How Can I Preserve My Emotional Well-Being During The Coronavirus Outbreak?

As Coronavirus continues to spread throughout the United States, and we are self-quarantined in order to protect our physical health, it is imperative that we do not sacrifice our mental health in order to stay physically safe. At the Members’ Health Assistance Program (MHAP), the behavioral health and substance abuse treatment portion of the Benefit Funds, we are receiving daily phone calls from members feeling anxious, frustrated, angry and confused about the Coronavirus outbreak, and the new normal of our day-to-day lives.

Our therapists and psychiatrists wanted to share a few tips and coping strategies to control your emotions and preserve your mental health during these trying times. 

Create A Routine

One of the simplest things you can do in troubled times is to give yourself a sense of control over things which you can’t control. Human beings thrive on routine. It is important to wake up, shower, eat meals, and sleep at the same times. Without routine, it is easy to fall into a pattern of staying in bed for too long, laying around the house in your pajamas, not eating properly, and not engaging in productive or enjoyable activities. Without a routine, you may become depressed or anxious. 

Stay Productive

Build into your routine activities you’ve always wanted to try. It may be hard with so much else on your mind, but keeping active and distracted from current events may be one of the best things you can do. We are often at our best when we are working toward something, so learning another language online, attending free online education classes, trying out new recipes, planning a vacation for after the social distancing measures have passed, taking online musical instrument lessons, or streaming a season or two of a new television series will keep you occupied and productive. You may never again have the opportunity or this much time to pursue your interests.

Lack of Control Fuels Stress

Things may feel out of control, but if you pause and think for a moment, many things are within your control. Focus on those things, which are controllable. No, we cannot control where the virus is, how long it will be around, and if it will infect our friends and family members. However, we can do many things to minimize our risk of contracting COVID-19. For example, by staying home as much as possible, wearing a mask and gloves when we have to go outside, washing our hands several times per day, and disinfecting our homes, we are minimizing our risk of getting sick. By remembering that there will be an end to the Coronavirus, we can gain back control of our thoughts.

Social Isolation Does Not Mean You’re Alone

Too much isolation can lead to anger, confusion and severe stress. Text, call and use social media to speak to friends and family, It is important that you share feelings and relieve each other’s stress. There are a lot of opportunities to share in activities with others. Streaming services, such as Netflix, have features, which allow viewers to share what they are watching with friends from different locations. Google Arts & Culture allows you to remotely tour parks, galleries and museums with friends. Stay connected to others, even when you’re home.

Limit Social Media

Staying connected with others is necessary. However, staying away from negative influences is also important. Social media is a great way to stay connected, but negative messages may increase your anxiety and fear. If someone’s posts are disturbing or upsetting, don’t keep looking. Social media applications have ways to mute or block posts, and you should not look at posts, which will upset you or make you anxious. Set a time limit to spend on social media (and regular media). Being informed about friends is helpful, compulsively checking the status updates of acquaintances is not helpful.

In Fact, Limit All Media

Too much media of any kind undermines mental health. Stress and anxiety are exacerbated by too much media. Unless you are an epidemiologist, there is no need to monitor the number of hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19. Stay informed of what is happening, but limit the amount of time you are immersed in the news. Also, there is a lot of misinformation about the Coronavirus on the internet. Get information and updates from reliable and legitimate sources. These sources are the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), John Hopkins; Coronavirus Resource Center, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). You may also check this page for information about our Hotel Membership community.

Move More

Physical activity doesn’t just help forestall heart disease and diabetes, it also helps reduce anxiety and depression. While you can’t go to the gym, you can join a free online fitness class, or go for a walk or bike ride. The Benefit Funds’ Physical Therapy Service posted a number of exercises you can do at home to stay active. 

Nutrition is Important

 

In spending so much time at home, it is difficult to not make frequent trips to the refrigerator. Having a structured day, in which you get up, eat three meals per day, and engage in productive activities, will help prevent you from overeating. Additionally, the kind of foods you eat will have a great impact on your mood. You may be tempted to reach for foods that are high in sugar and saturated fats — comfort foods. While these foods will make you feel comforted temporarily, they will lead to an inevitable crash, which will leave you more irritable, anxious, guilty and stressed. Instead, eat foods high in protein and potassium, such as baked potatoes, fish and beans. 

Sleep Is Vital

If you don’t eat and sleep appropriately, it will be hard to function normally. Having a structured day, and being active and productive throughout the day will promote healthy sleep. In other words, if you don’t do anything all day, you will not be tired when it is time to sleep. Other things you can do to promote a good night’s sleep are to: go to bed and wake up at the same times each day; make sure your bedroom is pitch black; do not drink caffeinated drinks after 4:00 pm; and use your bed for sleeping-only (do not eat or watch TV in bed). 

Just Breathe

It is impossible to feel anxious and panicky, while having a slow heart rate. Your heart rate and anxiety/relaxation are hard-wired together. If you control your anxiety, your heart rate will slow, and if you control your heart rate, you will not feel anxious. By simply taking two minutes to breathe, you can alleviate anxiety, stress, slow your heart rate, and restore a feeling of calm. Here are eight breathing exercises from TIME Magazine you can try at home:

Limit Drug and Alcohol Intake

Using drugs and/or alcohol while isolating at home can be a slippery slope. Some may turn to an extra drink at night to help cope with anxiety, fears and cabin fever. Self-medicating with drugs and alcohol almost always leads to a major problem, such as coming to rely on the drugs or alcohol just to function each day. For those with a previous history of alcohol or drug abuse, this is an especially challenging time. Many 12-step groups, like Alcoholics Anonymous, have been cancelled, and people feel isolated and scared. If you find that you are beginning to rely on alcohol or drugs, or believe that it is becoming a problem for you, please call MHAP at 212-237-3037, and speak to a counselor right away. 

What Do I Tell My Children?

With schools moving to online classes, and the entire family at home trying to work and study, children are having a difficult time. The best way to help children cope with the tension and anxiety during confinement is through honest and open communication, routine, and modeling self-care. Kids of all ages need a schedule; they thrive off routine. Not having in-person school each day, and a set schedule is confusing and disorienting to children. Create a schedule and routine. Have distinct times for kids to study, play, eat and sleep. Be open and honest with your children. Give them a chance to express their feelings, and let them know that it is ok to feel anxious and frightened. Show your children how to take care of themselves by modeling good self-care. When your children see you eating healthy, exercising, limiting social media exposure, washing hands, engaging in pleasurable activities, they will take interest and follow, as well. Ask them to join you, and make self-care activities a family event.

We’ve been through trying times before, and they have ended. Coronavirus effecting our daily lives will also have an ending. What we’ve learned from previous difficult periods is that managing stress, anxiety and fear right away can prevent long-term mental health and substance abuse struggles.

If your stress and anxiety levels worsen, and you feel that your ability to function is impaired, please call MHAP at 212-237-3037, and speak to a therapist. For your safety and privacy, all phone calls are confidential, and appointments for ongoing treatment are conducted by telephone or video conferencing.