16 Ways To Make Sure COVID-19 Doesn't Affect Your Mental Health

Woman with headache pain

WASHINGTON, DC — The coronavirus pandemic is causing more than just health concerns as the world heads indoors to try to prevent the spread of the deadly virus COVID-19.

Along with fighting the physical health threat the virus poses, many Americans are experiencing anxiety due to the stress of financial uncertainty, concerns about contracting and surviving the virus, and a major shift to daily routines. Americans suffering from mental health conditions are especially susceptible to feeling that impact.

“This was kind of sudden, we couldn’t plan for this, it certainly wasn’t expected, and a lot of people are feeling isolated, they are feeling out of control and it’s important that we connect, that we talk, that we understand that those that are already struggling with their mental health, this is going to cause anxiety to increase, perhaps depression to get worse, for a lot of reasons, not just the isolation,” Tammi Ginsberg, Clinician and also the Board President for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Maryland Chapter told 104.7 WONK FM’s Jen Richer.

Ginsberg highlighted some of the stressors contributing to the heightened anxiety. She says, “it’s also economics, a lot of people have been laid off, furloughed, or don’t have jobs right now and are having a hard time getting unemployment benefits, and it’s also demographics [in regards to] kids as opposed to older adults who are having different issues, but all just as important.”

If you’re feeling anxious, she says to try getting into a daily routine. She says, “it’s important right now for us all to have a routine and it should mimic the routine that we had before this all happened, only we’re not leaving the house, so if your usual routine was to get up at 8:00 a.m. and take a shower, brush your teeth, get dressed and go to work, then you can do all that, but if you’re working virtually, then you go and do your virtual work, and if you’re laid off right now, then you find other things that give you purpose.”

When it comes to finding a routine that works for everyone that you’re quarantining with, patience and honesty is key. She says to, “honor each other. If you need to have some personal space because you just need some time to yourself, ask for that, set boundaries. Do all those things [because] we need to feel empowered during this [time].”

This pandemic can make us feel like we have lost a sense of control over our situation. Ginsberg says that is normal and offers, “the one thing that I know that is really important during these times is to feel purposeful, it’s to feel like you’re doing something, and it does not have to be tied to what you do for a living. It could be that you’re cooking every day and you’ve got four of five people to feed, and you’ve got to feed them everyday and that brings you purpose. It could be that you’re working on a puzzle and you really want to finish that puzzle, or you’re writing.”

She says, “to honor yourself is the most important thing I can say during this time. If you feel like you’re sad, understand that if we’re having a lot of those feelings, again it’s important to reach out, to talk to somebody who can normalize that for us and say ‘you know what I feel that way, too, it’s okay.”

Trying to reframe this time during self-quarantining as an opportunity can also relieve anxiety. “This is a great time for people to take up something they have been wanting to do for a long time, but haven’t had the time. It’s important that we see this not so much as something that’s being done to us and it’s out of our control, but really grasp the things that we do have control over during this time,” Ginsberg says.

Lastly, don’t forget about your physical well-being while limiting your social contact.

“Exercise is really important, and if you have physical limitations, do whatever you can do within your physical limitations. I’ve also found that getting outside everyday, even if you’re not feeling it, if if it’s cold out, just to get outside and realize that things have not changed outside. Mother Nature is still doing what Mother Nature does in the spring. We’re seeing the trees change and the flowers bloom and to understand that this is temporary and we will all get through this and to understand that we are all in the same situation. We may have different things that are bothering us, things that make us more anxious, but we’re all kind of in this together,” Ginsberg says.

Self Care Tips:

  • Create a routine and stick to it.
  • Be proactive about your physical health by exercising regularly and spending time outdoors
  • Focus on what you can control
  • Stay connected
  • Try a new skill or hobby
  • Find an activity that give you a sense of purpose

Another thing to keep in mind is that we are being asked to social-distance physically from those outside our home, but don’t miss the opportunity to reconnect with those we live with. Ginsberg says, “take the opportunity to spend time together. My grown kids who usually wouldn’t be in the house together, we’re all in the house together, so to take advantage of that.”

She also says it’s more important than ever for both adults, and teens to stay connected to friends and family, in this case, virtually.

““The other important thing is, this is kind of ironic, for years I’ve been telling teenage kids, ‘get off the computer, get off the phone, connect face-to-face, share space’ and now, I’m kind of eating my words during this time and saying, ‘connect virtually, talk to your friends, get on FaceTime, get on these other apps, Houseparty and Zoom’ so that you can actually feel like you are connected to other human beings,” Ginsberg says.

Tips For Helping Children:

  • Help create a routine that will give them a sense of normalcy
  • Create virtual opportunities to socialize with others
  • Listen and validate their feelings
  • Create a safe environment

Now is also the time to pay particular attention to one of our more vulnerable communities, our older adults, not just because of their susceptibility to the virus, but the social isolation that comes along with that threat.

“If you know people who live alone, who maybe when this isn’t going on, they can get outside, they can do things, they can go places, but now they can’t, and what people tend to do when they’re in isolation is they ruminate, and by ruminate that means that their thoughts just get going in their head, and if they’re already feeling anxious what happens is they get more, and more, and more, and more anxious. So check in. We have a lot of people in our community that have immunity issues, so they can’t even go to the grocery store, that would be dangerous for them. So offer to bring those something, leave it on their doorstep,” Ginsberg suggests.

Ways To Support Older Adults:

  • Check in regularly
  • Offer to run errands
  • Accommodate telehealth if they need medical attention
  • Encourage them to go outside if possible
  • Listen and help to validate and help normalize their feelings
  • Acknowledge how COVID-19 may be impacting them through disruption of routine, isolation, physical health issues, and losses of loved ones.

It’s when the anxiety leads to concerns about self-harm or harm to others that we need to step in. Ginsberg offered these signs to watch for, “Nothing has really changed as far as what we look for with mental health issues. If you find somebody that you’re quarantined with is suddenly in their room all the time, and they weren’t before, they’re isolating, they aren’t sleeping, or they’re sleeping all the time, they stop eating, or they’re binge eating all the time, you [are going to] want to start checking in and asking questions.”

If you are in crisis, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1(800) 273-8255 or text the National Crisis Text Line by texting any word to 741-741. Both are free, anonymous, and available 24/7.

AFSP also hosts virtual trainings about suicide prevention and mental health which you can find at afsp.org/chapter

More resources can be found at afsp.org

Listen to the full interview here:

Jen Richer with Tammi Ginsbeg

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