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COVID-19 and Your Mental Health: What You Need to Know

Five expert tips to navigate a difficult time.

By now, not a single person remains untouched by the global pandemic that is upon us. None of us could have predicted that COVID-19 would take hold of the rug underneath our feet––ripping it out and leaving our lives upended.

As COVID-19 spreads, shelter-in-place has been mandated in many places throughout the country. This mandate forces many of us to spend time isolated and alone. However, humans are social beings. Whether or not we realize it, the daily catchups with coworkers and after-work happy hours have a positive impact on our well-being. We crave human interpersonal connection and interaction, and without it, our mental health starts to deteriorate.

Those of us who struggle with anxiety and depression may find this time to be especially difficult. Being alone may trigger and exacerbate symptoms of depression and anxiety, which is why prioritizing our mental health is crucial right now. We sat down with our Chief Medical Officer, Mimi Winsberg, MD, who shared some tips for staying healthy during these challenging and often uncertain times.

Dr. Winsberg’s tips for managing your depression and anxiety during COVID-19

These five tips will help alleviate your anxiety and depression symptoms as we navigate this new “normal” together.

Tip #1: Limit information overload

A 24-hour news cycle can be stressful even outside of a global pandemic. Still, when a singular topic has grasped the attention of a nation, news coverage can greatly exacerbate stress. Refreshing the news app on your phone can be almost addictive because your brain is searching for that next piece of sensationalized information to fill in the gaps. However, it is vital to stay up-to-date in these unprecedented times. Therefore, Mimi suggests choosing two times per day to catch up on the latest developments. Alternatively, she also recommends selecting a singular news source that you trust and sign up for alerts, so the latest developments come to you, rather than the other way around.

Tip #2: Prioritize nutrition and exercise

Stress can spike cravings for comfort foods that are high in sugar and saturated fats. While satisfying a craving may be appealing at the moment, these types of foods often lead to an immediate high and subsequent crash that can increase stress, irritability, and anxiety. Mimi recommends choosing foods that are high in protein and potassium, such as lean meats, avocados, and sweet potatoes, as they have shown to help calm moods.

Exercising has also shown to help in calming a nervous body and mind significantly. If you find yourself working remotely, you might have some extra time on your hands that you would ordinarily spend commuting. Find opportunities during your day to get a breath of fresh air and move your body. If you are uncomfortable leaving home, Mimi suggests opening a window and using an at-home workout app, such as Obe Fitness or CENTR. You can also research guided exercise videos on YouTube, many of which are entirely free of charge.

Tip #3: Get comfortable with discomfort

Uncertainty is uncomfortable, but uncertainty is also part of life. It is essential to acknowledge that the emotions we feel, like fear and anxiety, are manageable.

According to Dr. Winsberg, “Try not to avoid those feelings by distracting yourself. Instead, acknowledge them and allow yourself to feel them fully. Like anything else in life, those feelings will pass, demonstrating that you can handle them.”

With the closures of businesses and schools, creating a go-forward plan for you and your family will help keep your mind at ease. Mimi recommends creating an at-home routine and schedule for remote work and life amidst social distancing. Emulate your life before COVID-19 to the best of your ability, and try to follow the same plan of when you wake up, eat, exercise, and go to sleep. Don’t forget to also factor in time for other essential functions, like chores, therapy appointments, relaxing, and play.

Additionally, focus on things that are actually in your control and create action plans to address them. Excessively worrying about unknowns outside of your control can exacerbate anxiety. Just as you would not usually question whether to brush your teeth before bed, don’t start to question your regular routines. Keeping these routines is critical in keeping you and your family structured and sane. 

Tip #4: Create healthy boundaries

The reality we’re facing is unlike anything we’ve lived through before. The quarantine and isolation we’re facing for the foreseeable future will put stress on our home life and our relationships. Everyone will have less freedom and will spend more time with spouses, children, and roommates. How we choose to deal with that is up to us.

Dr. Winsberg says, “We can invite conflict, or we can look at it as an opportunity to connect with loved ones. If you need time alone, find ways to create psychological and physical space at home. Maybe that’s noise-canceling headphones, or maybe that’s being alone in a bedroom. Many of us already set boundaries at work, and now we have to get used to new routines.” 

When it comes to boundaries and routines, a pertinent factor to keep in mind is that many people live and work in an unstructured environment every day. These people include retired folks, artists, writers, and more. They’ve managed to create boundaries, routines, and set of rules to maintain balance and happiness. Those who have just experienced a sudden loss of structure must now create it for themselves. There is, however, a silver lining to all this madness. This new “normal” presents a chance for us to think in a less structured way and perhaps conceptualize and engage in creative projects that are usually not available to us.

Tip #5: Give telemedicine a try

Social distancing prevents us from doing our regular routines, including getting medical treatments and therapy. While so much has changed in the past month, the importance of getting care when you need it hasn’t. We’re lucky to live in a time where technology makes accessing quality healthcare a reality. Telemedicine is a great option right now for those of us who are needing a bit of extra help. Get connected with your therapist via video chats over Skype, Zoom, or Google Hangouts to discuss the best treatment options for you right now.

Takeaways

Hopefully, these tips from our Chief Medical Officer, Mimi Winsberg, MD, will help bring some relief as we navigate these uncertain times. Remember to reach out if you need help and stay connected with loved ones. Work on prioritizing proper nutrition, moving your body each day, limiting information overload, and setting healthy boundaries with the members of your household. Additionally, consider appropriate clinical approaches to treating anxiety and depression, such as therapy or medication. We’re all in this together.

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