COVID-19 is the first experience of a pandemic-level crisis for most, and there is no user guide on how to navigate this situation. We are isolated in our homes, away from friends and loved ones, sometimes battling struggles with a significant other or roommate. How can we best manage this truly unique situation without succumbing to the isolation and gloom of COVID-19? Here are ten suggestions to bolster your mental and emotional health while in isolation:
- Use video tools to keep in contact with friends and family members.
We now live in a world with a ton of technological options to maintain contact with the people we love. There’s everything from the standard cellphone to video calling tools, such as Skype and Zoom. These tools were created to keep people in contact across countries and continents, and there’s an option for the most tech-savvy individuals to those who struggle using the home remote to watch television.
- Set a routine.
If you lost your job or had your hours cut because of the pandemic, you are not alone. For many, daily routines are built around work schedules. Without work to anchor your routines, things can become chaotic quickly. Routines help you feel productive. Whether your routine includes work or not, the structure alone can encourage you to refocus on your current goals, even if your goal is as small as finally cleaning your bedroom, so try to set and maintain a daily routine that you can stick to.
- Reach into your bag of coping skills.
If you already have a set of coping skills upon which you can draw, USE THEM. They are for times like this. Maybe you talk to a friend when you are overwhelmed, you enjoy reading or writing, or you like to lift weights; whatever your thing is, do it. One trick I’ve found to be both enjoyable and helpful is creating a coping skills origami fortune teller (instructions here). On the outside of the fortune teller, write down four tasks you don’t want to do (e.g., cleaning, homework, jogging, etc.). In the first inside layer, write the numbers one through eight. In the second inside layer, write one coping skill for each section (for example, drawing, reading, watching television, calling a friend, etc.). Once you have completed your origami fortune teller, use it to help you select a coping skill to use in a tough moment or as a reward for completing a task you didn’t want to do.
- Practice mindfulness and meditation.
We all know a mindfulness-junkie in our life who pushes all things mindfulness, as though it is a religion. Well, there is a good reason for this: It works. It’s important to remember that both mindfulness and meditation are not about just clearing your mind completely or only focusing on your breathing. Mindfulness and meditation are both skills that involve learning about your own thinking patterns and how to control those patterns. As you begin your mindfulness journey, you will need to be patient with yourself because this is a practice, not a talent with which you are or are not born. If you are engaging in mindful thinking or meditation, it is okay if your thoughts stray! You are human, so it is going to happen. As you become more practiced with mindful thinking and meditation, you will become distracted less often, and you will learn to channel your thoughts to more positive ideas and topics. For more information on mindfulness and meditation, check out this article from The Harvard Gazette.
- Get out in nature.
Ah, the great outdoors! It’s amazing how a simple walk in nature can lift the spirits. Go to a hiking trail near you, walk around your neighborhood, hit up the beach, or just drive around with all your windows down. Just remember, that if you are engaging in an outdoor activity, you will need to follow your local laws regarding COVID-19 safety, such as wearing a mask and/or practicing social distancing with strangers.
- Re-engage in forgotten hobbies.
Did you once take a drawing course that you loved or get really into a sport? If there was a hobby you used to do but haven’t been able to engage in for a long time, try it again! Maybe you used to read books all the time, go running every morning, or you joined a curling team. I don’t know, but I bet you have some hobbies that could use some love and attention.
- Learn a new skill.
Is there something you have always wanted to try? When the pandemic began, I asked myself this question, and I decided that I wanted to learn how to sing. I’m not some magnanimous performance artist or golden-lunged singer, but I enjoy it, so I wanted to get better at it. Lucky for me, there was plenty of free information online, particularly on Youtube, to teach me the techniques to sing like a professional (or in my case, a professional shower singer). With technology, we truly have all of the information in the world at our fingertips. There are millions of tutorial videos online and college-level courses that you can take for actual credit, such as through Coursera. You can obtain entire degrees online, and now is the perfect time to sign up!
- Seek out volunteering opportunities.
There are tons of volunteering opportunities, with animals, the homeless population, children, gardening, religious institutions, shelters, and much more. If you’ve always wanted a puppy, but can’t have one, check out your local shelters to see if they need a volunteer dog walker. If you enjoy gardening, maybe you can help out at your church or a community garden with this. Research local volunteer opportunities in your area to see if anything speaks to you. Sometimes focusing outside of ourselves gives us perspective and gets us out of the negative thought loops we get stuck in.
- Get a side job.
The current unemployment rate in the United States is 6.3 percent (about 10.1 million people according to the U.S. Department of Labor). Millions are struggling to make ends meet right now, and you may be one of those individuals. One option is to pick up a side gig. Check out this article about 50 Profitable Side Hustle Ideas. If none of those 50 options speak to you, don’t worry! Think about whether you have a talent that you can monetize, such as knitting, bookkeeping, painting, writing, podcasting, etc.
- Speak to a professional using Telehealth tools.
Lastly, if you feel too overwhelmed to deal with this situation on your own, you are not the only one. According to National Geographic, “From January to September 2020, 315,220 people took the anxiety screen, a 93 percent increase over the 2019 total number of anxiety screens. 534,784 people took the depression screen, a 62 percent increase over the 2019 total number of depression screens.” The demand for professional mental health services has skyrocketed. People are isolated, scared, and suffering from acute grief and loss. There is no shame in seeking professional mental health services if you need them. In addition, mental health services have gone digital in an effort to reach more clients and ensure everyone’s safety from COVID-19. Many mental health professionals are also offering sliding scale mental health services in which the amount you are charged for a session is based on your annual income to make therapeutic services more affordable and accessible to all. Check out Psychology Today to see if you have a therapist in your health insurance network or one that offers sliding scale services near you.
As focused as everyone has been on their physical wellbeing during the pandemic, don’t forget that your mental health matters just as much. Keep in mind that struggles with mental health can develop over time without you even realizing until it is too late. You don’t need to have a diagnosed mental illness to seek out mental health services; you just need to have a desire to better your mental wellbeing.
Originally written for Community Mental Health Group