As the pandemic progressively shuts down the country, more and more people are being told to stay home and self-isolate. For many over-worked people, this staycation might seem heaven-sent, but as it goes into weeks and months, experts warn there could be a mental health backlash.
In a recent Psychology Today article, “Mental Health in a Time of Pandemic, The psychological effects of an outbreak,” author Sandro Galea M.D. said research into disasters and similar events and their impacts on mental health include effects like “depression, PTSD, and substance use disorders.” And, he said, these effects may last long after the epidemic is over.
So, here are some steps individuals and families can take to reduce anxiety, stay mentally healthy and preserve their well-being.
While observing the need to practice social distancing, making physical activity a priority will pay off in a healthy body and a healthy mind. Spending time outdoors is especially beneficial because you get fresh air, hopefully a little sunshine, and relief from being bottled-up indoors. Play catch in your yard; take your dog (or cat, bunny, hamster, chicken, duck, etc.) for a long walk; head over to local walking trails and parks to enjoy the benefits of nature; or start cleaning up lawns and gardens for spring (Yes, it is here!).
Choose news carefully
Truthful and unbiased news is key to understanding the daily realities we face and to maintaining a hopeful and healthful state of mind. News that is scientifically sound and incontrovertible would seem to be the best choice during a pandemic. For the coronavirus, a good place to start is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC.gov).
Get news in moderation
In a Psychology Today blog titled, “How Much Coronavirus News Should You Watch? How to balance pandemic preparedness and panic,” Wendy L. Patrick, J.D., Ph.D., cites a study during the 2009 Avian Flu outbreak that “found television exposure to be highly correlated with worrying about contracting the disease.[iii] Specifically, they described this concern as a ‘pandemic of fear,’ which they argue can be spread by a more virulent source than a human carrier—the news media. They note that the resulting pandemic fear precedes an actual pandemic, and requires a separate solution.” In short, Patrick said “The authors note that their findings suggest the more television watched, the higher the level of anxiety about health threats such as H5N1.”
Instead of watching the news, spend time in the kitchen, preparing a favorite dish or dessert; play your favorite music (and don’t be afraid to dance and sing along!); listen to standup comedy routines from some of the funniest people ever on a stage; or watch a movie that you know will lift your spirits.
Embrace the positive
Facing an insidious and almost invisible foe like the coronavirus can make anyone anxious and fearful. But rather than let negative feelings overwhelm us, Benjamin Cheyette has a better idea: People should “collectively reaffirm the central value of ‘Social Vitamin C’.” That is: Courtesy, Consideration, Caring, Community, and Compassion.
In his Healthy Prescriptions blog in Psychology Today titled, “Combating a Mental Health Pandemic, Covid-19 Highlights the Importance of ‘Social Vitamin C,'” Cheyette says the COVID-19 pandemic has put us all on a level playing field because it is “a major ‘psychosocial stressor’ for everyone on Earth at the same time—it thereby increases the prevalence of emotional problems across the board.”
With that in common across humanity, Cheyette notes “The ‘vaccine’ for this aspect of the pandemic is to reaffirm and strengthen the bonds that tie us together. Now is the time to remember the 400 year-old meditation of John Donne: “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” Thus, if we each practice Social Vitamin C with our family, friends and especially strangers, it will help to inoculate the planet with the kind of values we will be proud to share and carry forward.
No matter how you choose to spend your time at home, do your best to keep smiling and remember we are all in this together. The better we treat ourselves and each other, the better off we all will be when the pandemic is over. Stay home, stay safe!