As the coronavirus pandemic continues to change the way of life for people around the world, many of us are left feeling stressed, anxious, scared and unsure of what to expect. These reactions are normal, but they can also take a physical and mental toll.
“Crisis affects us all in different ways. There is no ‘right way’ to cope with stressful times, but there are things you can do to manage these emotions,” says Chris Edwards, manager of the Mirmont Outpatient Center in Broomall, part of Main Line Health.
Below, Edwards offers some advice on how to deal with stress and anxiety during a crisis.
Limit your news consumption
The news and current events are a source of anxiety for many people at any time. But during a national disaster, it can be especially distracting and frightening. But how can you balance your need to be informed with mental health? Set limits.
“Limit yourself to one hour of news consumption per day, or one hour at night and in the morning. That means scrolling through Twitter, reading the news online, watching it on TV, listening to the radio…anywhere that you’re likely to hear or read information that can trigger feelings of stress or anxiety,” says Edwards.
Setting limits ensures that you get the information you need without speculation or prolonged discussion about a topic that can be triggering to you. Ask people you live with to respect these limits, too, and consider managing news alerts on your phone, too…or putting your phone away altogether!
Find new routines
When you’re stuck at home, you might not be able to follow the same routines you usually would—stopping at your favorite coffee shop, going out to lunch with colleagues, meeting your running group. You can’t change these circumstances, but you can start to come up with new routines that help break up your day and keep your mind engaged.
If you’re used to a happy hour or catching up with friends after work, try cooking dinner with family. If you can’t go to the gym, take a break midday for a run or to walk the dog. Adding structure to your day—even when you’re at home—is important.
Make physical health a priority
It can be tempting to oversleep, overeat or otherwise indulge in unhealthy behaviors to help you cope with depression, stress or anxiety—you may be more likely to drink or use drugs if these have traditionally been ways that you cope with bad news or feelings you’re uncomfortable with.
If you suspect you might resort to unhealthy ways to cope, talk to a counselor or therapist who can help you work through these feelings and identify healthier ways to deal with these feelings. And make healthy habits a priority. If you’re able, leave home to exercise or find at-home workouts. Stick to a normal sleep-wake schedule, and prepare yourself balanced meals. These are seemingly small gestures, but they can help you maintain some sense of normalcy in a confusing time.
Identify your support network
Find the people who make you feel good and can help take your mind off of current stressors. This might be family members, friends or even a therapist. Having people that you know you can turn to when you need to talk or get your mind off an issue can be helpful.
Ask for help if you need it
Isolation can heighten feelings of loneliness, depression or anxiety. While you can do things to help keep these feelings at bay, remember you don’t have to deal with them alone.
“If you are struggling with depression or anxiety, it can be easy to compare yourself to someone else and wonder why you can’t ‘pull yourself out’ of these feelings. Don’t put blame on yourself for how or what you feel,” says Edwards.
Instead, find someone who can help you work through these feelings and offer medical support, if necessary. Many therapists offer virtual therapy sessions, and even more are doing so during the coronavirus outbreak—including Mirmont Treatment Center. If loneliness, depression or anxiety has you feeling overwhelmed, don’t hesitate to reach out for help.
For more on managing your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak, watch an interview with Michelle Mullany, System Vice President of Behavioral Health and Mirmont Treatment Center.