Mental Health Matters: Managing stress and anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has created a new normal for our daily lives. Nonessential businesses are closed, kids are on extended breaks from school, sports have been canceled, social distancing is being enforced, the governor has issued an executive order to stay at home, and grocery stores are sold out of toilet paper, cleaning supplies, and many food items. That’s just a short list of some of the ways life has seemingly changed overnight due to this pandemic.
While everyone is trying to adapt to our new norm, many are also trying to cope with the stress and anxiety that is brought on by change and fear. There are, however, several things you can do to support yourself and keep coronavirus fears from affecting your mental health.
1. Take breaks from news and discussion about the pandemic. Repeatedly hearing about the pandemic and talking about it can be upsetting. Try to find reliable sources to get accurate information. Nationally, it is recommended to use the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as your source of truth. Locally, District Health Department #10 is the agency that is monitoring and reporting on the pandemic.
You may also want to limit how frequently you check the news. Try scheduling a handful of times throughout the day when you will watch or read about news related to COVID-19. It may be tempting to check your phone or a 24/7 news outlet for the latest updates, but limiting the amount of information you receive on a daily basis can beneficial for your mental health.
The same is true for social media. It’s not always easy to limit your time on social media, but practicing social media self-discipline will help limit the amount of information and commentary you get about the pandemic. Friends and family can often fuel fear and anxiety by gossiping and posting misinformation on social media.
If you’re involved in discussions about the coronavirus, know when to walk away. Whether it is in-person, on the phone or online, it’s okay to tell friends, family and co-workers if you are not comfortable talking about the pandemic. You must pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Sometimes, that means disengaging from conversations that cause stress, anxiety or fear.
2. Take care of yourself. Engage in healthy activities to minimize stress. Take a walk or find an outdoor activity that you enjoy. Exercising in the fresh air and sunshine is good for your physical and mental health. If you can’t get outside, find time to unwind and do other activities you enjoy. Look for ways to enjoy the day and be grateful. It’s also important to keep a routine, eat healthy meals, get plenty of sleep and avoid drugs and alcohol.
In addition, try to challenge yourself to stay in the present. Information about COVID-19 is changing daily and nobody is able to predict when the virus will start to diminish or when everyday life will return to a pre-COVID-19 state. If you find yourself worrying about the future, try to bring yourself back into the present moment. Engage in mindfulness activities such as noticing the sights, sounds, smells and tastes around you.
3. Reach out for support. Talk to friends, family or a counselor about how you are feeling. It’s also important to be supportive of others and assist them in their time of need. Helping others can benefit the person receiving the support as well as the helper.
If you are struggling to cope with stress, anxiety, or other mental health concerns, West Michigan Community Mental Health is available to help. As an essential service, our staff is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week by calling 1-800-992-2061.
If you are experiencing physical health symptoms, please contact your primary care provider or report to the nearest hospital.
For the latest updates on West Michigan CMH’s COVID-19 response protocol, please visit www.wmcmhs.org/covid-19-response or follow West Michigan Community Mental Health System on Facebook.
Alan Neushwander is the Director of Public Relations and Customer Service at West Michigan Community Mental Health. He can be reached at (231) 843-5440 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.