By Timothy L. Sanford, MA, LPC
With all the changes going on around you, you can help to support strong mental health during the coronavirus for yourself and those in your care.
It’s one thing to deal with normal life stress. Add in a pandemic, interruption of school and work, and loss of income, and the effects of crisis and trauma aren’t far behind. Trauma can be summed up as too much too fast — and that’s exactly what we’re dealing with. One key to reducing the pressure? Take good care of your mental health during the coronavirus crisis.
The outbreak of coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) has created a huge burden of change, uncertainty, worry, and stress in our lives. Recent events might have pushed you beyond the limits of anything you’ve ever faced. And anxiety and trauma like that can throw you off balance mentally and emotionally.
Things that normally wouldn’t bother you might now feel like they’re going to drive you over the edge. And people already struggling with depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues can be hit especially hard by the added stress they’re now forced to manage.
Thankfully, there’s a greater truth: The human spirit is amazingly resilient. With all the changes going on around you — changes you can’t control — there are things you can do to support strong mental health during the coronavirus for yourself and those in your care.
Remember Who is in control
In a broken world — in our own brokenness — it’s easy to feel helpless and hopeless. We might even try to put a positive spin on it by saying we’re just being realistic. But author Scott Hubbard points out that “Christian hope … is not the kind that blindfolds itself to reality. It’s the kind that looks at a newly sealed tomb and says, ‘This story’s not over.’”
No, you didn’t choose to walk through this dark valley. But God isn’t unaware of your suffering. Your eternal good and His glory are always His priorities. The story is not over.
Accept your pain — and let it push you toward healing. Give yourself permission to grieve the hardships of this season, but don’t get stuck there. This is especially important if you have a spouse and children. During a crisis, you and your spouse need to work through worry and stress as a team.
Express honest emotion by journaling or talking with a trusted friend.Whether by yourself, with your family, or with a friend over the phone, you need to share your feelings. Be open, but don’t obsess. Sometimes too much talking can increase stress.
Pray by yourself and with family and friends. Don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions about suffering. While God doesn’t guarantee that we’ll come through a tragedy untouched, He does promise that nothing can separate us from His love.
Stick to routines
Stay on top of medications. If you take medication for depression, anxiety, or any other mental health issue, be sure your prescription is filled — and that you’re taking it as prescribed. If you think your meds aren’t helping, call your prescribing doctor for a consult. (Never stop taking prescribed medication without first talking to your physician.)
Keep your routine as normal as you can. And if it’s been totally uprooted? Create a new routine for your present situation. This includes when you get up, have meals, take structured breaks, and end your workday. Do this even if your job doesn’t require a typical 8-to-5 schedule while you telecommute.
Make your surroundings familiar. If you’re suddenly working from home, set up your workspace similar to what helped you stay focused at the office. Sometimes even the smallest thing — like a family photo on your desk — can help.
Control your thoughts
Take a break from the news. Knowledge is power, but there can be too much of a good thing. Briefly stay informed through credible sources. Then get back to things that bring joy — things that draw you closer to your family and to the Lord.
Do what you can, not what you can’t. You can’t control what’s happening around the world, in our country, with your loved ones, or with your job. And if you focus too much on those things, you’ll begin to feel (no surprise) out of control. Instead, focus on what you can control. It might not feel like much, but it can improve your mental health during this coronavirus.
Take a long-term view and go with the flow. COVID-19 will end at some point. True, life won’t look the same for any of us. But being frustrated with — or fighting against the reality of — current circumstances will only add to stress. Learn to accept difficulties, and save your energy to handle what must be done right now.
Ground yourself in the present. Be sure your mind is in the right now. That’s not easy to do if your loved one is sick or you’ve just lost your job. Still, getting caught up in the mental spin of what if doesn’t help. How can you stay grounded?
- Take three deep breaths every hour or more often.
- Stand up and stretch your arms and legs.
- Remind yourself of what’s right in front of you, physically and job-wise.
- Ask yourself, What do I need to do right now? Do this out loud if you can.
Don’t ignore your physical and financial health
Remember that your body and mind are connected. Make sure that exercise, healthy meals, and adequate sleep are part of your routine. (Being stuck at home is no excuse not to get moving.) And get some sun. If possible, go outside or stand at the window and let the sunshine soak in.
Take a break from the work screen. If you work on a computer, follow the 20-20-20 rule: Look away from the screen about every 20 minutes and visually focus on something about 20 feet away for about 20 seconds.
Protect yourself from financial impact. If you know you won’t be able to pay a bill, take the initiative and contact your lender. Do this before the payment is due. (Hint: This is one of those things you can control.) Humbly explain what the economic fallout has done to your finances and suggest an alternative payment plan.
Remember that you’re not alone
No doubt about it, these are stressful times. But the more you follow good mental health practices during the coronavirus crisis like those listed here, the better you’ll be able to cope. Being people of peace and hope in a world of worry doesn’t mean our circumstances will change; it means our hearts and minds must change.
© 2020 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Originally published at focusonthefamily.com.