Managing your mental health during the COVID-19 outbreak

Woman participates in online social interactions

Humans aren’t meant to be in isolation. We evolved in groups, and we thrive by being around others (even if only occasionally). So social distancing or home isolation can be really hard on your mental health.

Luckily, most people have access to technology that allows us to stay connected—like Sykpe, FaceTime, or Zoom—but this may not be enough for some people. In between virtual hangout sessions with friends and family, read these tips for managing your mental health from UI clinical psychologist Stacey Pawlak, PhD.

Stay connected with others despite social distancing.

Call, text, or email friends and family on a regular basis. Use face-to-face apps to make contact even more meaningful. Or go for a walk outside and wave at neighbors (and strangers, too) from a distance.

Give virtual hugs.

When physical contact is prohibited, don’t be afraid to share virtual “hugs”—kind words, appreciation, expressions of love and friendship via text, face-to-face apps, letters in the mail, or phone calls. Connecting in this way helps us to feel that we are all in this together.

Maintain routines (when possible).

Try to get up in the morning, go to bed, and eat meals at around the same times each day. Shower and get dressed even when working from home. If necessary, establish a new routine, then stick with it. Help your children who are no longer attending classes to keep up with learning and to maintain certain reading or academic routines.

Stay physically healthy.

Exercise (as the weather warms up, go for frequent walks outside), eat well, drink plenty of water, and get good sleep.

Practice positive thinking.

Even in the face of unknowns, ask yourself, “I may not know what tomorrow will bring, but what do I know to be true today?” Examples of helpful answers might be:

  • “I am healthy right now.”
  • “My loved ones are safe right now.”
  • “I have food in my pantry.”

We tend to forget the positives in times of stress and focus on only the bad things. Energy spent on “What if?” is wasted energy. No one has a crystal ball to see the future. Stay focused on today, whenever possible, instead of traveling too far down a path that may or may not actually play out in real life.

Practice mindfulness, meditation, and deep breathing.

These activities cause your body to release stress and help calm your mind. While you’re at it, add more of the usual activities that help you to relax, such as listening to music, reading, playing video or phone games, watching Netflix, spending time with pets, engaging in spiritual practices, or lighting scented candles.

Take a break from news and social media.

When the news and social feed are changing at lightning speed, it is easy to feel like life is spinning out of control. Make sure that the sources of your information are accurate and up-to-date when you do tune in. Misinformation only fans the flames of fear.

Refrain from using substances like drugs and alcohol to cope.

Avoid using drugs and alcohol for managing fear and anxiety. They may seem to help in the short-term, but they will likely not have any sort of lasting, positive impact on mood or circumstances.

Seek professional help.

When your fears get too big to manage on your own, reach out to a professional for help. Many mental health care providers are offering telehealth treatment options in an effort to help people cope while staying safe.

Remind yourself it’s okay to feel how you feel.

Remember that feeling anxiety, stress, sadness, and other emotions in a time like this is normal. Don’t judge yourself or others, and know that using these strategies will help relieve the feelings and prepare you for what lies ahead.

Last reviewed: 
April 2020

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