Managing Mental Health during a Global Pandemic
In the midst of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis, much of the conversation has centered on life-saving care. So far there has been limited talk about mental health, yet many Americans are facing anxiety and depression resulting from health concerns, job loss, and isolation.
“When I started my long run on an empty trail this past weekend, I felt less motivated than I usually do. It was in that moment that I realized that the pandemic, while not affecting me physically, was in fact affecting me mentally,” says Katherine Gantz Pannel, DO, a psychiatrist and medical director for Right Track Medical Group.
With so much uncertainly, what can be done to manage mental health during this challenging time?
It’s important to express your feelings, worries, and concerns.
Most people feel anxious right now and that is OK, says Dr. Pannel.
Sometimes we do not feel like we can express our anxieties and fears because we are a leader at home or work, but we must talk about them to remain strong mentally.
If it’s difficult to speak with friends, family or colleagues about anxiety, a Facebook group or online forum may be an appropriate “safe space.” It is invaluable to not feel alone in this battle.
Speak with children
“Let’s not assume that kids are just excited to be out of school and are merely seeing this as an extended vacation,” says Dr. Pannel. “Children sense the fear their parents are feeling and are likely anxious as well.”
She encourages parents to not hide what is going on from them. Communicate in a loving, gentle way that there is an illness going around that is making people very sick, but that there are smart people doing everything they can to keep us all safe. Express to them what a family can do to stay healthy and keep others healthy as well. Explain to them why social distancing is necessary but also how the family is going to make the best of it.
“Self-care is what will get us all through this ‘new normal’,” says Dr. Pannel. “Social isolation is deep, dark and depressing. But there are ways to care for yourself even in times when social distancing is critical to flattening the curve in this pandemic.”
Take the time to call friends and family that you would normally see. FaceTiming friends and family is a great way to see them and talk with them.
In addition to maintaining social connections, exercise is critical not only for mental health but also physical health. If possible, reconnect with nature. Go for walks, hikes and run outside while maintaining social distancing. Take a moment to enjoy the calm and the fresh air.
“Go outside and work in the yard. Fly kites. Listen to music and dance,” says Dr. Pannel. “There are no better dance parties than the ones I have in the kitchen with my kids. This often leads to an overload of laughter, and we all know that laughter is the best medicine.”
When possible, embrace distractions
Distraction is a great way to reduce anxiety. There are several ways to distract from negative thoughts while social distancing. Read a book, paint, color, bake, take a nap, or practice mediation or yoga to keep anxiety-provoking thoughts at bay.
“Try to not worry about what could happen. Focus on what you have direct control over,” Dr. Pannel says. “Thinking about things out of our control only increases anxiety and keeps us from enjoying the moment we are in.”
Get professional help
Do not hesitate to reach out for professional help. The coronavirus pandemic has led most insurers to dramatically change their requirements for remote physician visits. As a result of these changes—along with social distancing and other measures to avoid exposure to the virus—physician use of telemedicine is now widely available.
You can contact the National Alliance of Mental Illness Helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI for resources available in your area.