Updated: Jan 15
We’re living through some heavy, dark times during the global coronavirus pandemic. The threat of a potentially fatal disease looms over our heads and has impacted every aspect of our daily lives in some way. The simple act of going outside the house can be nerve-wracking. Activities we once took for granted, like hanging out at a cafe or bar with friends, are now far-off luxurious fantasies because of COVID-19 risks.
The situation is constantly and rapidly changing. Especially here in the US, the circumstances of COVID-19 seem to deteriorate with each passing day. The coronavirus is not only spreading and adding to an alarming death toll, but federal mismanagement has also crippled our economy and cost millions of Americans their livelihoods.
It’s a lot to take in. When the world feels like it’s spinning out of control, and society appears to be in the process of breaking down, it’s important to step back and address the mental health impact of COVID-19 on ourselves:
How am I feeling right now?
How is all of this craziness affecting me?
The psychological stress of living through an Earth-shattering global coronavirus pandemic is very real. Your feelings matter just as much as anyone else’s, and many people are experiencing vast uncertainty, vulnerability, and fear right now. Those of us with preexisting mental health conditions are especially prone to increased anxiety. An estimated 40% of Americans are struggling with their mental health, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Luckily, there are a plethora of free mental health resources to help us figure out how to cope in our own way. From hotlines to blogs, we’ll break down the places you can go to get mental health support if you need it right now.
How COVID Affects Your Mental Health
As humans, we’re hard-wired to be social creatures who depend on each other to survive. COVID-19’s social distancing measures separate us from our usual support network, and that’s difficult to deal with.
People react to stress in different ways. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention lists the following ways that the coronavirus pandemic can exacerbate symptoms of mental health problems such as anxiety and depression:
Fear and worry about your health and the safety of your loved ones
Disruption in your eating or sleeping patterns
Increased use of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco
Social isolation from a lack of human contact
Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
The CDC also recommends taking the following steps for emergency self-care for your mental health:
Take breaks: take the time to unwind, and remember to take deep breaths
Connect with others: talk about your feelings with someone who cares about you, and maintain the healthy relationships in your life
Take care of your body: make sure to exercise regularly and eat a well-balanced diet
Tips for Dealing With Anxiety and Depression from COVID
Whatever it is you may be going through right now, it’s important to know that you’re not alone. We can calm and center ourselves most easily when we have a self-care routine in place. Here are some ways to do that:
Find New Ways to Connect with People
One of the biggest changes we’ve had to make since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic is social isolation.
Many of us haven’t seen our friends and family in weeks, maybe even months. That takes its toll on a person, especially those already struggling with their mental health, who rely on their support network to remain stable.
A good way to manage loneliness is to connect with the important people in your life in any way you can, while still adhering to COVID-19’s social distancing measures.
Organizing FaceTime or video chat calls on a regular basis can help you develop a routine, break up the monotony of staying at home for long periods, and elevate your mood. Text your friend, request to hang out for just 30 minutes, and talk about whatever’s on your mind, even if it’s just to say, “Wow, this pandemic sure does suck doesn’t it?”
You’d be amazed at what a difference it can make in your day.
If you have a group of friends who are free, you can get together for a fun activity like the Jackbox series of party games, or the trending WNRS card game. All you need is a computer and an internet connection!
Limit Your Exposure to News and Social Media
It’s far too easy to get inundated and overwhelmed with minute-by-minute updates on how the coronavirus pandemic is continuing to escalate (not to mention other dire events happening around the globe).
When all we see and hear about is the world edging towards disaster, it’s hard to maintain a positive attitude and feel like anything is worth doing.
So what do you do?
You turn off your screen. It’s as simple as that.
The information on the news and social media is often designed to provoke an emotional response that gets likes, clicks, and shares, or that keeps you watching so they can make more money from ads.
If you use Facebook, you can install the News Feed Eradicator plugin to effectively disable your feed and replace it with an inspirational quote. Instead of getting sucked into negativity and drama, you can use the platform to check in on your friends and interact in groups that add meaning to your life.
When our heads are clouded with anxiety, anger, or sadness, sometimes all it takes is a moment of peace and quiet to find balance.
Of course, that’s easier said than done. Mindfulness is a skill that takes time and effort to get good at, just like anything else. It’s a spiritual (but not necessarily religious) practice that involves acknowledging your negative or triggering thoughts, resisting the urge to feed into them, recognizing they do not serve you, and letting them go.
Apps like Calm or Headspace provide guided meditations for clarity, focus, productivity, and more. They also have music and stories to help you sleep. Additionally, there are many free YouTube videos that offer similar guided meditations and sleep stories.
Establish a Self-Care Routine
Realistically, the COVID-19 pandemic won’t be over for at least another year, maybe even more. For our mental health, that means developing strong habits around checking in with ourselves, filtering out negative noise, connecting with friends, practicing mindfulness, and more:
Taking regular breaks
Making time to unwind and do something enjoyable at the end of every day
Eating healthy, well-balanced meals
Setting realistic, time-bound goals for things to achieve at the beginning of each day
Staying busy with projects and chores
Turning off electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime
Many people have lost work or are otherwise struggling financially due to the pandemic. The stress that this can cause is another reason it's so important to take care of our mental health— not to mention, our personal finances.
In times where the state of the world seems scary and hostile, nurturing yourself and prioritizing your own well-being isn’t just necessary; it is a radical act of self-compassion.
Free Mental Health Resources
We’re lucky to live in an age where a multitude of mental health information and support services are available with just a few clicks on your computer or taps on your smartphone. They’re here for a reason, so let’s make use of them.
Mental Health Hotlines
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) Helpline:
The SAMSHA Helpline offers crisis counseling for people suffering emotional distress related to a natural or human-made disaster. It’s operational 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
It’s toll-free, available in multiple languages, and completely confidential.
They can offer you information on mental health awareness, how to recognize when your symptoms are acting up, and how you can cope. They’ll also refer you to local crisis centers for follow-up care and support.
We’re all supposed to be staying in our homes, but that’s only a viable option if home is a safe space for you.
Domestic violence has been on the rise since the pandemic began.
The pandemic uniquely affects survivors of abuse and domestic violence when they are forced to stay at home in close proximity to their abuser.
If you’re in that situation, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is here to help.
Their hotline gives you access to highly-trained, 24/7/365 support to question unhealthy aspects of your relationship, talk to someone about your situation, and get the resources and information you need.
They’ll help you create a safety plan, establish a self-care routine, and help you leave.
The 2020 mental health crisis including emotional distress and anxiety caused by the COVID-19 pandemic can take a serious toll. There’s some speculation that if the situation gets much worse, then we may be in for a suicide epidemic.
It’s understandable to feel hopeless and sad during difficult times, but it’s important that you don’t give up hope. The coronavirus pandemic will be over someday, and all we can do until then is put one foot in front of the other.
You don’t have to suffer alone. There are people who can help.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a network of local crisis centers that can provide you with emotional support during a crisis.
Life is worth it. Don’t give up.
The COVID-19 pandemic may be affecting you in a number of ways. You’re not alone there. The world is a scary place right now, and a lot of people are in distress.
Whatever it is you’re going through, your feelings matter. Your life and happiness matter.
If you just need someone to talk to, for whatever reason, the Crisis Text Line is there.
Crisis Text Line offers free, 24/7 support for people going through a crisis. Their counselors will offer tips on how to take care of yourself, and help you move from a hot moment to a state of cool and calm.
Mental Health Blogs
Natasha Tracy is an award-winning designer, public speaker, and social media consultant, as well as a guest author on the Talkspace blog. Her blog covers a variety of mental health topics ranging from suicide prevention and anxiety, to how mental health impacts your productivity.