Tips and Advice Stuff

Things You Can Do Today To Help Improve Your Mental Health Amid COVID-19 Outbreak


Post by Donna Cope for Alabama NewsCenter

Overwhelmed. Anxious. Distracted. Lonely. These words might describe the feelings of people who are transitioning into working from home, or limited work, during the coronavirus outbreak.

In this time of social distancing, a video chat with a family member or friend can lift one’s spirits. Take time to stay connected. (Phil Free/Alabama NewsCenter)

News cycles are dominated by COVID-19 news. While coverage is a necessity during a pandemic, it can be overwhelming to experience every news outlet abandoning the daily beat for coronavirus news. There is less positive news as the media tracks ever-increasing infection and fatality numbers.

Sitting on the receiving end of virtually every possible news outlet pushing COVID-19-centric news can lead to feelings of distraction and being overwhelmed.

“Despite the outbreak, it’s important to remember that life still goes on and that there are a number of strategies people can use to cope with this type of stress, said Laura Dreer, a clinical psychologist in the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Ophthalmology and Vision Sciences. “We know that people have a tremendous ability to flourish in light of what one might consider life-altering situations.”

Dreer’s clinical research is on the resilience of patients and caregivers in coping with traumatic injuries and chronic medical conditions, and it supports people overcoming adversity.

Here are some things that can help you focus, experience mindfulness and boost your mood.

Help someone else

Helping someone else is a great way to feel more empowered about the impact of day-to-day life. Reach out virtually with support and encouragement to struggling co-workers or others in the community, and check (again, virtually) on elderly or vulnerable members of your community to offer to assist them through grocery shopping, picking up medications or cutting their lawn.

Practice mindfulness

“Mindfulness means being fully present in the moment,” Dreer said. “It is easy for many of us to get caught up in things that have happened in the past or in the future while missing out on living in the present.”

Combat the pinging online notifications and other things vying for your attention by practicing a bit of mindfulness at the start or end of your day – or even as a lunchtime break. Check out mindfulness platform Headspace or the Resilient Option, which are offering free unlimited access online.

Read a book

Whether you choose to read a positive book, a murder mystery or a manual, reading has proven health benefits. According to Scholastic, regular reading can decrease stress levels by about 70% and can lengthen your life by up to two years.

Watch a positive movie or television show

Birgit Wolz, a psychotherapist at the Zur Institute, facilitates cinema therapy groups. Wolz said watching a movie can bring “insight, inspiration, emotional release or relief, and natural change.”

Al.com has created a list of 51 hopeful movies that will make you feel good about life. Dreer encourages watching shows focused on humor; they can help relieve stress as there is medical evidence of laughter’s effects on emotional well-being.

Stay socially connected

Dreer stresses the importance of staying socially connected during the outbreak, especially since  businesses and schools, entertainment, social and sporting events/activities are halted.

“When people are socially isolated, they can become at-risk for loneliness and depression, particularly among older adults living alone or among other vulnerable groups of individuals,” Dreer said. “Stress and loneliness can weaken your immune system and make you more susceptible to illnesses. There are many ways to continue to engage socially and during outbreaks, and it may take some creativity.”

Positive activities include:

  • Play games with your family using virtual multiplayer systems. Don’t forget to include out-of-state family members.
  • Write down questions to ask relatives/friends in an effort to get to know more about them. “Tell me about the last time you remember laughing so hard. What was it about?” or “Tell me about something you learned recently.”
  • Eat a meal virtually with other family/friends. Cook with family members, if possible.
  • Do a puzzle together.

Limit your sources and amount of news intake

“Constantly listening to news and/or cable talk shows will only add to one’s anxiety in times of an outbreak or disaster,” Dreer said. “While it’s important to stay updated, limiting updates to once a day will help you stay more in the moment and lower your stress levels. This is particularly important for parents with young children and to be mindful of keeping the news to a minimum.”

Streamline your incoming news by picking a few reputable sources rather than relying on potentially unreliable social media. You can get good information from sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)UAB, World Health Organization and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Get moving and get outside

If your area is not under quarantine, taking a walk with your pet can relieve stress. If you can’t exercise outside, go on your deck or balcony to get fresh air and change your surroundings. (UAB)

Restaurants, movie theaters and everything else might be closed but sidewalks and trails are not. There are benefits to staying active, including boosted energy, improved mood, lowered blood pressure and reduced risk for chronic health conditions.

Getting moving is a good way to get your mind off the negative and remember the hope that is just around the corner. Fresh air and sunlight will give a new perspective and keep you interactive in the world.

UAB News has outlined “Six ways to stay healthy while keeping your distance” if you are looking for more ideas.

Start and end your day with gratitude

Taking a moment to remember all the things you are grateful for in life can be a great way to focus on the positive. To take stock of the ways in which you count yourself lucky or blessed allows you to re-center on your priorities. Dreer often gives her patients exercises such as a 30-day gratitude challenge. She recommends making a list of the things you are grateful for and keeping a gratitude journal.

Keep your regular routine

Try to keep regular routines and schedules, which will help you get the sleep you need and keep structure for yourself as well as your children. It may feel good at first to have no structure or sleep in, for instance, but the more you can keep yourself on your regular routine, the better for your long-term mental health. Try to eat healthy foods and engage in routine exercise, even brief walks outside.

UAB Department of Psychology professor Diane Tucker shares her thoughts on making a plan for positive coping during the coronavirus crisis here.

Talk about your feelings or concerns

Dreer advocates the importance of talking about your feelings and concerns with close family and friends, neighbors, mental health providers and clergy. Talking with others can help process your concerns, give you a different perspective and make you think of things in a different way.

Share with children how you deal with your own stress so that you model that for them. Limit their exposure to news and social media that may have inaccurate information.

Expand your knowledge and stimulate your mental activity

“Now is a perfect time to pursue those things you wish you had more time to do or learn about various topics,” Dreer said. “Use YouTube to learn to play an instrument or how to fix or make something, or view TED Talks to help further your outlook and perspective on various topics.”