, or high-intensity interval training can be found online that require minimal equipment or time. These can be completed both indoors and outdoors. Alternatively, walking, jogging or biking can be a great way to boost endorphins and improve mood.
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Limit Social Media Use
Due to an increased amount of time spent at home, individuals may be spending an increased amount of time on social media sites, including those releasing the news. While the use of such sites may be beneficial in remaining connected with others and informed, it may also worsen mental health.
Overexposure to information relating to the pandemics can result in increased anxiety and distress. For example, a cross-sectional study conducted amongst Chinese citizens during the COVID-19 outbreak revealed that more than 80% of participants were frequently exposed to social media. Furthermore, anxiety amongst the sample was positively correlated with frequent social media use.
Based on this evidence, to avoid detriments to mental health, it is recommended to reduce your intake of pandemic-related information by only seeking it out a maximum of once or twice a day from trusted sources.
Mindfulness is the practice of observing what it is occurring both inside and outside of ourselves, moment by moment. It has been found that using mindfulness practices to increase our attention to our thoughts, feelings, sensations, and the external environment in the present moment can improve mental wellbeing.
A variety of techniques can be employed, and multiple mobile applications can be downloaded that takes the participant through guided exercises. Such techniques can be used during periods of crisis. However, they can be more beneficial if used routinely, for example, when waking up or before going to sleep. The technique has also been credited for its ability to help identify early signs of anxiety and stress, enabling individuals to cope with them better.
A study investigating the impact of daily mindfulness practice during the COVID-19 pandemic amongst the residents of Wuhan, China, found that those who practiced it developed reduced levels of anxiety and less impacted sleep compared to those in the control conditions. Based on this, mindfulness may be useful in assisting people in coping with anxiety-evoking pandemics.
References and Further Reading
- NHS (2019). 5 steps to mental wellbeing. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/improve-mental-wellbeing/
- Fiorillo, A., & Gorwood, P. (2020). The consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health and implications for clinical practice. European Psychiatry, 63(1). Doi: 10.1192/j.eurpsy.2020.35
- World Health Organization. Looking after our mental health. who.int/news-room/campaigns/connecting-the-world-to-combat Coronavirus/healthyathome/healthyathome---mental-health?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIruvE8ILA6QIVDO7tCh1rhQvdEAAYASAAEgI-efD_BwE
- Gao, J., Zheng, P., Jia, Y., Chen, H., Mao, Y., Chen, S., ... & Dai, J. (2020). Mental health problems and social media exposure during COVID-19 outbreak. Plos one, 15(4), e0231924. Doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0231924
- NHS (2018). Mindfulness. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/mindfulness/
- Zheng, M., Yao, J., & Narayanan, J. (2020). Mindfulness Buffers the Impact of COVID-19 Outbreak Information on Sleep Duration. https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/wuh94