Mental health isn’t a topic I typically cover, but after talking to my readers, I decided it was important to share some strategies that can help you cope with what’s happening right now.
And if I’m being completely honest with you, I’ve had some tough moments over these past few weeks. It’s probably not an understatement to say that we all have.
There is a lot of fear and uncertainty right now. We’re all living through a global pandemic, and many people are having their hours cut or losing their jobs completely. That financial stress can lead to emotional stress.
Now, I have no training as a mental health professional, but I do know how important it is to take care of your mental wellbeing. The advice and strategies I’m sharing come from trained professionals, and you can find a list of resources at the end of this article.
Taking Care of Your Mental Health in Times of Uncertainty
Limit your news intake
During the first week or two of this crisis, I was constantly online or listening to the news. I wanted to know exactly what was happening at all times. I made it my job to know what was happening with job numbers and the economy.
But after consuming one too many terrifying headlines, I started feeling really scared. It felt like the world was crumbling around me and that there was literally nothing I could control.
I was in a good enough place to realize what was happening – I had consumed too much news.
Media sources want your attention, and they know that big scary headlines get clicks. Those sites are optimized to keep you clicking for more and more. I’m not saying there isn’t truth in these headlines, but it’s too easy to lose yourself in a never-ending scroll of distressing news headlines and articles. That can cause a lot of fear and anxiety.
So if the news is causing you to feel anxious, stressed, overwhelmed, or depressed, then STEP AWAY. It’s not irresponsible to take a break from checking the news for a day or two (or longer). A lot of what’s happening is completely out of our control, and it’s okay to take a step back.
Taking care of your mental health is more important than knowing exactly what’s happening in the world at every moment.
Political arguments, conspiracy theories, fearmongering, and people you knew from high school turning into expert scientists and economists. That’s social media these days, and it’s exhausting.
Some people are using social media to cope with their stress, and others think they're helping their friends by sharing regular news updates. But you don’t have to stick around if it’s negatively affecting your mental health.
You can unfollow people that are giving you anxiety, leave groups that have turned toxic, delete social media apps from your phone or even temporarily shut down your accounts.
Take care of yourself
Self care is doing things that focus on your mental and emotional health, and taking care of yourself is more important than ever now.
Now, more than ever, there are three critical self-care activities that are incredibly important for your mental health: sleep, exercise, and eating.
Sounds simple enough, but what’s happening in the world can make it difficult to accomplish even basic tasks.
If you’re struggling to sleep at night, make sure you’re avoiding electronics before bed, like your phone, the TV, or video games. A white noise app or relaxing music can help. Reading before bed or taking a warm bath might help you relax.
Gyms are closed right now, and so are a lot of parks. This makes exercising harder, but there are still things you can do at home. YouTube has tons of great workout videos. You can go for a walk around your neighborhood. And if you’re working from home, set a timer on your phone and get up every 20 or 30 minutes to do some stretches, jumping jacks, or sit-ups.
Now isn’t the time to worry about dieting – you just need to eat. I mean, try to make healthy choices when you can, but the reality is that you probably aren’t going to the grocery store as often as you did. Focus on food that makes you feel good.. I’ve seen a lot of people baking banana bread, and I get it.
Keep up with regular routines
Our daily life has been disrupted and that’s really unsettling for a lot of people – we rely on routines to provide a sense of security.
There are simple routines like getting up in the morning, brushing your teeth, eating breakfast, and taking a shower. And these are really important to maintain. But there are other routines you probably didn’t think you would miss, like your drive to work.
Fortunately, you can create new routines to help you cope. Maybe that’s starting and ending your work day with a walk. Or you and your spouse can make a new routine of cooking dinner together each night.
Find something that feels good and makes sense, and then keep doing it – that’s how you create a routine.
Stay in contact with your friends and family
I’m an introvert and generally like staying at home, but I miss seeing my friends and family. I know this is a hard thing for many people. This is especially hard if your friends and family were part of your weekly schedule.
Finding new ways to keep in touch with your family and friends can make you feel less isolated, and you can lean on technology to make it happen. Here are a few ideas:
- Use Zoom or Google Hangouts for happy hour, virtual bingo, or just to talk
- Make collaborative Spotify playlists with your friends
- Netflix Party is a Google Chrome extension that lets you sync up and watch Netflix together
- Houseparty is an app that makes it easy to organize group video chat or play games
Even something as simple as picking up the phone and calling someone can feel really good and help you keep your mental health in check.
Find a distraction
One of the best ways to avoid social media, the news, and anything else that is causing your stress or anxiety is to keep yourself busy.
There are lots of sources of entertainment online right now, from some great new shows on Netflix to free online concerts. You can take an online course. Learn a new hobby. Start a blog. Finally learn how to bake bread. Clean out your basement. Organize your pantry.
One really positive thing I’ve noticed on social media is that there are lots of people who are offering their time and energy up to others. It’s been pretty incredible to watch, and it’s reminded me how much good is out there in what feels like a really scary world.
I’ve seen this happening for a few weeks, and while researching this article I came across something called the helper principle. Basically, it says that helping others helps the helper.
The helper principle says that finding ways to help people is good for your mental health, or basically – helping people feels good. If you have the skills to sew masks, you can make some and donate them to healthcare workers. You can offer to pick-up groceries for elderly neighbors. Check out charities like Off Their Plate, where you can pitch in to donate meals from a local restaurant to frontline workers in nearby hospitals.
Helping people feels good, but don’t neglect your own health either.
There is a lot of fear and uncertainty around what the next few weeks and months will bring. What’s going to happen with my job? Will the stock market rebound? When will my kids go back to school?
Practicing mindfulness trains you to focus on what’s happening around you right now, and worry less about the future and forces out of your control. These are things like focusing on your breathing or meditation. Apps like Calm, Aura, and Headspace can help you practice.
Focus on what you can control
If you want to learn how to improve your mental health, focusing on what you can control is one of the best things you can do for yourself right now.
So, what can you control?
- You can wash your hands
- You can limit your trips out of the house
- You can wear a mask when you need to go to the store
- You can make yourself breakfast
- You can read a book
- You can avoid the news
- You can video chat with a friend
Those things might seem small, but when you’re feeling overwhelmed, focusing on small things can help you feel like you’re going to be okay.
Reach out for help
This one is so freaking important right now, and there is help out there if you need it. Here are some resources if you need even more mental health support:
- The Crisis Text Line has free crisis counselors – text 741741
- The Suicide Prevention Lifeline is free and confidential – 1-800-273-8255
- The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has a national help hotline – 1-800-662-4357
- The CDC has a page dedicated to mental health and coping during the COVID-19 crisis. You can find it here.
- NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) has released a resource and information guide for COVID-19, you can find it here.
- Mental Health America has a long list of resources for parents, caregivers, individuals, and tools to connect you with others. You can find the list here.
The final word on taking care of your mental health
What’s happening in the world isn’t normal or easy, but it is normal to feel overwhelmed by it all. Our lives and finances have been turned upside down, and we’re learning how to adjust.
Know that if you are struggling right now, you are not alone. I hope I’ve been able to share some resources and tips that will help you take care of yourself right now.