Nearly half of people in the United States say the coronavirus pandemic has negatively affected their mental health, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll in April. Calls to mental health and suicide prevention hotlines have spiked since the outbreak began, and the use of anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications is on the rise.
While sobering, this news isn’t shocking. After all, the pandemic has the potential to affect every aspect of our lives, from our work and health to our finances and daily routines. So do we just “hang on” until the crisis passes, or is there something we can do to restore a sense of emotional well-being?
Thankfully, the answer is that we can do something—many things—to protect our mental health during this challenging time. Here are a few strategies that can make a difference now—and any time you’re feeling blue.
Stay informed, but don’t go overboard
Media reports about disasters—even accurate, informative reports—can take a toll on your mental health. One study from the University of California, Irvine, showed that people who watched four or more hours of TV coverage immediately following the 9/11 terrorist attacks were more likely to experience symptoms of acute stress compared to those who watched less. They also were more likely to experience new physical health problems two or three years later.
That said, staying informed in a crisis is essential. Here are some ways to find a balance:
- Limit your news consumption to trusted sources that provide useful (not sensational) information. Amid a global health crisis, accurate information is more important than ever.
- Set aside a certain amount of time each day to consume the news. Give yourself a time limit and stick to it.
- If a news program or article is making you anxious, take a break. You can always return to it later.
Get some exercise every day
Exercising regularly is one of the best things you can do for your mental health. It reduces stress hormone levels and stimulates the production of endorphins, which help you feel more relaxed and optimistic. When you exercise, you feel better about yourself and have more energy, too.
Almost any type of exercise can help your mental outlook, and most don’t require going to the gym. You can:
- Take a walk or bike ride around your neighborhood, local park or beach. For an added challenge, carry hand weights or push yourself to reach a new personal best.
- Find a yoga or fitness class on YouTube.
- Invite a friend to play golf or tennis with you—both sports can be played while social distancing.
Reach out and help someone
Helping other people in need can improve your state of mind. In fact, in a 2015 study, researchers at Penn State College of Health and Human Development found that doing even small acts of kindness can reduce the negative effects of stress on a person’s mood and mental health.
Social distancing makes it more difficult than usual to help others—but not impossible. A few ideas:
- Donate blood at a local blood bank. If you’ve recovered from COVID-19, you can also donate what’s called “convalescent plasma.” Researchers hope that such plasma donations will lead to better treatment options for people with the disease.
- Volunteer at a Charleston-area food bank or other community organization. A quick internet search will reveal opportunities you can do in person or from home.
- Reach out to neighbors (from a safe distance, of course) to see if you can help with yard work or running errands.
- Adopt a pet. A furry friend pushes those isolation blues away and can save an animal’s life.
Websites such as volunteermatch.com can help you connect with specific opportunities in our community.
Seek professional help if you need it
These early months of 2020 have been tough on all of us. But for some people, feelings of sadness and worry have turned into something more serious. If your mental health is causing problems with your relationships, work or overall sense of well-being, consider seeing a professional for help.
Roper St. Francis Physician Partners provides mental health services for people dealing with depression, anxiety and other concerns. Learn more by visiting our website or by calling our doctor referral line at (843) 402-CARE.