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Expert tips for maintaining your mental health during the pandemic

It’s that special time of year when both Mental Health Awareness Month in the US and Mental Health Awareness Week in the EU combine forces to become Super Duper Mental Health Awareness Time.

We made that last part up, but the fact of the matter is that it’s safe to say those of us born after World War II have never collectively experienced anything like the COVID-19 pandemic as a global community. Everyone is affected by the pandemic in one way or another, and everyone has mental health.

And that means we need to exercise our minds the same as we would our bodies, be aware of our mental state just like we keep track of our physical health, and treat our mental health with the same import as we should our physical well-being.

This begins by understanding the unique challenges presented by living in a pandemic that could potentially exacerbate mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.

Challenges:

  • Handling misinformation
  • Change in routine (Working from home versus working from the office)
  • Possible employment / relationship disruption (furloughed, laid off, or cut off from loved ones)
  • Existential fear of contracting a potentially deadly virus
  • Isolation

According to the Mayo Clinic staff:

The COVID-19 pandemic has likely brought many changes to how you live your life, and with it uncertainty, altered daily routines, financial pressures and social isolation. You may worry about getting sick, how long the pandemic will last and what the future will bring. Information overload, rumors and misinformation can make your life feel out of control and make it unclear what to do.

So how do you cope with depression and anxiety brought on by novel stressors? Well, there’s no one-size fits all method, but there are several things everyone can do to combat the “COVID-19 blues.”

The Mayo Clinic recommends eating healthy, getting plenty of rest, avoiding excessive screen time and getting plenty of exercise. This is good advice all the time, but during extended periods of social disruption or isolation it’s even more important to focus on core mental health concepts.

The World Health Organization offers further advice in the form of an infographic:

As it says above, it’s important to manage your exposure level when it comes to “bad” news and upsetting media. Maybe now isn’t the time to follow Netflix’s recommendations for people who like the movie Contagion.

Another key point we can glean from the WHO chart is that we should rely on facts from reputable sources. The COVID-19 pandemic is not a hoax, and it’s important that people manage their expectations reasonably. Knowing what to expect can mitigate a lot of anxiety.

Finally, the most important tip for staying mentally healthy during the pandemic is to practice self care. This means adhering to grooming and hygiene routines and maintaining a healthy diet and physical fitness routine. But it also means playing video games, eating chocolate, making or listening to music, watching your favorite movies, and snuggling with stuffed animals if that’s what helps when you’re feeling down.

In other words: give yourself a break. Don’t be hard on yourself for being worried and scared during a worrisome and scary time for the whole world. It’s okay to get a little less work done if you need to just focus on breathing and existing. Now’s the time to take a mental health day here and there if you’re able.

If you’re feeling more than just a bit of “cabin fever” and the expected depression and/or anxiety from COVID-19-related stress, you should reach out. There are myriad options for online counselors and therapists, but you can also just call or text a friend or loved one. If you’re not sure who to talk to, check out the following links for resources and help finding someone who’ll listen.

And if you or someone you care about is in mental distress, don’t hesitate to contact a professional. Here’s some resources for those seeking immediate assistance:

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