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The effects of the coronavirus outbreak have reached all corners of our daily lives. One look at your Twitter feed and you will likely spot lots of tweets from people stating they are having trouble sleeping lately, or are feeling “off,” with hundreds of others tweeting their own mental health struggles in response. No one is spared from the worry and stress associated with COVID-19 and the coronavirus.
That said, since we are in for a protracted disruption in life it is important for us to develop some coping skills to help manage our stress and protect our mental health during coronavirus. Without some purposeful efforts, the anxiety caused by this crisis can yield both mental and physical consequences. By taking a proactive stance to practice self-care over the ensuing months we can help reduce any negative effects of the coronavirus event.
How the Coronavirus Causes Emotional Distress
It is perfectly reasonable to feel anxious—or at least a bit stressed out—with all the disturbing news coverage making us keenly aware of the health threat that is encroaching the U.S. at this time. The coronavirus pandemic is unlike anything seen in the world since the 1918 Spanish flu over a hundred years ago. Because going through something this significant is so foreign to us, it is quite rational to feel unnerved by it.
There are several legitimate concerns that are feeding into the collective sense of unease. Such issues include worrying about catching the virus, fear of job insecurity, and the financial repercussions of an economy ground to a halt for starters. Being nervous about these things is an appropriate response to stressors that feel beyond our control.
But the line is crossed when we allow our worry over the virus to cause impairment in functioning. This could include an inability to sleep, not eating nutritiously, consuming too much alcohol or relying on sedatives, being unable to concentrate on important matters like schooling the kids at home, working at home, or paying the bills. This indicates that mental health is being impacted.
All that stress is also having a negative effect on physical wellness. At a time when we need our immune systems to be strong we may be compromising immunity by not getting quality sleep or neglecting nutrition and exercise. Also, stress can cause gastrointestinal distress, diarrhea, and headaches.
Symptoms of Anxiety
Anxiety comes in many different forms, including generalized anxiety, social anxiety, phobia, panic disorder, and more. When we experience something that triggers the fear response, sometimes referred to as the fight or flight response, our brain will flood the system with the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. In turn, we may experience the following symptoms:
- Shaking or trembling
- Racing heart
- Shallow breathing
- Light headedness
- Loss of appetite
- Dry mouth
Symptoms of Depression
It isn’t only anxiety that people might be struggling with during the coronavirus outbreak. Many Americans are being laid off or furloughed from their jobs, which can set off a cascade of feelings that might result in depression. In addition to possible job losses, some are isolated alone in their homes and also succumbing to depression. Depression is a serious mental health disorder that features the following symptoms:
- Persistent feelings of despair or sadness
- Loss of interest in things once enjoyed
- Slowed thinking or movements
- Insomnia or hypersomnia
- Difficulty concentrating
- Sudden weight gain or weight loss
- Feelings of guilt or shame that aren’t warranted
- Thoughts of suicide
For some individuals, the loss of a loved one to the coronavirus may be too much to bear. If you know someone who has suffered such a loss, be sure to remain in contact with them throughout the lockdown period to offer support. If you are suspecting a heightened risk for suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255.
5 Holistic Activities to Protect Our Mental Health During the Coronavirus
Some of the most effective actions we can take to reduce stress and protect mental health during the coronavirus pandemic are rooted in Eastern inspired holistic mental health activities. Consider adding these relaxation-inducing holistic practices to your routine:
- Practice mindfulness. Most of us are reeling from information overload. This causes us to have thought distractions that cause us to consider the worst-case scenarios, or to worry about that trip to the grocery store possibly causing us to pick up the virus. Mindfulness helps us redirect those dire thoughts that keep us off-balance and draws the mind to the present moment. While you are sitting on a comfy couch wrapped in a blanket sipping your favorite coffee, do not let a parade of negative thoughts to distract you from the pleasures of that moment in time. Be in that cozy moment, focus on the smell of the coffee and the feel of the snuggly blanket.
- Do yoga. Yoga involves the practice of purposeful movements and poses while also centering thoughts on the present moment. There are many diverse types of yoga to choose from on the many yoga apps or YouTube channels available. Find one that is suited for your fitness level, age, and ability and add a yoga session to your other exercise routine during the coronavirus event. Even just once or twice a week will help to calm the mind and body, thereby reducing stress and worry.
- Pray or meditate. Sometimes you just have to find an empty room, shut the door, and sit quietly for 15 or 20 minutes. Spend this quiet time in prayer or engage in guided meditation through an app on your smartphone. These actions help you to connect with your spiritual self, which can be soothing. Journaling is another peaceful activity to practice while you are enjoying this respite from the noisy household.
- Aromatherapy. Aromatherapy has many proven mental health benefits. Use essential oils to help manage your mental health during coronavirus by selecting the oils that are especially good for inducing relaxation and improving mood. A few drops in a warm bath or emitted through a diffuser anywhere in the home can bring about a sense of calm. Some essential oils to consider include lavender, Roman chamomile, ylang ylang, lemon, geranium, or valerian root.
- Breath work. Our breathing is directly affected by stress and anxiety. When we are stressed we begin to breathe more shallowly, or even hold our breath. One of the fastest ways to reduce anxiety is through deep breathing exercises. Practicing deep breathing can slow the heart rate and reduce blood pressure within minutes. You can practice deep breathing at any time of the day, even before falling asleep. Take a deep cleansing breath to the count of five, hold it for a count of five, and then slowly release the breath to the count of five. Repeat as many times as needed.
More Ideas for Maintaining Emotional Health During the Pandemic
In addition to integrating the holistic actions into your regular wellness routine, there are several other activities that are beneficial to mental health. These might include:
- Gardening. Because we are quickly realizing that fresh produce may not be as accessible as we are accustomed to, many are starting their own gardens. Gardening is a very calming activity that, combined with fresh air and sunlight, can have mental health benefits.
- Walking. While we are cooped up in our homes the government authorities are still encouraging us to get outside and exercise—although not in groups. Getting regular exercise during the coronavirus event is a key necessity in maintaining good mental health, as it produces the feel-good endorphins and increases production of dopamine and serotonin.
- Staying social. Humans are social beings. It is not natural for us to be locked down in our homes, some of us even alone. Feelings of loneliness or isolation are not good for our mental health, so the best thing we can do to combat those emotions and avoid becoming depressed is to stay connected. Reach out to friends on the phone so you can hear their voice. Better yet, use FaceTime so you can also see their smiling face.
- Pick up a new hobby. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? Why not use this extended block of time to learn a new language using an app? Or maybe pick up that old sheet music and reacquaint yourself with the keyboard. Don’t squander the rare opportunity to focus your attention on learning a new hobby or producing something creative like artwork or a writing project.
Yes, we are all being challenged to adapt to a strange new way of life that was just hoisted upon us seemingly out of nowhere. How we manage our mental health during coronavirus will depend to a large degree on clinging to a positive attitude. Together as a nation we will weather this crisis and emerge stronger for having lived through it.
Mental Health Hope Provides Online Guidance for Mental Health Issues
Mental Health Hope is an online resource that provides a free and confidential telephone assessment to individuals struggling with a mental health condition. Our expert team will be able to guide you towards locating remote mental health services during the coronavirus outbreak. If you or a loved one are experiencing increased anxiety or depression due to the coronavirus, contact our compassionate team at Mental Health Hope today at (877) 967-9274.