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11 ways to protect your mental health during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic

As news about the coronavirus outbreak continues to dominate the headlines and millions of people all over the world are being asked to self-quarantine, it has become increasingly significant to pay as much attention to our mental health as we do to our physical health.

Based on an article from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic may be stressful for people. Fear and anxiety about a new disease and what could happen can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in adults and children. Public health actions, such as social distancing and self-quarantine that some of us lead to a financial crisis, can make people feel isolated and lonely and can increase stress and anxiety. However, these actions are necessary to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Coping with stress in a healthy way will make you, the people you care about, and your community stronger.

Stress during an infectious disease outbreak can sometimes cause the following:
– Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones, your financial situation or job, or loss of support services you rely on.
– Changes in sleep or eating patterns.
– Difficulty sleeping or concentrating.
– Worsening of chronic health problems.
– Worsening of mental health conditions.
– Increased use of tobacco, and/or alcohol and other substances.

So, here are eleven ways you can take to prevent this stressful time from derailing your mental health.

1. Plan
With whatever money you have left, you know you have to stretch it further so make an expense plan for the entire lockdown period. Budget the canned goods you have, cook your own food and make it simple, list down essentials, and if possible grow your own vegetables.

2. Focus
You will be swamped with lots of worries—physical, emotional, social, and financial. In default mode, our minds wander usually about regrets of the past and anxieties of the future. When you write down the problems on index cards (one index card for each problem) or a notebook and write a necessary solution, you are helping your brain to compartmentalize each issue and assign a necessary solution the next time your mind begins to wander.

3. Act
Afraid that you might get the disease? Do something. Buy that alcohol (It’s available again), and use it. Disinfect your surroundings. Stay at home. Keep washing your hands again and again and again. That’s how they do it in hospitals. Nothing wrong with overacting when one’s life is at stake.

4. Emotion Management
Sitting there alone in the corner and then crying for all you want—is not going to be helpful in solving the problem. So might as well, get someone to talk to. You may look for support, other than emotional, like staying in touch with those you care about will help to maintain good mental health during long periods of self-isolation.

5. Self-distraction
This one’s a treat: temporarily give yourself a break from facing the problem. This is something that almost everybody has done in the past few days (For example: Listen to music, watch TV, surf the internet, play video games, or begin your Tiktok series).

6. Take breaks from the news
After a certain point, it can be more upsetting than informational. Make sure the information you do get is from reputable and non-sensationalist sources. And evaluate how much is helpful for you to read in a day, and aim to stick to that limit. It can be upsetting to hear about the crisis and see images repeatedly.

Try to do some other activities you enjoy to return some normalcy back to your life as much as possible. Make time to unwind and remind yourself that these strong feelings will fade.

7. Find Ways To “Get Going”
Now more than ever, you need to tend to your own health. Practicing sound mental hygiene can help boost your psychological immunity. If you are prone to depression, you might be finding it harder to get out of bed in the morning, motivate yourself to accomplish chores, get started on a work project, or do some physical exercise at home. “Behavioral activation”—the technical term for “getting going”— is a research-proven antidote.

Also, the brain wants predictability over anxiety, hence, you have to make a plan on what to do when you wake up (although you’re enjoying your vacation). This is a crisis, and in a crisis situation, it’s best to re-establish routine—what to do, when to do it, even though there are some adjustments on how to do it because of the recent events.

8. Move around
Take deep breaths, stretch, do home workouts. Physical activity is an excellent stress-reliever and mood-booster, it helps ease anxiety and improve your mood by producing stress-relieving hormones called endorphins. In fact, according to a 2018 study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, exercising for as little as ten minutes can boost happiness. The gym may be closed, but you can go out for a brisk walk as long as you keep your distance from others. You can also practice yoga at home and even work out virtually with a personal trainer.

9. Stay connected with your family and friends
Maintaining social networks can foster a sense of normality and provide valuable outlets for sharing feelings and relieving stress. You can maintain these connections without increasing your risk of getting the virus by talking on the phone, texting, or chatting with people on social media platforms. In addition, you can take virtual tours together of museums, national parks, and other sites via Google Arts & Culture, tune in to live-streamed concerts and other events or play online games with friends.

10. Practice Mindfulness And Acceptance Techniques
Whether you use meditation, yoga, or prayer, focusing your attention on the present moment, rather than ruminating about a catastrophic, uncertain future, can help you manage your distress. If you tend to compound your negative emotions with a cascade of negative thoughts (“I should be handling this better;” “This is unbearable”), mindfulness training can be useful in tempering your emotional reactions.

11. Religious engagement
Whatever your religion, engage in your rituals, but keep your distance. Life is filled with uncertainty. And uncertainty fuels anxiety. Surrendering to a higher force releases us from the pangs of unpredictability, knowing that a stronger power is in control. Moreover, a prayer conjures positive emotions including hope, gratitude, optimism, and above all, serenity.

What do you think?

Written by Peter Gonzales

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