THE CORONAVIRUS: THE IMPACT ON MENTAL HEALTH

The changes everywhere are palpable. From the grocery store to your email inbox, you can probably feel the frenzy and the panic. Every day over the last week, we have been inundated with information to process and adapt to.

With the increasing statistics regarding the Coronavirus and the changes to our daily lives, people are worried and anxious. Many of us are scared, especially the elderly and adults with underlying medical conditions. With schools closing, working parents need to develop a plan for childcare or alter their work schedule. With many businesses closing, most of us are worried about finances and bills.

Depending on your circumstances, you will be faced with a myriad of questions. Should I use public transportation? Can I have friends over to my house? Should I cancel my upcoming vacation? Is it safe to fly? Can I get a refund for this event? Should I get a haircut? Can I visit my elderly parents? What should I buy and stock up on? How will I work from home with my kids in the background?

It’s easy to get swept up in this whirlwind of uncertainties. Therefore, it’s important to be mindful and aware of how the stress is affecting us. It’s crucial that the anxiety and the rumination does not paralyze us or lead to unhealthy habits to cope with the stress.

More than ever, it is important to be implementing or maintaining good practices for self-care in order to stay strong physically and mentally to best face the upcoming challenges.

1- Limit the amount of NEWS you consume

These days, it’s easy to stay glued to the television most of the day, listening to the ongoing developments of the pandemic. We are worried and we want to be informed. Others might be spending hours flipping from one news article to the next on their phones or their computers. It’s easy to lose track of time and get sucked into sensational backstories, such as whether or not the President should get tested for the virus.

A steady and constant influx of news may increase your anxiety and fears. It may lead to increased sleep difficulties, irritability and impatience. It may also lead to increased levels of depression and to feeling hopeless. Try to limit yourself to 1-2 hours per day for important news updates. Be mindful by monitoring and planning when and where you will be getting your information.

2- Maintain good SLEEP habits

Sleep has an impact on both our physical and mental health. It’s important to get 7-8 hours of sleep per night to maintain a strong immune system and fight infections. Sleep is also an important factor that influences our moods. Lack of sleep may lead to depression and anxiety.

Thus, with the potential threats to our physical and mental health, sleep needs to be prioritized and safeguarded. To maintain good sleeping habits, it is helpful to shut off all screens (televisions, computers, iPads, cell phones) 1 hour before bedtime. Instead, try reading a relaxing book or writing in a journal before bedtime.

Journals are an effective coping strategy. Writing decreases rumination, which can cause sleep difficulties. Putting down your thoughts and feelings on paper can help you process daily events. Writing about what you are grateful for can increase your happiness level. Writing about a conflict you had and how you could have handled it better is a proactive solution that can lessen your worries and help you handle similar conflicts in the future. Writing about an interaction where you did not speak up might give you the confidence to speak up the next day.

3- Monitor and limit cell PHONE use

With our routines uprooted and the worries about the Coronavirus, it’s easy to slip into bad habits with our smart phones. It’s important to be mindful of how frequently you might be checking your text messages, your social media, your emails, your news feeds, your stocks,… Constantly checking your smart phone may lead to increased levels of anxiety and tension. If you are constantly distracted by your phone, you might be less productive and feel frustrated at the end of the day. It may also impact your children if you are less present and involved with them. To allow yourself to be in the present moment, try putting your cell phone in a drawer for certain scheduled periods of time during the day.

Another effective coping strategy that you might want to try out during these stressful times is meditation. Carve out some time during the day where you shut off all screens and stop “doing” to ground yourself. Sit comfortably, close your eyes and focus on your breath for 5-10 minutes. Focus your attention on your stomach expanding as you inhale and contracting as you exhale. Notice the various thoughts that cross your mind as though they are clouds passing through. Try not to judge or get frustrated by the amount of thoughts that distract you. These important pauses throughout your day will help you to slow down, relax, relieve tension, give you energy and help you focus better.

4- Physical ACTIVITY and going outdoors

Physical activity is another key factor that influences both physical and mental health. Being active will improve your mood and help your body fight off infections. Exercise is also a great coping strategy to deal with anxiety and depression. I recommend daily walks, at least 1-2 per day. Especially if the sun is out, the light will brighten your spirits. As a reminder, if you can leave your cell phone behind – that would be great!

If you can go exploring in your neighborhood with your kids or go on a bike ride, everyone will benefit from the fresh air and the exercise. You will want to avoid playground structures as coronavirus can live on plastic and metal for up to 3 days. If you are less mobile or pain interferes with your ability to engage in physical activity, try to go outside for some fresh air. Sit on your porch or your front steps for 5-10 minutes. Close your eyes and focus on the sounds you hear and feel the wind on your face. Give your mind a break by breathing deeply and focus on a few things you are grateful for.

5- Stay CONNECTED while social distancing

Given that we are wired for social connection, the social distancing recommendations will be taxing on our mental health. Social isolation is detrimental to our mental health as it increases levels of depression and anxiety. Stay in touch with your family and friends by phone or video conference. This might be a good time to reconnect with old friends and check in with your relatives. Make a list of all your contacts and make a plan to reach out. If you see a neighbor outside their home, go speak to them (while maintaining the recommended 6 feet distance between individuals).

Within your home, this might be a good time to tackle projects and activities that you had previously been too busy for. Please be wary that watching television all day may leave you feeling depleted and gloomy. So, whether it’s baking, cooking, knitting, puzzles, board games, podcasts, dancing, drawing, reading or listening to music, it’s important to schedule pleasant activities each day.

These next few weeks and possibly months will be especially difficult for individuals who live alone. Please reach out to relatives and neighbors that might be isolated during these trying times. If you have young kids, ask them to draw pictures or write letters to mail out to family members. If you have elderly neighbors, ask them for their phone number. You can check-in by phone or ask them to join you outside for a chat.

During this crisis, take the time to greet others and say hello. Make a conscious effort to make eye contact and smile to individuals in your community. Offer your help to families and individuals around you. If your are going to the grocery store, can you offer to pick up a few items for a friend? Helping others is one of the greatest sources of joy and happiness!

Marie-Caroline Beaudoin is a licensed therapist that has a clinical practice in Bloomfield, CT For questions about her work or for support coping with difficult circumstances, please call 860-581-7313. To find out more information about her practice, you can also consult her website: www.counseling4changect.com

Original Article: https://counseling4changect.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/edition.pdf

COUNSELING FOR CHANGE


Marie-Caroline Beaudoin, LPC

MA Counseling Psychology