How COVID-19 Has Affected Your Mental Health and How to Protect It
I believe that up to this point we are all quite aware of the effects of COVID-19 on our physical health, but what about the mental health effects of this virus? Have you noticed how much your mind has endured so far?
I decided to write this post because every day I wake up, listen to the news, pay attention to occasional Twitter notifications informing me in real-time about what’s going on with the virus, but zero casual information about how to deal with its mental health consequences.
Hence, I bring you information about how to maintain and improve your mental health during the pandemic. Exercises and practices you can adopt in your routine to feel better and go through one day at a time together.
We Are All Champions. Period
I chose this subtitle because I want to make it very clear: we are all champions.
From the person that has a lot of money and had the opportunity to pass the quarantine in a big house with their loved ones, pets, and enough space to relax; to the one that had to endure this situation in a studio apartment, alone, and scared of losing their job.
I repeat: we are all champions. Not just the medical professionals, everyone.
This pandemic has hit us all, regardless of our location, social status, bank account, mental state, age, sexuality. COVID-19 does not discriminate, especially in terms of mental health.
But, let’s take a moment to understand what we have all done so far. This way, I believe you can understand why I insist on calling us champions:
– You managed to stay inside your house for about 4 months’ straight
– You are adhering to the social distancing measures daily
– You have adapted to new and constant hygienic measures
– You have endured long periods without seeing your friends and family often
– You have been exposed to an excessive amount of negative news daily
– You have faced economic uncertainty
– You have experienced living with a mask for hours
– You have gone outside and faced the possibility of infecting yourself by accident
And this has been going on for 9 months! Even with its ups and downs, we have all made it here.
Despite everything against us, we managed to deal with this the best way possible. Perhaps not the perfect way, maybe there isn’t even an ideal way to handle COVID-19 mental health consequences, but we are here, and that’s what matters.
Friend, I need you to see how much you have endured and how strong you are for enduring through all of this.
Once you realize you are a champion, you are one step closer to awareness, which leads you to cope positively.
I differentiate between positive coping and maladaptive or non-coping techniques because the word “coping” by itself means solving a problem to minimize or tolerate stress and conflict. This can also be done less beneficially:
– Spacing out
– Pushing everyone away
– Over-consuming news and social media information
– Being extremely afraid (not getting out of the house at all is a good example)
– Becoming way too cynical or sarcastic
If you have experienced any of these reactions it’s okay; the important thing is to recognize them as non-coping mechanisms and do your best to turn them into positive coping techniques.
For example, many of us gained weight during the pandemic (I know for some, it was the opposite, but follow me). That usually happens not only because we are not exercising as much, but because we made food even more pleasurable than before.
It was an immediate positive reinforcement; it made us feel good, safe, better. So we started eating slightly more, less healthy, at any hour.
A correct coping mechanism to change that overeating reaction is planning your meals. Buying food to calm your sweet tooth, but instead of candy, perhaps fruits, or non-sugar snacks.
As I have said before, it’s a matter of perspective. If you can change your perspective on an issue, you can change your attitude, thoughts, and habits.
What to Do to Protect Your Mental Health During COVID-19?
This pandemic may feel like an apocalypse or something never-ending, but you are not alone, nor we are we heading to the end of civilization.
Most of the research we currently have on mental health and pandemics comes from natural disasters’ investigations.
This means we still understand a lot of things, but we are not completely blind in this tunnel.
During this pandemic, the mental consequences are quite similar to those we have seen in those natural disasters; that’s why some coping mechanisms and innate human responses are unknown.
After disasters, and now pandemics, humans dig deep inside to find their most resilient energy.
It’s a natural thing to do, try to overcome challenging situations, and move on. But of course, depending on many variables, we may need a little help in this journey.
I will talk specifically about more vulnerable groups in a new post (people with PTSD, severe anxiety and depression, eating disorders, etc.), but for now, let’s review some effective mechanisms to protect your mental health during COVID times.
Know What and Who You Can Count On
Just like Maslow said a long time ago: if our basic needs are not covered, all other needs will not have a solid ground to stand.
Meaning, if we don’t know what or who we can count on, everything else will be more confusing.
My recommendation is to find out everything you can use to gain some emotional and physical stability.
For example: do you have insurance? If so, what exactly does it cover? Does your government have a business support plan you can join? If you are self-employed, how is your company supporting you? Is your bank offering loans? Can you reach out to a mental health professional easily?
These questions may make you feel overwhelmed at first, but it’s important to know what you have and what you don’t so you can organize priorities and make as many plans as needed.
One Day At A Time
I know you probably don’t like that expression, me either. Believe me. I wish everything could go as fast or slow as I wanted, but that’s not how it is.
An important thing I have learned with time, and a lot of spiritual and mental work, is that you will never live fast enough to outrun time, much less control it.
Some things in life are just as they are, and we must understand that this illusion of control is nothing but that, an illusion.
Instead of constantly worrying about the future, why don’t you try to live one day at a time for a week?
Do everything you can to make each day a good day, and in a week send me a message to tell me how you feel.
Spoiler alert: when I started doing this, I understood that worrying took me nowhere; it was holding me back. But when I started doing things to make each day a good day, that’s when things began to change for me.
Be There for Yourself First
I will never get tired of saying this: if you are not okay, you can’t expect others around you to be okay.
I know you want to be helpful, resolute, strong. But if you are always looking out for others and never looking out for yourself, do you believe you can properly help someone else?
If you need a day off from others, take it. But don’t shut yourself down in a room. Try to do something that makes you feel alive, relaxed.
Give yourself the chance to be there for you and only you at least one hour a day.
That way you can notice behavioral and emotional changes faster, which will allow you to understand what you need better and take the right actions on time.
Maintain a Routine
One of the hardest things I had to face during quarantine was maintaining a routine. It’s quite a temptation to be in my pajamas all day, honestly.
A great approach if you have to stay at home all day is changing your clothes to your regular outside clothes during the day.
Clean, cook, dress, and think in terms of a routine. It’s a way to make you feel more in control of your life, and it will help you distribute your time better.
For example: if you have to work from home, it is quite common to stay working after hours. But if you dress like you were going to work outside, not even talking about a formal dress or tux, but jeans and a clean shirt, after 8 hours you will feel like you need a bath and a change of clothes, allowing you to distance yourself from work after the working hours are over.
And of course, the most important routine: go to bed on time.
Distance Yourself from Social Media
This is one of the World Health Organization recommendations. It’s important to be informed, but we are being attacked with so much news, fake news, rumors, speculations, and uncertainty that, at least for a little longer, it’s better if we manage to disconnect and connect for specific purposes.
Many of you (and myself included) discovered TikTok during this pandemic and suddenly, we spent around 30 minutes to an hour watching entertaining videos without giving too much notice of our time.
Distracting you with cute puppy videos is great; spending half your day on it, not so much.
Limiting your exposure to social media is also part of keeping up with a healthy daily routine. It guarantees you time to free your mind, have fun, and talk to your friends, but at the same time, to limit all the negative consequences of social media and overwhelming unsubstantial information.
Exercise And Meditation
I noticed an amazing thing during quarantine that many people around the world started doing yoga and meditation.
I don’t even think it was something promoted by any government or health organization; it was an energy flow that we all felt and led us to take action.
Exercise is excellent for maintaining your serotonin and dopamine levels, and you don’t even need to do it for hours; an hour of exercise a day already makes a difference.
Meditation teaches you to clear your mind and help you focus on daily or weekly goals.
The people I have helped during these months started to notice significant changes only a week after practicing some light exercises at home. The ones who combined with morning and night meditation sets claimed to feel, sleep, work, and face life more positively.
Talk to Somebody
Everybody is facing these times differently. What triggers your anxiety maybe doesn’t trigger mine, and what worries you constantly perhaps is not such a big deal for your neighbor.
Do not minimize your feelings; do not hide them; do not act tough.
If you feel sad, tired, angry. Find help, make a blog, write letters, do something that helps you get those thoughts out of your head, and decode them enough to make something useful out of them.
I know you probably feel you make people tired with your fears and complaints; that’s something we have all felt at some point, but since we are all in this together, do not be afraid to reach out for help.
I am here to guide you, to help you find enlightenment, to accompany you during this journey, and discover all the strength that’s inside of you.
If you need to talk, I am here for you.